We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Friday, September 30, 2011

World Council of Churches: Opportunity for peace in Palestine's UN application

Source: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/wcc-sees-opportunity-for.html


WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit celebrated worship with a congregation in the old city of Jerusalem during a visit to the Holy Land in 2010.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has today urged strong positive action by the United Nations on behalf of Palestine. While the WCC has advocated justice for Palestinians and Israelis for decades, the United Nations Security Council’s consideration of full membership for Palestine was hailed by the WCC and regional churches as an opportunity for peace.

In his statement, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the WCC, said, “It is now a unique opportunity for the UN to take important decisions, to fulfil its role according to the UN charter, to make peace with justice prevail between Israelis and Palestinians, and with their neighbours.”

Tveit further adds, “Negotiations should not be seen as an alternative to the UN acceptance of the Palestinian application for membership. Different initiatives to build stability in the region should go hand in hand.”

He further signified the role of UN in positive efforts in the region, saying, “Yesterday’s announcement in Israel of plans to build 1,100 more housing units on occupied territory is a stark reminder, why sober deliberation, genuine courage and responsible actions by the UN are necessary”.

Along with the heads of churches in Jerusalem, Tveit stresses the “need to intensify the prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, considering this most appropriate time for such an opportunity”.

Full text of the statement by WCC general secretary

Communiqué from the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem

America Magazine: Will Democracy Bloom?

Will Democracy Bloom?

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13058

A closer look at Arab Spring

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

O n Dec. 17, 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police harassment of his efforts to make a living on the street. His self-immolation set off a popular revolution that resulted in the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had been president of that North African nation for 24 years, and then swept across the Arab world. Within weeks the revolution—named the Arab Spring by the media—spread to Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain.

The term Arab Spring, which tends to evoke romantic images of gentle weather, daffodils and new life, has proved misleading. The twin revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were led by nonviolent activists who had been planning together for two years. But the resignations of Mr. Ben Ali of Tunisia on Jan. 14 and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on Feb. 11 were anything but romantic, and what followed once the aspirations of others had been kindled turned far more violent.

The Arab Spring turned into a sizzling summer. The spectacular “democratic” successes in Tunisia and Egypt have not been replicated elsewhere in the Arab world. Even in Egypt some are beginning to question how successful their own democratic movement has been. Libya is still in turmoil, and Syria’s government and military are brutally attacking nonviolent challenges to their authority. Neither Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi nor Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has followed the example of the Egyptian and Tunisian leaders who stepped down from office.

Three words associated with the Arab Spring are often used, but rarely analyzed: Arab, democracy and citizenship. Each is far more complex than common usage seems to recognize, and all three terms merit further consideration.

Arab or Arabs?

Arabs are those people who speak the Arabic language. Some commentators would incorrectly add that Arabs are Muslims. In fact, while Arabic is spoken from Iraq to Morocco and while modern standard Arabic is the language of the media, the average Arabic speaker uses a local dialect of Arabic. Locals who live less than an hour’s drive from one another often speak different dialects, many of which include words from older local languages, like Aramaic, Syriac and Berber. As a result, native speakers often have difficulty understanding a local dialect other than their own.

Religiously, the Arabic-speaking world is also more diverse than many outsiders realize. While Islam is the religion of the vast majority of Arabic speakers, it is not monolithic. There are four different “schools” within Sunni Islam. And up to 15 percent of the Muslim world follows Shiite Islam, a minority whose adherents often face discrimination. In addition, large, significant groups of Alawites, Christians, Druze, Jews, Mandaeans and Yazidi live in Arabic-speaking countries. From a distance one might speak of an “Arabic culture, language and religion,” but up close the reality is more complex.

The countries involved in the Arab Spring are diverse in size, population and ethnicity. The tiny Kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf is roughly four times the size of Washington, D.C. Its hereditary Sunni monarchy governs slightly more than one million subjects, 70 percent of whom are Shiite Muslims who experience disenfranchisement and discrimination. Libya, by contrast, which is roughly the size of Alaska, has a population of nearly six million people, 90 percent of whom live along its Mediterranean coast. Libya’s population consists of Arabs and indigenous North African peoples: Berbers, black Africans and Mediterranean groups. Egypt is the most populous country in the Middle East. Roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, its 80 million people include Arabs, Copts (who sometimes see themselves ethnically as Egyptians, as opposed to Arabs) and Nilotic peoples. While 90 percent Muslim, Egypt has a large, indigenous Christian population that comprises almost 10 percent of the population. Under tremendous pressure and often subject to violence, Coptic Christians nevertheless form a vibrant, educated community amid Egypt’s Muslim majority.

While many countries in the Middle East have long and ancient histories, they are relative newcomers to the modern nation state. For hundreds of years many were provinces of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Few, if any, existed in their present geographic form before the 20th century. Only after World War I did the victorious French and British divide the Ottoman Middle East into “spheres of influence,” which resulted in the emergence of new countries on the Middle East map; the straight borders of many show the artificiality of what was done.

New countries with new names appeared, such as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, while old regions with names like Syria and Lebanon were given new geographic boundaries. In Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia, the colonial powers set up kingdoms. But between the two world wars, Iraqis and Syrians (and in the 1960s Egyptians and others) overthrew their kings and set up fragile democracies. Many forces worked against these new democracies, and most became authoritarian regimes. One sees a pattern of dictatorship: Hafez al-Assad of Syria held office for 30 years (1970-2000) until his death; Hosni Mubarak was president of Egypt for 30 years (1981-2011); Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was president of Tunisia for 24 years (1987-2011); Muammar el-Qaddafi held office for 42 years (1969-2011); and Ali Abdullah Saleh has been president of Yemen for 33 years, since 1978.

It is important to note that all these regimes had very different political ideologies; that each leader held onto power for a very long time; and that neither in these countries nor in the region’s monarchies (like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Gulf States) has there been an opportunity to develop functioning, democratic institutions. There is diversity in civic governance. In Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia the parliaments or shura have at best advisory functions. In Bahrain the Shiite majority has little or no voice in the government and faces discrimination. Recently King Abdullah of Jordan granted the National Assembly (House of Nobles appointed by the king; House of Representatives elected popularly) greater voice in the government. While an improvement, Jordan still has an authoritarian government.

Democracy or Democracies?

There is a great deal of talk about democratic movements. Democracy, however, is not a univocal term. While people who live in democracies tend to think their form of democracy is the best and only form, other forms of democracy do exist. Failure to recognize this fact could lead to considerable disappointment if democracies develop in the Middle East. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and Israel all have democratic systems, but they differ significantly. The United States is a pluralistic democracy with separation of church and state. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with an established church. France is a secular democracy where religion is to play no role; laïcisme is the term used to describe the secular character of France’s political system. Turkey is also a secular democratic state, but it is not a pluralistic democracy. Israel is a democracy intimately linked with one religion, Judaism, and one ethnic group.

Two questions should be asked about the Arab Spring: Will democracies arise in the countries involved? And if so, what kind of democracies?

One strong bond links all the countries of the Arab Spring—Islam. A word of caution: though tiny Bahrain is mostly Shiite and the other countries are overwhelmingly Sunni, Sunni Islam is no more monolithic than Islam in general. In each of these countries Islam has distinct characteristics that have arisen from the local history and culture. This is to be expected. Roman Catholics in Ireland are different from Roman Catholics in the Philippines, though they are all Roman Catholics. The same situation exists in Islam. It is fairly safe to assume that however democracy develops as a result of the Arab Spring, Islam will play a significant role. It is unlikely that it will play the same role in each country. While extremist Muslim movements are often hostile to democracy, there is no indication that this disdain is shared by a majority of any population in the region. In fact, majorities in the countries of the Arab Spring indicate that they want some form of democracy.

Islam and Democracy

Are Islam and democracy compatible? Remembering that Islam is not monolithic, it is important to note several things. Democracy does not arise fully developed overnight. Democracy in Western Europe took several centuries to develop in each country; and there were false starts, setbacks and detours. To expect the countries of the Arab Spring to be fully developed, problem-free democracies in five years is naïve and unfair.

Democracy requires that the population understand the concept of citizenship and take part in it. Citizenship is a crucial element in civic and political development and serves as a barometer of how democracy is evolving. Equal citizenship has been part of the church’s vision for the continuing Christian presence in the Middle East since the 1995 Synod for Lebanon. Citizenship was also mentioned often in the documents of the Catholic synod of bishops’ Special Assembly for the Middle East, which took place last fall.

Citizenship as understood in modern democracies expresses a relationship of mutual rights and obligations that exist between an individual citizen and the state. That relationship is built not on religion, race, gender, wealth or education but on participation in public life. In contemporary democracies, citizenship has been separated from religious affiliation. One must not lose sight of the fact that the separation of citizenship and religious affiliation has been a long, painful process within most Western democracies.

While Islam has developed the concept of the dhimmi, the protected non-Muslim inhabitant of a state, there is no developed notion of the citizen (muwâtin) in classical Islamic political thinking. Although belonging to a “protected minority,” the dhimmi in no way enjoys the full rights and obligations of a citizen in a modern democracy. While it is extremely important that all citizens enjoy equal rights and obligations independent of race, gender or religion, it is naïve to think that this can be achieved easily or quickly in most countries of the Arab Spring. At the same time, the rights of religious, ethnic or linguistic minorities and the rights of women will be an important gauge of how democracy is evolving.

Religious Minorities, a Test Case

In recent times the situation of religious minorities, like Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Mandaeans, has become increasingly precarious in the Middle East. The increase in violence against Christians in Iraq and Egypt underlines an important issue. In a region where religion plays a major role in the public arena, the treatment of religious minorities provides a benchmark against which the rights of all citizens can be measured. Islam is no more or less compatible with democracy than is Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism. No major religion was founded at a time when democracies were functioning. And while religions have at times developed structures for consultation that have some democratic characteristics, these structures govern only the members of that particular religion.

Few religions ever had to deal with the religious “other” except as an object of proselytization, competition or scorn. No religious tradition on its own has ever developed a way of dealing with the other as equal. Yet that is precisely what citizenship entails: all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, are equal before the law.

Christianity spent several centuries in conflict and reflection before it found a way of living in societies where members of other religious traditions were equal before the law. The Roman Catholic Church officially committed itself to freedom of religion in the “Declaration on Religious Freedom,” approved at the Second Vatican Council on Dec. 7, 1965. It cannot be expected that Islam will reach that position overnight, although the community of nations must keep religious equality before emerging democracies as an important and achievable goal.

Modern Muslim thinkers have been reflecting upon and writing about the relationship of Islam to the modern state since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1925 Ali Abdel Raziq (d. 1966), an Egyptian legal scholar and Shariah judge, first explored the separation of religion and state in a book whose Arabic title can be translated “Islam and the Foundations of Government.” The work was very controversial and not generally accepted, but it opened discussion of democratic government among Islamic scholars. More contemporary figures—for example, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha (executed for heresy by the Sudanese government in January 1985), his student Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, the Iranian Shiite scholar Abdolkarim Soroush and others—form part of a growing list of Muslim scholars who are dealing with the challenges contemporary Muslims face as they attempt to develop democratic institutions and governments. The work of these scholars shows clearly that Islam is not inherently incompatible with modern democracy.

The journey toward democracy will be neither easy nor short. The emerging democracies of the Arab Spring need all the help and support they can get. Those who would help, however, must realize that democracy does not mean “just like us.” Any attempt to help that lacks sensitivity to the historical, cultural and religious situation of each country is ultimately no help at all and could nip the Arab Spring in the bud.

Elias D. Mallon, of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, serves as education and interreligious affairs officer with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in New York.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CMEP Statement on the Palestinian Initiative at the United Nations

Source: http://www.cmep.org/content/cmep-statement-palestinian-initiative-united-nations

In the face of an imminent confrontation at the United Nations, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) reasserts our deeply held belief that there is an urgent and immediate need for a just and sustainable resolution to the conflict in the Holy Land. The Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations is a nonviolent response to the broken peace process that has achieved too little progress toward peace in the past 18 years. For years, cries of “Peace, peace,” rang out, yet there is no peace and few steps toward healing the collective wounds of this conflict.

CMEP strongly believes that a vote at the United Nations cannot replace direct negotiations between the parties and a negotiated peace agreement. However, the status quo is not sustainable. As Christians we seek to “let the peace of Christ rule our hearts” (Colossians 3:14-15) and restore dignity to all of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.

It is time to consider how to translate potential actions at the United Nations into the next steps toward peace. Genuine and bold U.S. leadership is necessary to return Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table immediately. U.S. reengagement must include a comprehensive approach to all final status issues in the conflict and there must be a realistically short horizon for a political agreement, not open-ended negotiations that provide little incentive for either party to make the sacrifices necessary to resolve this conflict.

U.S. leadership also requires continued foreign aid to Palestinians. Continued financial support of the Palestinian government and humanitarian efforts are in the interests of all -- Israelis, Palestinians, and people in the United States. Like several Jewish-American organizations working here in the United States, CMEP strongly opposes threats to cut off aid to the Palestinian government and people in an effort to punish them for actions at the UN. Continued aid to Palestinians supports Israeli security interests as well as the safety and stability for peoples throughout the region. We believe that drastic cuts to aid are dangerous, short-sighted, and will cripple future efforts to achieve a peace that benefits us all.

Churches for Middle East Peace: Final Countdown to the UN, Palestinian Aid, and More

Source: http://www.cmep.org/content/final-countdown-un-palestinian-aid-and-more

September 16, 2011

The Final Countdown
A Punitive Congressional Approach
A Growing Consensus?
On the Ground: Bedouins Forcibly Relocated
"Separated" vs. "Free Of"
Another Price Tag

The Final Countdown

Education programs are a major part of UNRWA's mission

Next week’s scenario for the Palestinian initiative at the UN is still unfolding, as uncertainty still surrounds both the timing and context of the Palestinian appeal. In a speech on Friday in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that they will make their request for full membership in the UN to the Security Council. However, other leading Palestinian diplomats suggest that the final decision for how Palestinians will make their approach has not yet been made. Either way, all signs are pointing to a showdown.

In a change of plans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be traveling to New York to address the General Assembly late next week, after President Abbas is scheduled do give a speech asking the international community to support a Palestinian state. Netanyahu told Czech press, “The General Assembly is not a place where Israel usually receives a fair hearing, but I have nonetheless decided to tell the truth to anyone who wants to hear the truth.”

Last-ditch efforts to stop the bid continue in the final days and hours before expected action. U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross are still in the Middle East trying to find the right formula to dissuade Palestinian leadership from pursuing the UN route. The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair have also been in the region in recent days.

On Friday, Ha’aretz reported, “One of Netanyahu's advisers also said that Israel would not object to the PA's status being upgraded as long as it is not recognized as a state.” The most likely outcome for Palestinians is that they will receive an upgrade in status from an observer entity to a non-member state observer through a vote in the General Assembly. Ashton pitched Netanyahu’s proposal to the Palestinians, who rejected it because it didn’t get them recognition as a state.

Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister said that in order to abandon the bid, Palestinians would need a “firm base with clear terms of reference, a clear timetable and with a clear end game.” The foreign minister also told journalists, “We will see if anyone carries with him or her any credible offer that will allow us to look into it seriously and to be discussed in the Palestinian leadership. Otherwise, on the 23rd at 12:30, the president will submit the application.” The timeline for the application’s submission vary across press reports.

Commentary on Palestinian efforts at the UN has reached a fever pitch and many analysts are speculating about the ramifications of such a move. Several high profile experts took to The New York TimesRoom for Debate” page to discuss if Israel can survive without a Palestinian state. University professors Shibley Telhami and Joshua S. Goldstein posit that the UN is indeed an appropriate forum for the Palestinian statehood question, asking, “What if the United States preempted a U.N. General Assembly resolution with a Security Council resolution endorsing a two-state solution?” Ha’aretz writer Gideon Levy came to the conclusion that, “Israel does not want a Palestinian state. Period.” He writes, “The truth is that the Palestinians have just three options, not four: to surrender unconditionally and go on living under Israeli occupation for another 42 years at least; to launch a third intifada; or to mobilize the world on their behalf. They picked the third option, the lesser of all evils even from Israel's perspective.”

Next week we will keep you informed of the action from New York, which is guaranteed to be interesting. Pay attention to our Facebook page for up-to-date news and check out our resource page for additional background on the Palestinian UN bid.

A Punitive Congressional Approach
Congress is also looking to find ways to prevent the Palestinians from going forward with their efforts in the United Nations, or punish them for doing so. On Wednesday, there was a hearing for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL18), called “Promoting Peace? Reexamining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority.”

The congresswoman opened the hearing by saying, “Despite decades of assistance totaling billions of dollars, if a Palestinian State were declared today, it would be neither democratic nor peaceful nor willing to negotiate with Israel.” Earlier this month, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen proposed UN reform legislation that would cut off funding to any UN agency that supports the Palestinians UN aspirations.

Some witnesses expressed concern that cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority would be detrimental to United States, and Israel’s interests. Elliott Abrams, who served as President George W. Bush's deputy national security adviser for Middle East affairs, told the panel a better punitive measure would be to close the PLO office in Washington. David Makovsky of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that ending assistance could embolden Hamas. "Congressional aid has produced unprecedented levels of West Bank stability, prosperity, improved governance and previously unimaginable levels of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation that have benefited Palestinians and Israelis alike. Any changes to U.S. aid should therefore be carefully calibrated," he said.

Another effort to cut off Palestinian aid comes from Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY02), who introduced legislation “to prohibit Foreign Military Financing program assistance to countries that vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a negotiated border agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Rep. Israel’s spokesperson told Washington Jewish Week, “We won't allow other countr[ies] to vote against our best friend with one hand in the UN and come to Congress to seek taxpayer dollars with the other hand.”

Write your Representative today!Join with CMEP supporters across the country to let Congress know that you support continued U.S. aid to Palestinians because it is laying the groundwork for future peace.

A Growing Consensus?
Representing the broad spectrum of organizations that are coming out against congressional plans to halt Palestinian aid, two pro-Israel groups came out against cutting off security aid to Palestinians. The right-wing Israel Project and left-leaning J Street both say that ending the aid would be harmful to Israel’s security.

"We have made the case that the security cooperation, which is largely funded and supported by America, needs to continue if we want to see the progress ... in reducing terrorism continue," The Israel Project's president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, told Reuters.

"We must make clear to American politicians, particularly in Congress, that being pro-Israel does not require cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for approaching the UN. Such a move will hurt Israel's interests by undermining moderate Palestinian leadership and defunding productive security cooperation," J Street announced.

Some in Congress also seem to recognize the danger in ending aid. Republican Senator from Arizona John McCain said he would not favor a "blanket" aid cut-off. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he would be "very, very skeptical" of cutting aid.

Even the Israeli government says that it doesn’t want an end to international economic aid to Palestinians. A recently-released government report says, “Israel calls for ongoing international support for the PA budget and development projects that will contribute to the growth of a vibrant private sector, which will provide the PA an expanded base for generating internal revenue.”

On the Ground: Bedouins Forcibly Relocated
Approximately 2,400 Bedouins will likely be forcibly removed from Area C, where they have lived for decades, to permanent locations beginning in January, 2012. According to a report from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, this will make it easier for Israel to expand the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and other settlements around Jerusalem.

The Israeli cabinet also approved a plan to relocate up to 30,000 Palestinian Bedouins from the Negev Desert into state settlements to “solve” the problem of unrecognized villages. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel denounced the plan, saying, “Approval of the plan allows for the government’s continued discrimination of and disregard for one of the most disenfranchised communities in Israel, during a period in which a mass protest movement in Israel has been calling on the government to instill policies that provide equal rights to all citizens.”

"Separated" vs. "Free Of"
Controversy arose this week around comments made by PLO Ambassador to the United States Maen Areikat. In a breakfast briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor Areikat said, “After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated.” Press reports interpreted the ambassador’s comments as saying that that a future Palestinian state should be free of Jews.

But Areikat has said that this is not at all what he was saying. He told the Huffington Post, “Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine. What a statement that would be for me to make! I never said that, and I never meant to say such a thing. This is not a religious conflict, and we want to establish a secular state.” Foreign Policy’s The Cable provides more context to the controversy, with Areikat saying, “It's not a misquotation or out of context, it's a total fabrication. I never mentioned the word ‘Jews,' I never said that Palestine has to be free of Jews.”

The ambassador is not unique in calling for separation. In June, CMEP reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “It does not matter to me whether there are half a million more Palestinians or less because I have no wish to annex them into Israel. I want to separate from them so that they will not be Israeli citizens.”

Another Price Tag
A Peace Now activist is the latest victim of the “price tag” acts Israeli settlers are exacting in retaliation for the Israeli government’s demolitions of some illegal outposts in the West Bank. The activist, who wished to remain anonymous, discovered graffiti in front of her Jerusalem apartment. The vandals wrote, “Peace Now, the end is near,” and “Migron forever,” referencing the government’s demolition of some structures in the Migron outpost last week.

In response, Peace Now said: "The incidents make it necessary to take strong steps against what appears to be a new Jewish underground."

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America: Bishop Hanson to Obama: Don’t block Palestinian Statehood

Source: http://blogs.elca.org/peacenotwalls/files/2011/09/11septhansonletterunstatehood.pdf

8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631-4101
773/380-2600 800/638-3522 Fax 773/380-1701

Office of the Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
September 19, 2011
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,
I write to you as a Christian leader committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Our Church’s relationship with our Christian companions in the region provides me with a constant and troubling awareness of the daily suffering that persists because of the failure to resolve the conflict.

At this important juncture, the U.S. has a new opportunity to demonstrate its support for selfdetermination and freedom by not standing in the way of the Palestinian application for admission as a Member State of the United Nations.
The objective of the initiative at the United Nations is to achieve a two-state solution, an objective we share with your administration. We agree with your statement to the UN last year that those who seek such a solution “… should reach for what's best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here
next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” Even so, in the absence of direct negotiations, it is reasonable that the Palestinians and others are turning to the international forum of the
UN in an effort to finally realize the goal of an independent Palestinian state.
It is my hope the U.S. will act in its own best interest as well as the interest of all people in the region by not blocking the initiative to admit Palestine as a Member State of the United Nations.

Thank you for your consideration. My prayers are with you and all who work for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

In God’s grace,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Cc: The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
The Honorable Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Mr. Denis McDonough
Deputy National Security Advisor to the President

Friday, September 23, 2011

America Magazine: Holy Land Bishops Seek Two-State Solution

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/signs.cfm?signid=825

As the issue of Palestinian statehood was debated at the United Nations in September, the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Latin patriarch, Fouad Twal, reiterated their sense that “a two-state solution serves the cause of peace and justice.” In a joint communiqué released on Sept. 13, the bishops said that “Israelis and Palestinians must live each in their own independent states with peace, security and justice, respecting human rights, according to international law.” The Christian church leaders encouraged negotiations as “the best way to resolve all outstanding problems between the two sides.” The church leaders also urged restraint from both Palestinians and Israelis whatever the outcome of the vote at the United Nations.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Communiqué from the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem

Source: http://gallery.mailchimp.com/c9c32f1679d067d8ca8107b9e/files/HoC_on_UN_General_Assembly_September_2011.pdf

Looking toward the upcoming Palestinian UN Statehood Bid, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem released a statement last week.

We invite you to read the statement below:

Looking ahead to the upcoming General Assembly of the United Nations in this September 2011 and the bid for Palestinian statehood, the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem feel the need to intensify the prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, see this as the most appropriate time for such an opportunity, and thus wish to reiterate the following principles upon which we agree:
  1. A two-state solution serves the cause of peace and justice.
  2. Israelis and Palestinians must live each in their own independent states with peace, security and justice, respecting human rights, according to international law.
  3. Negotiations are the best way to resolve all outstanding problems between the two sides.
  4. Palestinians and Israelis should exercise restraint, whatever the outcome of the vote at the United Nations.
  5. Jerusalem is a Holy City to the followers of all three Abrahamic faiths, in which all people should be able to live in peace and tranquility, a city to be shared by the two peoples and the three faiths.
Thus, we call upon decision makers and people of good will, to do their utmost to achieve the long awaited justice, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians so that the prophecy of Prophet David is lived again:

"Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” (Ps. 85: 10)

12 September 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Churches for Middle East Peace: Why Confrontation Now at the UN?

By Warren Clark, Executive Director

Source: http://www.cmep.org/sites/default/files/fall112pager_v3.pdf

The United States, Israel, and Palestinians are preparing for a full-scale diplomatic crisis this month at the United Nations over UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Why is this issue suddenly so important? What are the dangers and opportunities that arise? Over the summer U.S. and Israeli diplomats worked feverishly to head off Palestinian plans to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. Their efforts were unsuccessful. Palestinian leadership has explicitly stated that they will take their cause to the world body. Their bid might come as an application for full UN membership – a step that would require UN Security Council approval, or it might come in the form of a request for upgraded status at the UN – a change from the PLO’s current status as a non-state entity observer to recognition of Palestine as a non-member state observer, like the Vatican. Such a move would recognize that Palestine is in some sense a “state,” even if not a UN member.

The official U.S. view is that international recognition of a Palestinian state and UN membership can only follow a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The question now
is the effect any such UN recognition will have on the relative political power of each side in negotiations for a peace agreement.

One concern raised by both U.S. and Israeli analysts is that UN recognition of a Palestinian “state” could be interpreted to mean that a UN member state – Israel – is occupying another state – Palestine — and could open up the possibility of various UN sanctions directed against Israel. It could also potentially give a Palestinian state the legal standing to bring cases before UN bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

For years, Israel has dominated negotiations between the two parties. It enjoys overwhelming military power, an advanced economy, and strong U.S. and international political backing. This asymmetry in power at the negotiating table has made reaching an agreement even harder. Negotiations since the Oslo Accords in 1993 have failed to reach terms acceptable to the politically weaker Palestinians. Failures in the peace process led to violent uprisings and terrorism, reciprocal acts of violence, and strong Israeli security measures against Palestinians.

Read more

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Zenit: Palestinian Authority's UN Bid Heightening Tension

Bishop Urges Prayer for Peace in the Holy Land

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-33465?l=english

ROME, SEPT. 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem is calling the faithful to pray for peace, as tensions and conflict have increased in the Holy Land since the Palestinian Authority announced its plan to request full U.N. membership.

Bishop William Shomali said that God is needed to bring peace to the Holy Land since politicians are not enough, reported Aid to the Church in Need.

The bishop's appeal was relayed to staff of the charity in the Holy Land on a fact-finding trip.

"The Lord told us to pray for peace," the 61-year-old bishop said. "Jerusalem will attain peace through the power of God, and not merely through the acts of politicians."

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced last Friday that he would seek membership for a state of Palestine from the U.N. Security Council when he addresses the body this Friday, Sept. 23.

Violence in Gaza had already intensified as Israel began aerial attacks last month in response to the Popular Resistance Committee attack of a bus carrying Israeli soldiers, killing 14 people.

Bishop Shomali, who comes from Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, described the importance of Christian faithful remaining in the region: "The mission and calling of Christians is to remain in the Holy Land and work toward change. We want change, but we want peaceful change."

He also reiterated a call for pilgrimages to the Holy Land

"The Holy Land needs you, and you need the Holy Land," he said. Aid to the Church in Need will be leading a pilgrimage for benefactors next year. "The Holy Land needs peace," the bishop said, "the Holy Land needs you."

Dennis W. Frado, Congregational & Synodical Mission Program: ELCA concern intensifies for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Source: http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/2011/09/elca-concern-intensifies-for-peaceful.html

ELCA Peace Not Walls Newsletter - 14 Sept. 2011

Recent acts of violence and the potential for violence against civilians intensify concerns for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In recent weeks, there have been several reports of violence against civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as nearby countries in the Middle East region. These reports point toward an increasingly disturbing trend that may lead to more violence against civilian populations in the near future. This increased violence takes place within the contexts of 1) the ongoing series of revolutions in the Middle East known as the 'Arab Spring,' and 2) increased international diplomatic efforts for the recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The ELCA has important resources for reflecting on the trend toward violence in the region.

As noted in a recent Security Council briefing by Lynn Pascoe, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs,

"On 1 August, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) shot and killed two Palestinians during a search-and-arrest operation in the Qalandiya refugee camp. Five Israeli soldiers were injured in that operation.... On 2 August, the IDF issued restraining orders against 12 settlers from a village south of Nablus who were suspected of so-called 'price tag activities' against Palestinians. The Secretary-General has consistently called for perpetrators of such incidents to be brought to justice."

Pascoe also reported that terrorists of unclear origins targeted several civilian vehicles and one military vehicle on August 18 in southern Israel.

"The coordinated attacks resulted in the death of eight Israelis, including two soldiers and six civilians. Egyptian security forces cooperated with the (IDF) on their side of the border to counter the attacks. However, five Egyptian security personnel died in the operation."

"Citing intelligence attributing the attacks to a Palestinian group based in Gaza, Israel conducted 45 air strikes on Gaza that killed 19 Palestinians, including three civilians. Thirty Palestinians, including at least 10 militants, were also injured. The IDF also conducted search operations in Hebron in the West Bank, reportedly arresting about 120 Hamas members and injuring 55 Palestinians. Gaza militants indiscriminately fired more than 100 rockets and projectiles into Israel, killing one Israeli civilian and injuring 27. The Secretary-General and the Quartet strongly condemned the terror attacks."

On August 29, eight people were wounded near a Tel Aviv nightclub by a suspect from Nablus who stole a taxi and crashed it into a group of border guards. He then attacked the guards and two others near the nightclub before being subdued and detained.

In Syria, long-standing grievances against the government of President Bashar al-Assad and that of his father, Hafez al-Assad, surfaced in March when protests over a lack of political and economic reforms began in Dar'a and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Based on reports of arbitrary arrests and detention, initially of youths and children, armed attacks on demonstrators and funeral processions, shut-offs of water and electricity supplies to towns, and denial of access to medical equipment, among other abuses, the United Nations Human Rights Council authorized a fact-finding mission in late April to investigate these and other reports.

The mission issued its report in mid-August and discussed it at a special session of the Council on August 22. At that meeting, Ms. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the report which covered the period from mid-March to mid-July "found a pattern of widespread or systematic human rights violations by Syrian security and military forces, including murder, enforced disappearances, torture, deprivation of liberty, and persecution," and, she added, "there are indications that the pattern of violations continues to this day." The report said that the demonstrations were largely peaceful but that military and security forces attacked demonstrators, bystanders, and those who came to the aid of the injured. These constituted wide-spread acts against unarmed civilian populations.

In late August, media reports surfaced about plans by the Israeli Defense Forces to train and equip settlers in the West Bank with potentially lethal means to deal with Palestinian demonstrations. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (PA) had earlier called for demonstrations later in September at the time when the PA has announced it will petition the United Nations to admit Palestine as a UN Member State. He has repeatedly urged that any such demonstrations remain peaceful and that the participants be unarmed. Nonetheless, Ha'aretz, which broke this news, said that

"The army [the IDF] is establishing two virtual lines for each of the settlements that are near a Palestinian village. The first line, if crossed by Palestinian demonstrators, will be met with tear gas and other means for dispersing crowds."

"The second line is a 'red line,' and if this one is crossed, the soldiers will be allowed to open fire at the legs of the demonstrators, as is also standard practice if the northern border is crossed."

The IDF has declined to comment on the operational aspects of their preparations. However, a number of observers have expressed concerns about what the arrangements may portend. The Guardian reported:

"Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights said there were already 'serious questions and problems' with settlement security officials acting outside their designated boundaries. 'We're very concerned that [the IDF move] will not reduce conflict but increase it,' he said."

The trend toward more violence and the potential for violence against civilians should prompt members of the ELCA to reflect further upon the 1995 social statement, "For Peace in God's World", and the counsel it offers (under "Tasks") concerning peaceful conflict resolution:

Strengthen the will and ability to resolve conflicts peacefully. Disagreements, conflicts, and competition among nations, groups, and individuals are inevitable, but wars are not. One essential ingredient for reducing the likelihood of war is the steady resolve and intense effort of the parties involved to settle conflict nonviolently. Another essential ingredient is the ability to explore all avenues for common interests, to compromise interests, to conciliate differences, and to prevent, moderate, or isolate destructive conflicts. These ingredients are as vital for resolving conflict in international diplomacy as they are in families and communities.


Strengthen international cooperation. Belief in a common humanity, increasing global integration, and national self-interest all compel this task. In the Charter of the United Nations and in other international agreements, nations have stated how they believe their relations should be ordered. Normally nations comply with these principles. States pledge to respect the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of other states and not to intervene in their internal affairs, and to honor the self-determination of peoples. They also pledge to fulfill international obligations, to cooperate with other states, and to settle disputes peacefully. While states have the right of self-defense and may resist aggression, they are otherwise to abstain from the threat or use of military force. At present, such principles offer the best framework for a just ordering of international relations. Citizens have responsibility to hold governments accountable to these principles.

The ELCA's Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine is also quite clear about these matters. Among the political and humanitarian outcomes it says the ELCA has committed itself, especially relevant is:
An end to terrorism and violence by individuals, groups, and states.

This principle is one the church should continue to uphold and advocate, especially against the current trends in the region.

Dennis W. Frado
Director, Lutheran Office for World Community,
Congregational & Synodical Mission Program Unit

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Churches for Middle East Peace: September Arrives, U.S. Efforts Too Little, Too Late

Source: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5575/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1176887

Marching Forward

With the Palestinian bid at the United Nations expected in the next two weeks, Israel and the United States are making last ditch efforts to stop the Palestinian efforts. However, Palestinian leaders continue to move forward with their plans, calling last minute diplomatic efforts, “too late.”

Current conjecture is that the Palestinian leadership will submit a formal request to the United Nations requesting full membership in the UN on September 20. President Mahmoud Abbas will then address the UN General Assembly on September 23. To become a member of the UN, a state must first be recommended by the Security Council. While U.S. officials have not stated unequivocally that the United States will veto a Palestinian resolution, it very likely. In a Plan B, as CMEP has discussed before, the Palestinians could subsequently take a proposal to the General Assembly asking for an upgrade in their status from non-state observer body to non-member state. Palestinians are expected to easily get the votes needed if such a situation arises.

In efforts to dissuade the Palestinian leadership from the move, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Palestinian president this week asking him to abandon the plan, and U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East David Hale and Dennis Ross from the State Department are also in the West Bank this week to try to stop the move through face-to-face meetings with Abbas.

An Israeli source with knowledge of the meeting told Ha’aretz that, “this was the first time the Americans had spelled out the full negative implications of the Palestinian request to the UN.” The source went on to say, “The Americans told Abu Mazen [Abbas] the whole truth to his face in a rather harsh way." Dennis Ross and David Hale reportedly warned Abbas that any request to the Security Council would be vetoed and even going to the General Assembly would result in a reduction of the approximately $500 million a year the Palestinians get in United States foreign aid.

From his compound in Ramallah, President Abbas responded to the pressures by saying, “To be frank with you, they came too late. They wasted all the time from the beginning of this year … til today or yesterday, they wasted all this time. Now when they come here to tell us, okay we have this idea or this package and don't go to the UN, we will not accept it."

For more information about the Palestinian Initiative at the UN, check out CMEP’s updated resource page on our website.

Preparing for the Worst

With the opening of the UN General Assembly session only four days away, Israel is continuing efforts to persuade diplomats around the world that the move in the UN is ill-advised. Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor told the Israeli Hebrew paper Ma’ariv, "This is a diplomatic endeavor against all odds. I am trying, literally down to the last moment, to persuade the ambassadors of UN member countries that this unilateral course of action by the Palestinians won't lead to peace and won't lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, but only to violence and bloodshed.”

President Abbas has explicitly called for any demonstrations in support of the UN effort to be non-violent and to remain within the boundaries of Palestinian villages and cities.

However, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is still preparing for violent confrontations in the West Bank. They are increasing the training of settler security teams in anticipation of popular protests and possible widespread demonstrations in the wake of UN action.. The settler security teams have been a presence in the West Bank since the start of the second intifada in 2000. The military is establishing boundaries that protestors won’t be allowed to cross and simulating scenarios of confrontation with the security teams, who are currently armed with military-issue M-16 automatic rifles. Shlomo Vaknin, security officer of the Yesha Council, a settler organization, said despite reports that settler security teams have been armed with non-lethal weapons like tear gas and stun grenades, he believes that so far the military had not done so.

Ungrateful Ally

A recent disclosure of comments made by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates demonstrates the tension between some political perspectives on U.S. strategy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Writing for Bloomberg News, journalist Jeffery Goldberg revealed aspects of a high-level discussion in which
Secretary Gates said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank.” The discussion took place not long after the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington in May, before Gates retired from his Cabinet post.

Gates displeasure was echoed internally by others within the Obama Administration who were dismayed at Netanyahu’s public “sermon” to the U.S. President, broadcast on live television when the Israeli leader was in Washington.

Goldberg writes, “that display of impudence left the president and his team feeling unusually angry. Shortly afterward, Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley, called the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, to communicate the displeasure of the White House in a reportedly heated way.”

Disproportionate Building

According to Peace Now, an anti-settlement group in Israel, Israeli settlers are building homes at almost twice the pace of housing construction within the 1967 lines. The report says, "Whereas in Israel the pace of construction... was one housing unit for every 235 residents, in the settlements the pace of construction was a unit for every 123 residents.”

Peace Now's revelation comes after 430,000 Israelis went to the streets throughout Israel last Saturday to demand social justice and protest the high cost of living, especially the lack of affordable housing. This marked the largest demonstration in Israeli history. After 50 days of protests, which have been marked by “tent cities” around the country, organizers said the tents will be dismantled but the movement would continue in other ways.

The Price Tag Effect

On Monday, Israeli soldiers demolished three homes in the unauthorized Israeli settlement Migron, five kilometers North of Jerusalem and East of Ramallah. Though the dismantling of the settlement was first ordered more than eight years ago by Ariel Sharon, the demolitions drew the ire of settlers, who exacted a “price tag”against both Palestinians and the IDF. In their latest retribution, intended to show the Israeli government the consequences of demolitions, a mosque and several Palestinian vehicles were torched near Nablus and another mosque was vandalized with graffiti. In addition, for the first time the settlers targeted the IDF by breaking the windows on 13 army vehicles in an army base located near the Beit El settlement.

In August, the Israeli High Court ordered the demolition of the homes in Migron after it ruled the outpost is built on Palestinian land.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said of the retributive acts, “This was an abhorrent crime directed against commanders and vehicles, the mission of which is to protect the lives of Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria.”

Palmer Report Fallout

Last week, the United Nations issued its report on the flotilla raids that took place more than a year ago, in May 2010. The report concludes that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal, but that the Israeli forces who boarded the ship used excessive force.

Israeli-Turkish relations, already strained due to Israel’s refusal to apologize for the incident that killed nine Turkish activists, have now hit a new low. Turkish officials ordered Israeli diplomats to leave the country and passengers traveling between the two nations have been subjected to long periods of questioning before entering.

A more ominous sign of the fraying relationship is evident in the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announcement that Turkish warships will escort any future Gaza aid flotillas.

Quaker Statement on Palestinian U.N. Bid

Source: http://fcnl.org/issues/middle_east/joint_quaker_statement_on_palestinian_un_bid/

Palestinian U.N. Bid: U.S. Should Press for Peace, Not Punishment

Joint Statement of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (QUNO)

We are gravely concerned that the response of the Obama administration and Congress to the Palestinian quest for statehood recognition at the United Nations will further fuel violent conflict in the Middle East. Rather than punish Palestinians for pursuing an international forum for addressing their right to self-determination, the United States should welcome this nonviolent approach and use its diplomatic influence and resources to leverage the political opening toward securing a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Obama administration’s plan to veto Palestine’s anticipated U.N. membership application regrettably signals the continuation of U.S. policy that obstructs Palestinian self-determination and undermines prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Many members of Congress are proposing the elimination of development and humanitarian assistance for Palestinians and the withholding of all funding to U.N. programs that recognize any upgrade to the status of the Palestinian mission. Threats to unjustly punish Palestinians and possibly even the entire U.N. system in response to decisions by U.N member states on Palestine will only undermine security for Israelis and Palestinians and amplify the voices of extremists on all sides of the conflict.

Palestinians’ Turn to the U.N. Reflects Failure of U.S.-led Negotiations

As a matter of international law and practice, the Palestinians, like any other aspiring peoples seeking statehood recognition, have the right to present their case to the international community. The legitimacy of this effort was referenced a year ago by President Obama himself when he stated forthrightly before the U.N. General Assembly the goal of securing “an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel”.

Unfortunately, the U.S.-brokered process for resolving the conflict has failed to reach this goal, and in fact, led to further deterioration of the conflict over the past year. Negotiations collapsed only a month after President Obama’s speech at the U.N., and Israeli settlement expansion has continued at an alarming rate, claiming de facto territory that under international law and longstanding U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state. With negotiations stalled and settlements expanding, the Palestinian leadership has chosen to take its case for statehood to the United Nations.

Nonviolence Should Be Welcomed, Not Punished

Millions of peoples across the Middle East and North Africa are employing nonviolent means to bring about widespread, far-reaching reforms in support of more transparent, democratic self-governance. Nonviolent approaches to Palestinian self-determination at the U.N. and in both the Palestinian territories and Israel should similarly be encouraged.

In this context, we urge the U.S. to use its voice and vote at the U.N. to welcome the Palestinian initiative for its nonviolent approach to self-determination and conflict resolution.

While Palestinian civil society leaders and the Palestinian Authority have committed to a path of nonviolence in September, the specter of violence in the aftermath of decisions at the U.N. looms large. We are opposed to the use of violence by all parties, and are deeply troubled by reports that the Israeli military’s directives have permitted the use of violence to confront unarmed, Palestinian demonstrators at protests planned to coincide with U.N. deliberations on Palestine.

Next Steps for the U.S.: Seize Opportunity to Take Bold Steps for Peace

The Obama administration and Congress should craft any U.S. policy response in ways which uphold the U.S. commitments to international law, self-determination, and the continued search for justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Recommendations for the Obama administration:

  • Use U.S. voice and vote at the U.N. to welcome the use of nonviolent approaches rooted in international law to resolve conflict. A lone U.S. veto in the Security Council would be a sharp rebuke to Palestinian nonviolence and would undermine the rising forces of democracy and nonviolence throughout the Middle East.
  • Call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint in the aftermath of the deliberations at the U.N. on Palestine.
  • Invest in high-level diplomatic energy to press for comprehensive negotiations in good faith between Israel and a unified Palestinian government, encouraging rather than impeding Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Recommendations for Congress:

  • Reject H.R. 2829, The United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011 introduced by Representative Ros-Lehtinen, which unjustly punishes not only Palestinians, but the entire U.N. system and all those around the world who benefit from its life-saving programs.
  • Reject cuts to U.S. development and humanitarian aid for Palestinians, which would only increase the potential for further violence in the region.

Toward a Just and Lasting Peace

We urge the Obama administration and Congress to avoid retaliatory measures against the Palestinians that would increase political despondency at this critical juncture, and instead demonstrate U.S. leadership to press for a comprehensive negotiated settlement that offers a path toward lasting peace and security for all.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has worked for more than a century to promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. FCNL and AFSC are national Quaker organizations that are committed to pressing the United States to play a more constructive role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. QUNO represents the global community of Quakers at the United Nations in New York. Our work is rooted in historic Quaker testimonies on peace and equality and longstanding Quaker witness in the region.

Friday, September 16, 2011

America Magazine: A State of Their Own

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13030

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

Later this month the United Nations will vote on statehood for Palestine. It appears the vote will take place in stages. First, a draft resolution will be presented to the Security Council, where the United States is expected to veto the proposal. If the veto is cast, then a resolution will be made for the General Assembly to recognize Palestine as an observer state. With that status, though lacking full membership, Palestine will be able to participate in General Assembly debates and to belong to other U.N.-system organizations. The main rationale the administration offers for casting the veto is that Palestinian independence ought to be settled in negotiations with Israel. Tying Palestinian statehood to negotiations is bogus. The two parties may be able to negotiate lesser issues, but Palestinian sovereignty and independence should not be negotiable.

In 1948 Israel did not wait for U.N. recognition or negotiation with its Arab neighbors before declaring independence. The U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine had projected Jewish and Arab states with a separate international zone around Jerusalem. As the British Mandate was about to expire in May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, executive head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the establishment of the modern state of Israel. During the Mandate and the subsequent Israeli War of Independence against neighboring Arab states, irregular Israeli fighters using terror tactics seized the territory, driving more than 700,000 Palestinians out of more than 400 villages and urban neighborhoods. U.N. requirements for minority protections were flagrantly violated. After 63 years, Palestinians should not have to wait any longer to enjoy their natural right to self-governance and statehood. Above all, their independence should not be dependent on Israeli agreement.

Claims by the United States that statehood should wait on negotiation are especially offensive. Previous rounds of negotiation and hope of negotiation have led to further Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land and water. Settlements have pushed farther and farther into the West Bank. Israel has seized more Palestinian land for its security barrier, settler highways and military zones. Palestinian homes have been demolished as illegal, and settlers’ forceful occupation of others has been upheld by the Israeli military. In previous negotiations, Israel always retained the upper hand. The piecemeal transfer of West Bank territory under the 1993 Oslo Accords left Israel in control of most of the West Bank. When it came to implementing Oslo, Israel repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians fulfill their part of the bargain first and then set new conditions before it would implement its own responsibilities.

U.S. policy also assumes that this country can successfully mediate a final status agreement between the two sides. But the Obama administration has failed to make headway even on the smallest issue. The Netanyahu government, for example, has flagrantly rebuffed the president’s repeated efforts to prevent further settlement construction and confiscations in East Jerusalem. Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has lately said he would take the 1967 ceasefire lines as a basis for negotiation, at an earlier televised White House meeting he contemptuously rejected President Obama’s proposal along those lines as a starting-point for talks.

For those serious about finding a negotiated end to the conflict, U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood makes very good sense as an incentive for productive talks. It will help create some leverage for Palestine in addressing issues that will have to be negotiated eventually, like final borders, Israeli security, Jerusalem, refugees and water. As a sovereign state, Palestine would be empowered under international law to demand an end to Israeli occupation and to place its claims before international courts. Its membership in international organizations would aid the further development of Palestinian state structures and help bring more pressure to bear on Israel to agree to a just and lasting settlement. The United States has failed to provide that kind of pressure. It is time to see whether, with broad international support for Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians may at least enter into negotiation on a more equal status with the Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority has gone far to make a peaceful transition to statehood possible. Most observers recognize the success of the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in creating effective government on the West Bank, reducing corruption and shaping an able security force that is well coordinated with Israeli forces. At the same time, private enterprise has prospered in the territory with economic growth (G.D.P.) at an annual rate of 8 percent. Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have pledged that popular demonstrations on the occasion of the U.N. vote will be nonviolent and security will be maintained. Palestinians have come of age. It is past time to welcome Palestine into the community of nations.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Zenit: Gaza Priest: This Is Unbearable

Source: http://www.zenit.org/article-33396?l=english

Israeli Attacks Intensify Again Since Mid-August

ROME, SEPT. 9, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The parish priest of Holy Family Church in Gaza says the needs and humiliations people are facing every day in the region are "unbearable."

This was the evaluation given by Father George Hernández to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Father Hernández told ACN staff visiting Gaza for project assessment that people have been "repeatedly subjected to low-level flyovers and even bombardments by the Israeli Air Force."

Israeli attacks began after the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza attacked a bus carrying Israeli soldiers on Aug. 18. The attack killed 14.

The following week, there were 41 air strikes, ACN reported, with a death toll of 17 Palestinians, 12 of whom were members of radical Islamist groups. Another 20 were wounded, including six children.

Church aid

Sister Davida of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary told ACN that Gaza children are still dramatically affected by the 2008-2009 war.

Her congregation runs a school with 630 students.

"During the war, several girls died of heart failure. Even today, many children react to aircraft noise with fear and panic," she said.

Gaza is populated by some 1.5 million people, only 3,000 of whom are Christian. The Church runs a number of projects to support the local community.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem funds two schools in Father Hernández's parish, attended by 1,100 boys and girls.

These schools, like the one run by the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, accept students regardless of their religion. Most pupils come from Muslim families.

Travel restrictions in and out of Gaza continue to make employment difficult, and it is reported that 80% of the population has no regular income.

Last March, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) concluded that Israel's "easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip since June 2010 did not result in a significant improvement in people's livelihoods, which were largely depleted during three years of strict blockade."

Friday, September 9, 2011

America Magazine: Syria In Crisis

Source: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13017

As protests continue, the specter of sectarian strife looms.

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

Six months after the Syrian uprising began, the protesters and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad remain locked in a protracted struggle. The regime has not been able to suppress the protests, and the protesters have not been able to topple the regime. The outcome is still uncertain, but time is not on the side of the government. The economy is crumbling, and the regime is increasingly isolated by the international community.

A French member of a religious order who has lived in Syria for many years describes this fraught period in the country’s history: “Information is very contradictory, and each person recounts what he has seen and heard and has a tendency to generalize: an incident or attack is presented as if it is like that everywhere. There is nothing clear, either in the news or in its interpretation. Who shot first? Who responded? Who is aiding the conflict from outside?”

If people in Syria find it hard to discern what is going on, observers outside the country are at an even greater disadvantage. Western news media have focused on the courageous defiance by the protesters and the violence of the government crackdown but have paid less attention to the context in which the protests are taking place and to their effect on a country that has prided itself on its secular government and its tolerant, pluralistic society. Inside and outside of Syria, some wonder if it will remain so.

Fawaz Gerges, the director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, visited Syria recently and reports that many Syrians are “terrified of the morning after.”

“The silent majority, more than 50 percent, remain on the sidelines,” he says. “The silent majority worries about descending into all-out war, like neighboring Iraq and Lebanon. That’s what the Assad regime is capitalizing on...that the silent majority will not only remain passive but basically support the existing power structure.”

Assad and Religious Minorities

Syria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society; it includes Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, Armenians and a variety of faiths and sects. Concerns about the future are particularly keen among religious minorities, who, together with a prosperous Sunni merchant class, have supported the Assad regime since it came to power in 1970. The Assad family is Alawite, a historically poor and disenfranchised minority in Syria comprising about 12 percent of the population. Another 10 percent of the population are Christian, who range from Greek and Syrian Orthodox to Melkite Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Assyrian Catholics, Maronite Catholics, members of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a smattering of Protestants. Druze account for about 3 percent of the population, with smaller numbers of Shiites and Yazidis. About 74 percent of the population are Sunni Muslims.

With protesters calling for an end to the Assad regime, religious minorities are nervous about what would follow should the regime fall.

“The regime has positioned itself as the protector of minorities. There are fears among Christians, Druze, Alawites that if the regime falls, there may be vengeance,” says Mohamad Bazzi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “There may be Islamists or Islamist-leaning figures who take power; there may be score-settling.”

Members of the Syrian opposition say such fears are unfounded. They point to the fact that the opposition draws from all sects, including Christians and Alawites. They emphasize Syria’s long tradition of religious pluralism and speak of the spirit of unity prevailing among the demonstrators. The Friday protests have been given different names to express the inclusivity of the protesters and the diversity of their backgrounds. Thus, Azadi Friday was named for the Kurds, after the Kurdish word for freedom. The Friday protest on Easter weekend was called Azime Friday, Good Friday, in honor of Christians. Protest organizers have been quick to suppress signs of sectarianism among the demonstrators. At one point the Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, which has more than 200,000 followers and has played an important role in the uprising, listed a code of ethics against sectarianism.

Like other Arab countries roiled by protests this year, Syria has a young population and high unemployment. Since coming to office after his father’s death in 2000, President Bashar al-Assad has liberalized Syria’s socialist economy, a move that has led to increased corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor.

Since the protests began, Mr. Assad has made some concessions to demonstrators’ demands, like lifting emergency rule, and has promised more, even as his government continues to respond to the protests with lethal force. When addressing Syrians, he emphasizes unity, security and stability, warning that if Syrians divide along sectarian lines, they will fall prey to Saudi fundamentalists or to the “Zionist agenda,” to civil war and to manipulation by outside powers. The choice he outlines is between Syria becoming a political football kicked around by others, like Iraq and Lebanon, or remaining an independent player on the regional and international scene. It is an argument that still holds sway with many Syrians.

In response, members of the opposition accuse the government of promoting the very sectarianism it condemns. “The regime is playing on sectarian fears, especially among the Alawite community,” says Radwan Ziadeh, the founder in Syria of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and the executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Concerns in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Ziadeh says the diversity and unity of the protesters guarantee that Syria will not fall into sectarian conflict after the Assad regime falls: “The uprising in Syria is across the sects. Christians have been killed in the uprising. Alawites have been killed. This is why it is clear there will not be any religious clashes.”

But fears of sectarian strife remain. While members of the opposition play down this possibility, many observers do not.

“I think the risk is real, particularly for the Alawites, in terms of vendettas and retribution for the crackdown in recent months and for past actions,” says David Lesch, the author of The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and Modern Syria. “It could be potentially dangerous for other minorities, Christian minorities and Druze, who have tended to side with the regime and whom the regime has courted over the years and co-opted into supporting the government.”

The Fate of Christians

Those who work with Christian communities in Syria report that Christians are anxious. Vivian Manneh, the emergency regional manager for Catholic Relief Services, works with churches in Syria to provide assistance to Iraqi refugees living there.

“It’s very sensitive, the whole situation for Christians,” she says. “They feel that minorities are protected under the current regime. They are worried about what is happening and how this is going to affect them. A lot of people I talked to were saying the demonstrators are not coming with a clear agenda of what they want. If they want to change the regime, O.K. Who is the alternative? What is the request?”

Christians cannot help but be troubled by the example of neighboring Iraq, says Michel Constantin, director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s programs for Christians in Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. In Iraq, Christians were protected by Saddam Hussein, he notes. When his regime was toppled, Iraqi Christians were viewed as collaborators and targeted accordingly.

An old saying in Syria, that the Christians run between the legs of the Sunnis and the Alawites, describes the cautious behavior Christians usually have adopted in steering their path through Syrian society. But the middle road is not necessarily a safe one in revolutionary times. That some Christian bishops and clerics in Syria have expressed public support for the Assad regime has already evoked criticisms from some Syrians, warning that the Sunni majority will remember Christian support for Assad’s “misrule.”

The Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties are banned in Syria. How Sunnis would treat Christians in a post-Assad Syria is an open question.

“On the surface, we say there are excellent relations between all Christians and Muslim groups, but if the regime is not there anymore, would that be sustainable?” asks Mr. Constantin. “We don’t really know the feeling of the Sunnis toward the Christians. We know relations between Christians in general and Alawites will sustain because they are both minorities.”

On both sides of the conflict, views have hardened. Six months ago, Bashar al-Assad was seen as a young, popular leader whose country was unlikely to see the kind of turmoil that is affecting Egypt and Tunisia. The initial demands of the protesters were for reform, not revolution. But the many killings and arrests by the government have radicalized the demonstrators. The ongoing turmoil has had a similar effect on regime supporters.

Radical Divide

Polarization along sectarian lines is growing in Syria. “The rhetoric is growing really nasty,” says Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. The opposition accuses the government of using Alawites to kill Sunnis, a charge that is incendiary but not without truth, as the Alawites hold key positions in the military and security forces and the regime has often used predominantly Alawite forces to confront the protesters. With Iran and Hezbollah supporting the government, the opposition has turned against both and burned the flag of Hezbollah as well as the Russian flag—an attempt by the opposition to demonstrate it rejects the entire foreign policy of Syria.

Particularly alarming to Christians and Alawites was a chant heard among protesters on the outskirts of Damascus: “Christians to Beirut and Alawites to the grave,” a slogan that could not fail to send a shiver of apprehension through both communities.

In fact both the opposition and the regime, though they decry sectarianism, seem at times to be playing to sectarian undercurrents. As a minority regime, the government cannot risk offending the Sunni Muslim majority; but in a move that seems aimed at scaring secular Sunnis and religious minorities, the government has highlighted the presence of extremist Islamists among the protesters. The opposition, for its part, sometimes makes use of freighted language that plays on anti-Alawite or anti-Shiite sentiment, thus capitalizing on Sunni-Shiite hostility that has worsened throughout the Middle East since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

As hopeful signs, Syrians can point to both the remarkable discipline and unity the protesters have shown so far and to Syria’s history as a welcoming community to many different sects and faiths. A large Armenian Christian community lives in Syria, the descendants of refugees forced out of the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian genocide a century ago. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, about one million Iraqi refugees have found safe haven in Syria, including most of the Iraqi Christians forced to flee. Syrians point out that Syria’s first post-colonial prime minister was a Christian.

“Syria does not have any history of sectarian violence or religious conflict,” Mr. Ziadeh says. While true, Joshua Landis notes that sectarianism is never buried too far below any political question in Syria. While Syrians may wish to see themselves as superior to their Iraqi and Lebanese neighbors, whose political conflicts have spun into sectarian civil war, the same sectarian divisions threaten to tear at the communal fabric.

Why is sectarianism on the rise now? Syria has always been one of the most nationalist and least religious societies in the Middle East, Mr. Gerges notes. But in moments of tension, people fall back on familiar affiliations, whether with the church or the mosque. The sectarian divide in Syria is real but masks the greater fault lines that are economic and political—divides that in the last six or seven years have become particularly pronounced.

“One of the major blunders of the current regime is that it has allowed a tiny business minority to suck the blood out of the veins of the Syrian economy. This has fueled the current tensions,” Mr. Gerges says. “The sectarian tensions are also fueled by the economic and social tensions. There are many poor Alawites, but most of the poor tend to be Sunnis.”

A Missed Chance

Is a dialogue between the protesters and the regime still possible? Opposition members say a prerequisite for dialogue is an end to violence against protesters. Some opposition leaders say it is too late for dialogue; too much blood has been spilled by the government. Between an emboldened opposition and a government that has acted brutally and clumsily, prospects for dialogue seem tenuous.

“At this stage, I really doubt that there is anything the Assad regime can do to satisfy the appetites of the opposition. The more he offers, the greater the appetite of the opposition, because the opposition now is no longer interested in tinkering with the system. They want to overhaul the system,” Mr. Gerges says.

Reports of arms flowing into Syria from Iraq and Lebanon raise concerns that violence could escalate. Sectarian killings in July are a disturbing sign of where the conflict could go. On both sides, there is fear. Demonstrators believe that if they stop their demonstrations, the regime will crack down even harder on them, tracking them down and punishing them.

The supporters of the regime have their own fears, from worry about political and economic uncertainty to fears of social upheaval, economic collapse, ethnic cleansing and war.

Can Syria escape the worst of these fates? Opposition members say it can. Revolutions are unpredictable, and the end game is still not in sight, but they may have the chance to prove their case.

Margot Patterson is a freelance journalist who visited Syria in March. A longer version of this article is available at americamagazine.org.