Churches for Middle East Peace held a summit for Christians to hear about the state of human rights in Israel and Palestine and to meet with their congressional representatives.
At their first in-person advocacy summit in Washington, DC since the COVID-19 pandemic, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) hosted three Palestinian keynote speakers: Lutheran theologian Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb; Dean of Bethlehem Bible College, Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac; and President of Bethlehem Bible College, Rev. Dr. Jack Sara. Fr. Isaac named the beatitude “blessed are the peacemakers” as a call to take the side of the oppressed and the call for action for the conference.
“Time is running out for the Palestinians,” Fr. Isaac said. “The current Israeli ultranationalist government is not shy about its strategy” to expand settlements.
Mae Cannon, CMEP’s Executive Director, also spoke about hope, especially with renewed U.S. funding for UNRWA, the UN agency for relief for Palestine refugees. She said 93% of refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line. They depend on UNRWA for food, medicine, education – all their basic needs. She said we can learn from them as they carry on because “despair is a luxury only for the privileged.”
Some 190 Palestinians were killed in 2022, making it the deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005. So far, 2023 is on track to be worse. According to the 2022 U.S. Report on Human Rights Practices in Israel, West Bank and Gaza, 23 Israelis and 152 Palestinians were killed in 2022. Israel media report 17 Israelis and 89 Palestinians killed so far in 2023, by April 9th.
The report goes on to say that in 2022 Israel demolished or seized 952 Palestinian structures, displacing 1,031 residents. Israeli courts approved larger displacements in Masafer Yatta and Khan al-Ahmar. Despite agreements with the U.S and with Egypt/Jordan/Palestinian Authority, Israel approved well over 7,000 new West Bank settlement units on February 23 (surpassing 2022 and 2021 combined). Plans are being advanced for thousands of new settler units in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
The vicious cycle of Israeli and Palestinian attacks on civilians – on both sides – adds tinder to the fire. New rules from Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories from October 2022, and a new system to decide ownership of West Bank land are making matters worse, including restricting movement of American citizens and residents to Israel and within the West Bank and reducing Palestinians land ownership in Area C to create more settlements.
After listening to the speakers, the participants in CMEP’s Advocacy Summit delivered the following messages in meetings with members of Congress and staff.
Actions by the Biden Administration and Congress can push Israel and Palestine toward peace or toward more violence, toward more respect for human rights or more violence. U.S. policymakers have the ability to make a difference for those suffering and dying under the Occupation.
Support for UNRWA and the Jerusalem hospitals is important and eases tensions some. It is critical that Congress does not cut off this funding in the upcoming budget process for Fiscal Year 2024. §
Faith in action
CMEP will host two upcoming webinars
- Meet “Stand with Iraqi Christians” - Churches for Middle East Peace (CEMP), The Episcopal Church, and Stand With Iraqi Christians (SWIC) will host two leaders of the Anglican Church in Iraq while they are in the United States. The Rev. Canon Faiz Basheer Jerjes, MBE, and Sinan Hanna Karakash will speak on contemporary challenges for Christians in Iraq and their ministries with Internally Displaced People and refugees (respectively) in response to ISIS’s 2014 invasion and destruction. May 10 at 2:30pm ET Register here: https://mogc.info/Iraqi-Christians
- Fast and Pray for Tent of Nations: Join Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and Daoud Nassar to pray together for 30 minutes over the upcoming court hearing regarding the farm’s reregistration. Please consider fasting in a way suitable for you on a Friday, as we intercede and pray fervently for justice for the Nassar family. May 12 at 12:30pm (ET) Register here: https://mogc.info/TentofNations
Photo of Advocacy Summit courtesy of the Churches for Middle East Peace Facebook page