The violence in the Middle East is escalating into heartbreaking futility, said the National Council of Churches (NCC) in just one of the statements made by Christian leaders worldwide decrying the war between Israel and forces of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board, has signed on to two statements about the war: a July 20 letter from Churches for Middle East Peace calling for President Bush to do everything possible to calm the crisis and restore hope for a diplomatic solution; and a call for an interreligious season of prayer from the NCC and Religions for Peace-USA.
Churches for Middle East Peace expressed specific concern for the situation of Palestinians in Gaza and alarm for possible regional dimension of the war. It asked the US to intervene at the highest levels with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Religions for Peace-USA is cooperating with the NCC to encourage “A Season of Prayer for Peace in the Middle East.” NCC leaders called on individuals and congregations of all faiths and nations “to unite their hearts and souls in prayer, calling upon the Creator in whose image all human beings are made to write this message of peace on the hearts of all who want war.”
This interreligious effort requests congregations to pray for peace in the Middle East this weekend and into the future, and to join with other people of faith and local communities in activities that witness for peace. For resources appropriate to the current crisis from a variety of religious traditions go to http://www.seasonofprayer.org/ (to find the Christian prayer resources click on “Christian” in the left-hand column of the web page).
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is offering prayer for “the people of Israel who have fallen victims to the missiles that continue to be fired indiscriminately into their towns and villages” and for “all the people of Lebanon, Muslims and Christians alike,” in a statement issued yesterday.
The WCC appealed to the international community to “do whatever is possible” for a cease-fire. General secretary Samuel Kobia asked for a stop to the bombings, the negotiation of a cease-fire, and a comprehensive peace settlement between Hezbollah and Israel, calling especially on the leaders of the US, Israel, and the United Kingdom. He called on the Israeli government also to “give guarantees that humanitarian organizations will be allowed unhindered access to those in need of assistance.”
Kobia said the war is “of ominous dimension and of far-reaching consequences” and said it is “shocking and disgraceful” to witness the spectacle of world leaders saying “in a most callous manner that fighting will continue ’til strategic military objectives are met.” Kobia added that “blind faith in military violence to resolve disputes and disagreements is totally unwarranted, illegal, and immoral.”
The NCC also called on Israel and Hezbollah to immediately cease hostilities. “All sides in this conflagration are showing appalling indifference to the deaths and injuries of hundreds of innocents on both sides of the border and in Gaza,” said Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for Interfaith Relations. “The stated goals of each belligerent to eliminate the other is solidifying a hatred that will last for generations.” NCC leaders said neither side can shell its way to security.
Church World Service (CWS), the humanitarian arm of the NCC, has sent an initial aid shipment of 5,000 Gift of the Heart Health Kits, 500 water containers, and a large supply of blankets to support work by International Orthodox Christian Charities, said CWS emergency response program director Donna Derr. CWS also issued a fundraising appeal for $1 million and voiced increasing concern over a growing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon.
As of the beginning of this week, CWS also planned a shipment of food and non-food items to the Middle East Council of Churches, which is delivering food, non-food relief items, water and sanitation, and psychosocial attention through its Interchurch Network for Development in Lebanon in conjunction with the Action by Churches Together (ACT). ACT has issued its own appeal for $4.6 million, according to Presbyterian Churches USA news service.
CWS added that it is alarmed at the lack of safe passage needed to deliver humanitarian aid. “The UN has been asking for opening of humanitarian corridors but so far those corridors haven’t materialized and transport routes and communication in the damaged Lebanese regions are severely hindered,” said Derr. “It’s an increasingly critical situation, with bridges destroyed, so many roads impassable, airports and power supplies bombed and inoperable.”
The Lebanese government and the UN estimate that more than 500,000 people are displaced from their homes, needing shelter, food, safe drinking water, sanitation, and medical assistance, CWS said. At least 140,000 have fled to Syria and other neighboring countries for refuge. Particular concern was given for the disproportionate number of children affected, CWS said. The agency also is concerned about the humanitarian situation in Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has sent a 12-member delegation to Israel and Palestine, which arrived in Jerusalem July 27. CPT is a violence-reduction initiative of the historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker), with support and membership from a wide range of Christian denominations. The delegation planned to speak with representatives of Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights organizations in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and then to travel to Hebron in the West Bank where CPT’s longterm team is based and where Israeli settler and soldier violence against Palestinians and internationals has escalated. The delegation is scheduled to be in Israel and Palestine through Aug. 8.