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Precious Stones

May, 2002

Statement on the Middle East Crisis

"O Jerusalem, you suffering, helpless city, with no one to comfort you, I will rebuild your foundations with precious stones." Isaiah 54:11 (Today's English Version)

The crisis in Israel and Palestine has reached a level requiring urgent action. Violence, whether caused by military action or suicide bombers, has escalated to a shocking degree, and is taking the lives of many innocent people and threatens to engulf the region in a wider war. We express our condolences to the families and friends of victims of the ongoing violence and we pray ceaselessly for a prompt and just resolution of the crisis. The precious stones of the Holy Land speak to us and we hear their cry!

Our recent delegation to Palestine and Israel heard the voices of terrified people, the precious living stones, both Israelis and Palestinians who seek to go about their daily lives in peace within safe and secure borders. We declare our deep respect, affection, and love for both Israelis and Palestinians. We affirm and admire the many people and organizations on all sides working for peace and nonviolent conflict resolution and reconciliation in the most difficult of circumstances.

Our delegation met with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders and senior Israeli government and Palestinian Authority officials. Palestinians and Israelis are caught in a cycle of revenge and violence that must be broken; repeatedly our delegation heard requests from both sides for outside intervention to break the deadlock.

We note with alarm that the Church of the Nativity remains under siege in Bethlehem and we pray fervently for a peaceful resolution at this holy site, so important to Christians throughout the world.

We are concerned for the present plight and future viable presence of Christians in the Holy Land. Christian leaders asked us not to forget and abandon them in this hour of need and to speak and act on their behalf as sisters and brothers in Christ. We hereby pledge ourselves to do so. We also speak in support of the ministry of our United Methodist missionaries in the Holy Land, Sandra Olweine, Alex and Brenda Awad, Bob May, and Janet Lahr Lewis.

Therefore, we, the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church:

--call for an immediate cease-fire in Israel and Palestine. The Council offers our good offices and tangible support to bring this violence to an end;

--deplore the disproportionate use of force on the part of the Israeli government. When tanks and helicopters are used to attack civilian neighborhoods, when homes are destroyed, when land is confiscated and civilians are harassed, injured and killed, the cause of peace is harmed;

--ask for an immediate end to suicide bombing and call on President Yasser Arafat to do all that he can to end these criminal and inhuman acts, which injure and kill Israeli citizens and create fear throughout Israel;

--request Israel immediately withdraw from all invaded and occupied Palestinian territory, cease its military incursions, stop the building and expansion of settlements, address the right of return for Palestinian refugees, halt its destruction of the infrastructure of Palestinian civil society, end restrictions on movement and provision of humanitarian aid relief into the Palestinian territories;

--request the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations to work together for peace in Israel and Palestine;

--call on the United States to give efforts to seek peace in the Middle East the highest priority and to act in a fair and impartial manner;

--commend Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the recent Arab Summit for putting forward a plan for peace with Israel;

--call for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestine state as soon as possible and for the release of promised U.S. aid to that state;

--reaffirm the right of the peoples of Palestine and Israel to live within independent nations which have safe and secure borders.

Furthermore, the Council of Bishops:

--asks everyone to pray constantly for peace in the Middle East.

--recommends that annual conferences and general agencies send delegations to the Middle East in support of our missionaries and to express our solidarity with our Christian sisters and brothers in the Holy Land and with all peace loving peoples in the Middle East.

--requests local churches establish a relationship with mosques and synagogues for the purpose of dialogue and understanding.

--asks United Methodists in all lands to contact their national leaders and press them to work for peace in the Middle East.

--encourages local churches to celebrate Peace with Justice Sunday on May 26 by lighting two candles, one for Palestine and one for Israel.

All of this to the end that the Holy Land becomes a place where:

"Love and faithfulness meet together, where righteousness and peace kiss each other." (Psalm 85:10)