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17 Christian groups ask Biden to change US policy in the Holy Land

17 Christian groups ask Biden to change US policy in the Holy Land

A sign with Arabic writing 'Palestine the land of Jesus is eager for justice, peace and stability' is seen at the Lady of Peace church. | AP/Nasser Nasser

A coalition of 17 Christian groups and denominations have asked President-elect Joe Biden to roll back the Trump administration's policies pertaining to Palestinian territories and Israel.

In an open letter sent to Biden last Friday, the church groups stated that “the Christian community in Israel/Palestine continues to suffer as a result of the ongoing [Israeli] occupation.”

“As Palestinian Christians continue to emigrate, we face the real prospect that the survival of the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land may soon be in danger,” they stated.

“By ensuring the U.S. government stands firmly in support of peace and justice for all in the region, your administration can help ensure the Christian community, along with all in the Holy Land, can flourish.”

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), argued that actions taken under the Trump administration, such as ending funding for the Palestinian Authority and the recognition of disputed territory like the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel, hindered the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“Over the last four years, U.S. policy has moved in directions that have alienated the U.S. from many of its international partners and supported the deepening of Israel’s occupation while undermining long term efforts to realize a just and lasting peace,” claimed the letter.

“If the U.S. remains committed to realizing peace with justice in Israel and Palestine there is a need for an immediate change in policy and approach when your administration enters office.”

The letter listed six proposals to help advance peace, which included respecting all parties, reiterating that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, resuming funding for the Palestinian Authority, greater accountability regarding how U.S. military aid to Israel is used, rejecting Israeli claims to certain disputed territories, and protecting the rights of advocates of divesting from Israel.

“Over the last four years there has been a coordinated effort to prohibit speech critical of Israel and to make it illegal to support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) actions,” stated the letter.  

“We ask that your administration make it clear that Americans’ rights to engage in speech and actions critical of the government of Israel are constitutionally protected.”

Entities that signed on to the letter included: the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, the Disciples of Christ, the Office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy of the Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Churches for Middle East Peace, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church.

The Trump administration has been known for its staunch support of Israel, which included officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there in May 2018.

"Thank you, President Trump, for having the courage to keep your promises," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the 2018 ceremony. “Thank you President Trump and thank you all, for making the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever.”

In September, the White House oversaw a diplomatic agreement being signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain known as the Abraham Accords.

Yael Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, referred to the Abraham Accords in a statement at the time as miraculous.

“Sometimes in history, God blesses his people with miracles, from the parting of the Red Sea to the reestablishment of the modern state of Israel. Today is also a miracle — a miracle of peace,” she stated.

“It’s been over two decades since the nation of Israel last entered into a peace agreement with another Middle Eastern country. Israel has often extended its hand for peace. Now that hand has been grasped twice in 29 days thanks to courageous leaders willing to take risks in order to realize a lasting peace.”

In October, a similar deal was reached between Israel and the Sudan, with the latter being taken off the State Department's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism as part of the agreement; in return, Sudan compensated victims of terrorism.

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