Churches Urged to Turn Mideast Recommendations, Prayers into Action

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has issued an urgent call for a comprehensive ecumenical response to bring about long-term peace in the Middle East.

The Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), has issued an urgent call for a comprehensive ecumenical response to bring about long-term peace in the Middle East.

In a statement given during the WCC Central Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia proposed the establishment of a Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum that will provide a space for coordination of advocacy based on "moral and theological principles" and "translate recommendations into actions that influence the political process."

"We need further analysis and deeper engagement on complex issues — such as the 'right of return,' Israel's legitimate security concerns and its full recognition within mutually agreeable borders — topics which have impeded previous peace processes," the WCC head stated.

The WCC Central Committee welcomed Kobia’s comments, which were also later echoed by the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, President of the Conference of European Churches. During a brief report on the WCC pastoral visit which he led to the churches of Lebanon, Palestine and Israel in August, de Clermont asked if the WCC's member churches had the will and courage to act.

The European Church head asked the Central Committee to respond to the expectations of the Middle East churches and their leaders, summed up by one person the delegation met: "Do not remain content with praying. Do something!"

In particular, de Clermont pointed out that communities in Lebanon couldn't understand the seemingly indiscriminate violence and destruction in their country, but were certain that a multi-cultural and multi-confessional Lebanon was possible and necessary for peace in the region.

Christian leaders have also said there cannot be peace without respect for the "other" or without justice. Injustices included the arrest of nearly one third of democratically-elected Palestinian politicians and the humanitarian crisis facing the population of Gaza. "Do not forget Gaza," the pastoral delegation was told.

Describing the Middle East situation as the most pressing global issue today, Kobia said, “Violence in Lebanon and northern Israel, and on-going violence associated with the occupations of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Israel, and also of Iraq by forces under U.S. command, have wreaked destruction and suffering on an immense scale.”

He added, “The most important issue in relation to a lasting and durable peace in the Middle East is when and how the international community will end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, in compliance with international law and U.N. resolutions. Ending the occupation will allow different forces to emerge and give a new face to the Middle East.”

Proposing the establishment of a Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum, Kobia said the WCC could provide a space where the whole ecumenical movement could "mobilize to put our collective energies and resources together".

He also said he would appeal to funding partners for special resources for the Middle East initiative.

In his report, the general secretary declared, "A way must be found to allow people of goodwill in Israel to begin to rebuild relations with neighbors — not only on the basis of law but also through negotiated solutions to mutual problems, and around mutually beneficial relations in the fields of commerce, culture and the environment."

"The world has a responsibility both to Palestine and to Israel," he said. "They deserve more from the international community than they have received thus far, especially in the fair and impartial application of international law. We need to look beyond the current headlines to the underlying moral issues in the region."

Kobia said the WCC with its rich experience and background in inter-religious dialogue could make a major contribution to the Israel-Palestine peace process.

The WCC Central Committee meeting is taking place Aug. 30 - Sept. 6 in Geneva.