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It is with tremendous sorrow for the lives lost and unprecedented violence in Israel/Palestine that I write today. CMEP has just released a statement condemning all acts of violence committed against civilians over the past twenty-four hours and calling upon the U.S. to support the safety and dignity of all people impacted– Israeli and Palestinian. Our full statement is below.
CMEP Condemns All Acts of Violence, Calls for Prayer, and Implores Global Leaders to Address Core Issues of the War between Hamas and Israel
October 7, 2023 Washington, D.C.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is deeply grieved by the news coming out of Israel and Gaza today. CMEP condemns all acts of violence against civilians that have occurred in the past twenty-four hours, as fighting has escalated between Hamas and Israel. As of late Saturday (EDT), reports indicated that hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded, both Israelis and Palestinians. CMEP mourns with the victims of the violence and their families.
The actions of Hamas and the Israeli response in Gaza in no way advance peace, but rather cause loss of life and harm, grief, and devastation, not only to the individuals affected, but also to the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people in seeking an end to the decades long occupation and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Throughout this year, CMEP and allies have urgently been calling attention to the evolving context, characterized by escalating levels of violence between settlers, soldiers, and Palestinians. The increased nationalism and radicalization within Israeli society have led to more frequent and numerous incidents of hatred, racialized tensions, settler attacks, and incursions onto Muslim and Christian holy sites such as Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. These realities are not justifications but have long been ignored by the international community, including the longstanding frustration and desperation of the Palestinian people who seek an end to the oppression of the occupation and Israeli desires for lack of fear and for security. It is time for the US and the international community to strengthen efforts to de-escalate the systemic violence that has gone on for decades.
CMEP reiterates its consistent call for a negotiated, just, and peaceful resolution to the conflict that advances security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians. A just peace will only be realized when all parties respect and protect the full human rights of all. In light of the current war, we make the following desperate pleas:
CMEP calls on all parties to end all acts of violence and aggression and to pursue peaceful and diplomatic resolutions to accomplish their desired outcomes.
CMEP is concerned that Israel’s response is disproportionate and urges it not to engage in military actions that devastate Palestinian civilian populations. CMEP opposes Israel’s practice of collective punishment of all people in Gaza, including the turning off of electricity and water.
CMEP calls on Hamas to stop all acts of aggression, the targeting of Israeli civilians, and the taking of civilian hostages.
CMEP calls on the United States government, including the Biden Administration and Congress, not to act rashly but to prioritize immediate diplomatic measures to bring an end to the violence, including through the United Nations.
CMEP urges the US government to refrain from providing further unrestricted material and political support for further militarization of the conflict but rather focus on the protection of all civilians, especially the most vulnerable. The US must not prioritize the support of one side of the conflict over another but support the safety and dignity of all people in the Holy Land, including Israelis and Palestinians. While the United States empathizes with Israeli suffering, so should it empathize with Palestinian suffering. Furthermore, the U.S. should not exacerbate the problem by ignoring the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for their rights.
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) calls upon all Christians and people of faith to pray for peace – not an empty peace devoid of justice, equality, and hope for all people, but a deep, lasting, and just peace that addresses core systemic issues of the conflict, from Palestinian needs for self-determination and freedom to Israel’s needs for safety and security.
In this time of great lament, suffering, and fear, we turn to God in a joint plea to end the violence and destruction of Palestinian and Israeli lives. In this urgent situation, we ask that you join us in prayer. In my own prayers, I am meditating on the words of Psalms 9 and 10, reminding us of God’s mercy for the suffering and the oppressed.
“The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9-10)
“O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline their ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:17-18)
In our grief, may we join together to ask for God’s mercy in this desperate time by offering the following words:
God of Justice, bless those who work for peace through justice. Strengthen their resolve in the face of seemingly endless violence. Guide the leaders of the people of the Middle East to know your will and to support a just peace for all of your children.
God of Love, lifting up the holy land for all humankind, breathe love and compassion into our prayers with a desire for nothing other than peace: peace in our hearts, peace for all creation, and especially peace in the land that is called holy.
God of Hope, we lift up the city of Jerusalem, distracted and divided, yet still filled with promise as all the cities of the world. Come again into our cities, places of worship, Upper Rooms and Gethsemanes, that we may be given sight to recognize you.
God of Mercy, even as we long to understand that which is often beyond our comprehension, we lay before you the hearts, minds and bodies of all those suffering from conflict in Palestine and Israel and from the ongoing occupation. Shower upon all the people of the Holy Land the spirit of justice and reconciliation.
God of the Nations, give to all our people the blessings of well-being, freedom, and harmony, and, above all things, give us faith in you that we may be strengthened to care for all those in need until the coming of your son, our Saviour and Lord.
“A Prayer for Peace in the Middle East,” courtesy of The Church of Scotland, Christian Aid, and the Scottish Episcopal Church, in partnership with the worldwide ACT Alliance.
As we hold one another through this time of grief, please share your own prayers, reflections, and laments in the comments below.
What does it mean to work for peace and justice? It means to persist in hope, in faith and steadfast in our prayers and actions. Over the last three and a half decades, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has served as a spiritual home for those embracing the call for justice in the Middle East and has mobilized thousands of individuals to embrace a more holistic understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and call for an end to violence in the Middle East. None of this would have been possible without the inspiring vision and commitment of CMEP’s Founding Director, Corinne Whitlatch.
Before her time with CMEP, Corrine started her journey at American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) working for the Middle East Peace education program in 1978 where she toured the states with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists to talk about coexistence and elevating the voices of both peoples. After her time with AFSC ended six years later, Corrine decided to move to Washington D.C and continue working on the Middle East. After six months, she found a job with the American-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. During this time, the National Council of Churches had organized members to compose a Middle East group and after a year, hired Corrine part-time as the Middle East Task Force Coordinator. After a year with both organizations, CMEP received funding to hire her full time as the Founding Director. The goal was to form a coalition of church bodies who would jointly come together to form a common advocacy message around the region and to do so, she worked diligently to expand the coalition to incorporate more Christian denominations for a more comprehensive and formalized working group. With a background in Political Science and History, Corinne’s leadership shaped the foundations of the organization that is known today. Read more
In 2019, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) celebrates its 35th anniversary of encouraging US policies that actively promote a comprehensive resolution to conflicts in the Middle East. Join us June 23-25, 2019 in Washington, D.C., as we honor the occasion and look to the future.
In honor of 35 years, our 2019 Advocacy Summit will look back at everything CMEP has accomplished over the past three-and-a-half decades, as well as what our work will look like going forward and the opportunities to work for peace and justice that will come.
As we’ve worked to mobilize US Christians to be advocates for equality, human rights, security, and justice for all people, our hope has never faded. We believe the work we do as advocates for equality, human rights, security, and justice with our member communions and organizations has and will continue to influence US foreign policy and bend the arc of history towards justice and stability in the Middle East.
Over the past decades, CMEP has been a leading force in elevating the voices of Middle East Christians on Capitol Hill and around the United States. CMEP has mobilized thousands of individuals to embrace a more holistic understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and call for an end to violence in the Middle East. In addition to contributing to the shift of U.S. perspectives, CMEP has hosted dozens of conferences and advocacy summits calling on U.S. Administrations and Congress to embrace policies that address humanitarian and human rights concerns in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world. CMEP is a growing force to reckoned with that embraces an impassioned call for justice and peace for all people of the Middle East.
We will continue to diligently work to end the occupation of the Palestinian people and to work toward a just peace throughout the Middle East. Hope remains an act of resistance and defiance. Join us as we celebrate and strategize for how to best carry out this work in the future! Come be part of our Advocacy Summit and celebrate Persistent Hope!
In the weeks between Holy Week and Pentecost Sunday, the Christian church around the world continues to reflect upon the significance of Jerusalem. Since the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, Jerusalem – the city of peace – has been esteemed as the holiest city of the Christian faith. Despite centuries of changing political landscape and war, the Christian community in the Holy Land has remained a small, but constant presence in this historic and holy city. Smaller in numbers, but mighty in witness to God.
Yet, on Sunday, February 25, 2018, the Jerusalem Church Authorities closed the doors at what is often considered the holiest site in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This closure was in protest to churches being caught in the middle of the latest conflict coming out of Jerusalem: a political battle between the Mayor and his opponents in the Israeli Foreign Ministry.Read more
Old City of Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Andrew Wickersham)
Journey back a couple of decades to 1995. With peace between Israelis and Palestinians seemingly within reach, President Clinton signed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This legislation looked forward to a day when the final status of Jerusalem was resolved. But peace proved elusive, and subsequent presidents for the next 20 years have made use of the Embassy Act’s waiver clause that allows the U.S. to keep our embassy in Tel Aviv to avoid upsetting the delicate status quo. Now enter the Trump Administration.
On December 6, 2017, President Trump broke with the precedent set by the last three administrations and announced that he would not be signing the waiver of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. He argued that the last 20 years of failed negotiations demanded a new approached, and he claimed that this decision was not taking a stance on the final status of the city. Read more
One of the hallmarks of democracy is the ability of people to connect with the legislative process through their elected officials. Unfortunately, all too often, the political sphere seems completely disconnected from our everyday lives and the issues we are passionate about. Choose Hope, an advocacy summit hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and Millennial Voices for Peace (MVforPeace), gave students and young professionals the opportunity to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, practice advocacy, and interact with their congressional representatives.
The summit participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds and levels of awareness about the conflict. Many had travelled to Israel/Palestine with churches or on educational trips and were looking for ways to get involved from the US. One of the participants, Shelby Mathis, had stayed in Israel/Palestine for a month in the summer of 2015. “In my time there, I saw a lot of things that made me uncomfortable and a lot of things that made me really hopeful,” she said. “Since I’ve come back, in the last two years I’ve been trying to find ways to deal with some of the struggle, the Palestinian struggle and the Israeli struggle, but also how to elevate the voices of hope.”Read more
What images come to mind when you hear the words “little town of Bethlehem”? Idyllic, holy scenes of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus alongside friendly barnyard animals? For a North American living in Bethlehem, this cozy scene feels like a childhood dream. The reality of Bethlehem today disrupts such heart-warming visions with disturbing sights. For those who manage to get off the tourist track and visit the real Bethlehem, the image grows dim with three refugee camps, lack of access to natural resources and no freedom of movement for the city’s residents due in part to the separation barrier, constructed in 2002. And yet, like anywhere else, the people here feel a deep connection to and pride in their hometown.
The people of Bethlehem claim a hometown heritage stretching back thousands of years, documented in the Christian Bible and celebrated around the world by people who sing of its significance as the place where God arrived in human form on earth. For today’s Bethlehemites, geo-political realities of the past few centuries have added a heritage of pain that reaches back beyond the earliest memories of the city’s elders. Understandably, a narrative of pain and hopelessness consumes many.Read more
Mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
The sun kissed the tips of cathedral crosses. It was just after 5 a.m. Shadows shortened as we walked the narrow streets towards the gates of the Old City. Our local Palestinian guide shouldered our large, wooden cross. Fellow U.S. travelers held solemn prayers that carried the promise of a full day dawning in Jerusalem.
This was the Sunday that twenty-eight of us had crossed the Atlantic to experience. We yearned for the geographical reality and spiritual grace in the Land of the Bible. This was the early light that guided our steps as we would pray through the Way of the Cross where Jesus Christ was forced to his own crucifixion during Roman times.
We continued silently moving single file past unopened shops. Once in a while, looming iron gates connected imposing, modern rock walls as we approached Herod’s gate that would allow us into the Old City. Both sides of the street blocked us out, yet gave us glimpses of random ruins peaking above the soil beyond these walls. Some places had been excavated sixteen feet below to expose Herod’s roads and walls in Jesus’ time. These old rock walls and roads were coffins holding onto the past. Even coffins eroded like shifting sands. Where were those roads heading? What were these walls blocking in or out? What’s in our nature that still wants to build a wall? We kept walking as I reviewed in my mind each sorrowful Station of the Cross: Jesus was judged. He received His Cross. He fell for the first time. Jesus met His mother. Simon of Cyrene helped Him carry the Cross. Veronica wiped Jesus’ brow. He fell for the second time. He talked to the weeping women. He fell for the third time. He was stripped of his garments. Jesus was crucified. He died on the Cross. Jesus’ body was taken down from the Cross. Jesus’ body was placed in the Tomb. In a way, I felt humanity had walked this mystical path for centuries by carrying burdens in our cracked feet and ailing hearts. We were all citizens of Jerusalem, yet were caught together in a net of dire conflict and contradictory justice. Today we would physically move as one body through the painful stages that led to ultimate healing and Jesus’ resurrection. We were searching for the outward, visible signs that pointed to Christ’s inward, spiritual grace.
Joint Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” Isaiah 1.17
In July 2017, we, the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, were compelled to issue a public statement of concern regarding breaches of the Status Quo that governs the Holy Sites and ensures the rights and privileges of the Churches. This Status Quo is universally recognised by both religious authorities and governments, and has always been upheld by the civil authorities of our region.
We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries.
There have been further actions that are a clear breach of the Status Quo. The judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which we regard as unjust, as well as a proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the Status Quo has always guaranteed.
We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the make-up of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times.
Such attempts to undermine the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world. We have always been faithful to our mission to ensure that Jerusalem and the Holy Sites are open to all, without distinction or discrimination, and we are unanimous in our support of the actions, including a High Court appeal, against the judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case and in our opposition to any proposed law that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our properties.
We therefore, as those to whom Divine Providence has entrusted the care of both the Holy Sites and the pastoral oversight of the living, indigenous Christian communities of the Holy Land, call upon our fellow Church leaders and faithful around the world, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support us in order to ensure that no further attempts are made from any quarter to change the historical Status Quo and its provisions and spirit.
We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.
We, the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, stand resolutely together in working for reconciliation and for a just and lasting peace in our region, and we ask God’s blessings on all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.
The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate +Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate +Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem +Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate +Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East +Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land +Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
We thank you for the work of your Spirit in the city of Jerusalem, from the time of the disciples until today. We know that amid strife and conflict you are still moving. We pray for the church leaders and Christians in the Holy Land, and especially in Jerusalem. Give them peace and perseverance in the face of trials and give them hope in the face of conflict. At a time when Christian presence in the Middle East dwindles, we pray that you would strengthen and encourage those who remain. Help us who are distant from conflict to continue in prayer and to pursue justice with our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and beyond. Let us all be united in the task of bearing witness to your love.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Photo and prayer by Michael Santulli
Michael Santulli is a research intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.
As the hype around the Israeli elections comes to a close, the watching world questions if new peace talks are possible in the near future. The international community has been supportive over the years. They have encouraged the peace process and provided financial and diplomatic aid to protect Israel’s security and democracy in the region. However, frustration seems to be growing and patience is getting thin. There are many questions about the future of the Holy Land, but the one thing that is certain is that status quo of life in Israel and the Palestinian Territories cannot continue.
All people living in the Holy Land have unmet needs. Israelis want to feel safe and secure. Palestinians want live in freedom without the occupation. All want economic opportunities that will improve the lifestyles of their families and their hopes for a better future. These are common needs and basic desires from two groups of people who were created by the same God. Read more