LOUISVILLE (PNS) — Saying Palestinians have a right to demonstrate peacefully and with dignity in their decades-long conflict with Israel, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has joined 14 other Christian denominations and organizations in a joint statement, calling for an end to violence in the region.
Two weeks ago, Palestinians began several weeks of planned nonviolent demonstrations in the Gaza Strip near the fence with Israel. More than two dozen people have been killed and thousands injured since the protests began on March 30.
Organizers are planning to continue the demonstrations until May 15, which commemorates the 1948 displacement and dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians.
“More than 1.3 million of Gaza’s nearly 2 million people are refugees,” the joint statement reads. “The Gaza demonstrations are an assertion of Palestinian rights: the rights of refugees, the right to demonstrate peacefully against injustice, and the right to live in and with dignity, not under closed military confinement or blockade.”
The statement goes on to criticize the U.S. government for not taking a strong stand to protect Palestinians and defend their rights.
“The United States stood by and allowed Israel to carry out these attacks without any public criticism or challenge. Such U.S. complicity is a continuation of the historical policy and active support for Israel’s occupation and U.S. disregard for Palestinian rights. This complicity builds resentment and damages U.S. national security. Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes, and compensation for loss of property, as laid out by the U.N. General Assembly.”
The 15 denominations and organizations say they have worked in the cause of justice, peace and equality and will continue to do so.
“We reject the use of violence by individuals, groups or states,” they said. “In the wake of demonstrations that have resulted in tragedy and death, and anticipating the continuation of Palestinian protests over the coming weeks, we cannot be silent.”
The group listed several recommendations:
- End the use of violence against the protesters, especially the use of weapons and force by the Israeli military and that Israeli soldiers refuse orders to shoot.
- An investigation into the deaths and injuries suffered by the use of force.
- A censure by the U.S. government for the “violent and indiscriminate actions of the State of Israel” and hold the Israeli government accountable.
- A call for the U.S. to support the rights of refugees, including Palestinians, based on international law and conventions.
- A U.S. decision to resume full funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which supports schools, hospitals and other essential services for Palestinian refugees.
- A call for the international community to insist on an end to the blockade of Gaza, “which has resulted in uninhabitable conditions for the people there, including poverty and lack of sufficient access to clean water, food and medicine.”
The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, says the situation between Israel and Palestine is morally, spiritually and humanely devastating.
“It wounds the soul to realize that the highest form of morality based upon faith has been given to the world by the inhabitants of this land, and to witness Palestinians being treated with such brutality and cruelty,” he said. “Palestinians have become strangers in their own land and Israel is in danger of becoming that which it has stood against since its conception, the oppressor of innocents. Israel must be the land where both people live side-by-side in peace, cooperation and mutual benefit. But Israel must first stop utilizing overwhelming force as its primary response to any call for Palestinian justice and equality. The violence must end!”
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service
In addition to the PC(USA), other signers include the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., National Council of Churches, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society and the United Church of Christ.