A new ecumenical advocacy initiative launched at the culmination of a World Council of Churches (WCC) conference in Jordan this week, is to help churches worldwide work for a just peace in Palestine/Israel
Called the "Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum," the initiative intends to be an instrument to "catalyze and co-ordinate new and existing church advocacy for peace". While aimed at "ending the illegal occupation in accordance with UN resolutions," it will be an expression of churches' "commitment to inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all the peoples of the region".
In his closing remarks to over 130 representatives from churches and Christian organizations from six continents attending the 18-20 June conference "Churches together for peace and justice in the Middle East," WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia said the forum will be a "participatory group of churches and organizations meeting, interacting and cooperating in order to further a common cause".
"We expect churches worldwide to speak out with a clear voice and to stand by us in active solidarity in face of a tragic conflict that keeps Palestinians suffering and Israelis living with fear and that can only be solved with a just peace," said Bishop Munib Younan, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, speaking to journalists at the end of the conference.
As a "journey to seek peace," Kobia said, the forum ultimately "depends on everyone here and on the many churches looking with expectation to what we have begun in their name". The promise that the forum encompasses is that "wherever it is made, a united and credible witness of churches together changes the course of events".
The Amman Call
"The Amman Call," the forum's founding document adopted by the conference, acknowledges the fact that in Palestine/Israel "children of God - Christian, Muslim and Jew - are imprisoned in a deepening cycle of violence, humiliation and despair". But it also affirms that "the role of the churches is to heal and to bring all sides to reconciliation".
The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum is to be guided by three fundamental imperatives: the ethical and theological imperative for a just peace; the ecumenical imperative for unity in action; and the Gospel imperative for costly solidarity.
Among the forum's top challenges is the need to "liberate all peoples of this land from the logic of hatred, mutual rejection and death, so that they see in the other the face and dignity of God," the document says.
A series of premises for the forum's action are based on WCC policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: pertinence of UN resolutions and Geneva conventions; two-state solution with self-determination, viability and legitimate security needs guaranteed to both; Palestinian refugees' right of return; open and shared Jerusalem; rejection of all violence whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians; illegality of Israeli settlements and "separation barrier" in the Occupied Territories; and the centrality of the local churches' life and witness for worldwide church advocacy.
The WCC will convene a "core group" to begin implementing the conference recommendations, and to report to the next WCC executive committee meeting in September. The core group will base its proposal of an action plan on the outcomes of six working groups that deliberated during the Amman conference.
These groups made a number of recommendations about: theological and biblical perspectives that need to inform the work of the forum; the impact of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the responses of the churches; justice and reconciliation; models of church solidarity in action; economic measures that could help to advance the cause of peace; and international church advocacy.
The work of the groups was informed by the experience of churches affected by other deeply rooted conflicts in such countries as South Africa, Sudan, Colombia, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, as well as by the Armenian genocide.
The conference received a welcome message from the Jordanian government. The WCC general secretary and a small delegation met with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and discussed the churches' historic place in Jordanian society as well as Muslim-Christian dialogue and cooperation.
An olive tree offered by Christians from Palestine was planted on the banks of the Jordan River at a place traditionally considered as the site of Jesus' baptism, to mark the launch of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum. Greek Orthodox Bishop Benedictus, of Amman, led conference participants in a vespers service conducted at the site church.