Church leaders across the globe express deep concern over Israeli plan to annex parts of West Bank

By World Council of Churches, 17 June 2020

Church leaders from across the world are expressing their grave concern over the government of Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Archbishop Justin Welby and Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster published a “Joint Statement on Annexation” on 12 June, delivered to both the Israeli ambassador and the British prime minister. Welby and Nichols expressed their opposition to any move by the government of Israel to annex West Bank territory after 1 July 2020.

Welby and Nichols “unambiguously support the fundamental right of Israel’s citizens to live in peace and safety but these prospects can only be secured through negotiation rather than annexation.” It is essential that both Israelis and Palestinians may live without violence or the threat of violence from each other or other armed groups, they emphasised. “We continue to believe that negotiation is the only way to secure a genuine two-state solution in the Holy Land.”

Catholic and Anglican Bishops of the Holy Land Coordination reaffirmed that we all have a responsibility to promote a two-state solution. “Our churches therefore have an imperative to help prevent annexation, particularly by encouraging the UK government to clearly indicate that it would be met with a meaningful response not simply rhetorical condemnation,” reads their statement. “Whatever the modality, annexation would amount to the crossing of a rubicon and would irrevocably damage the prospects of two-state solution.”

The patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem are also observing with concern the unilateral plans as an obstacle to any peaceful agreement. “As a result of the stagnation of the Peace Process in the Middle East between the Israelis and Palestinians, an array of plans for Israel to unilaterally annex West Bank land, backed mainly by right-wing factions, raises serious and catastrophic questions about the feasibility of any peaceful agreement to end the decades’ long conflict, one that continues to cost many innocent lives as part of a vicious cycle of human tragedy and injustice,” reads their statement. “The Council of Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches views such unilateral annexation plans with the utmost concern and calls upon the State of Israel to refrain from such unilateral moves, which would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”

In a joint letter to heads of states that are part of the European Union, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Middle East Council of Churches have appealed for a firm and principled stance by the European Union against any annexation by Israel of occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

The organizations are “calling on the EU to ensure that any such annexation is met with real consequences, at least commensurate with those adopted by the EU in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”

The letter also expresses the WCC and MECC’s commitment “to the vision of a just peace for all people in the Holy Land.”

Heads of Arab Palestinian Christian churches wrote an appeal saying that the Holy Land is in a situation of war and needs to be restored to its holiness. “All are equally children of God,” the appeal reads. “We are deeply concerned with the sufferings and injustices imposed on our people.”

The appeal notes that the solution to this conflict was identified many years ago and expressed through numerous UN resolutions. “Our call is simply this, please implement what was already recognized. Let there be no more hatred, no more death, but only justice, equality and life.”

The Bishops Conference of the Church of Norway reflected that God calls us to create peace together, and contribute to justice for all people. “Together with churches around the world, we are concerned that the annexation will destroy the opportunity for peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians,” reads a statement released on 18 May. “This concern is shared by many in the international political leadership, including several European leaders and the UN leadership.”

Churches for Middle East Peace joined 26 church and Christian organizational leaders from the US in a letter to members of Congress opposing the unilateral annexation of significant portions of the West Bank.

“As of this writing, there is no evidence that President Trump and his administration will reverse course and reject annexation,” reads the letter, sent 2 June. “We call on Congress to wield its power of the purse and not allow any United States funds provided to Israel to be used for the recognition, facilitation or support of annexation, or for denial of Palestinian rights and violation of international law, including continuing occupation.”

Southern California (USA) Episcopalians are petitioning to halt Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land. The petition, organized by the Program Group on Global Partnerships of the Diocese of Los Angeles, reads: “With the exception of the Trump Administration, the world sees annexation as a direct violation of international law and conventions. Even if certain states will be cowed into silence and turn a deaf ear to the Palestinians’ call for justice, the United States should not.”

Together with leaders of Canadian churches, ecumenical organizations, and church-related organizations and networks, The United Church of Canada has written to the Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister for Foreign Affairs urging Canada to comply with international law by publicly opposing the government of Israel’s plan to annex occupied Palestinian territory.

“These plans constitute a grave breach of Canadian and international law, specifically Article 147 of the IV Geneva Convention, prohibiting the appropriation of property,” reads the letter. “This silence of the Canadian government is puzzling in light of the recent vote at the UN affirming the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, Canada’s policy position on Palestine-Israel, and its staunch support for the rule of law.”

The general secretary of the Swedish Christian Council, Karin Wiborn, wrote a letter to Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde regarding Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank.

“Together with patriarchs and church leaders in Jerusalem, the Middle East Christian Council and the World Council of Churches, we urge Sweden to stand with the other member states in the EU by the strong mark against an announced annexation,” the letter reads. “An Israeli annexation of the West Bank would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

The Vatican also expressed concern about “any future actions that could further compromise dialogue”, reiterating that “respect for international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions, is an indispensable element for the two peoples to live side by side in two States, within the borders internationally recognised before 1967”.

The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the International Community that will lead to peace — “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

The South African Council of Churches stated that the time has come for the communities of faith to dig into their spiritual reservoirs to work to end the suffering and insecurity of the people of the Holy Land. “For the several decades of conflict, the people of faith have left things to the politicians and the major political powers,” the statement reads. “If faith leaders offer no intervention for the peace of Jerusalem, the conflict will be the painful heritage of many future generations.”

The Middle East Commission of the Evangelical Church in Germany reaffirmed the internationally recognized perspective of a two-state solution. “With this statement we are aligned with our ecumenical partners such as the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches and, not least, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches recognized in the Holy Land,” the statement reads. “This call comes with the hope that, through it, people in our context will hear the voices of the people in the Holy Land and that it will send them a message of support and hope for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.”

A statement on Pentecost from Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, reflected that the political situation in Israel and Palestine has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, backed by the Trump administration, has taken advantage of the current global health crisis to move forward with plans to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley (or as they claim, to impose the Israeli sovereignty over these areas),” the statement reads. Expressing concern that “it is a move that will have catastrophic implications on any peace process and the future of a two-state solution,” Bishop Azar called for “liberation, not annexation.”

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