Israel and Palestine
General Assembly Action
Since 1994, the Gaza Strip has been surrounded by a barrier which separates its residents from the rest of the world. In late 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak approved the first project to build a similar barrier between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. Following land confiscation, construction of the barrier began in June of 2002, in the northern West Bank town of Jenin.
In order to protect illegal Israeli settlements, the barrier runs deep into the occupied West Bank, cutting Palestinian communities off from each other. It is constructed of a mixture of 25-foot tall concrete slabs, twin razor-wire fences on either side of a central a military patrol road, and fenced trenches. The first phase of wall construction concluded in July of 2003, covering a total distance of 90 miles. In October 2003, the Israeli government issued military orders declaring all lands west of the first phase as a "seam zone" institutionalizing a de facto annexation of these lands.
When completed, the barrier will surround Palestinian territory in general, and in some cities, like Qalqilya, a 25-foot wall will completely encircle the city, with the only entrance controlled by the Israeli army. The project is projected to be finished in 2005, covering a total distance of 452 miles and effectively annexing nearly 50% of the West Bank as Israeli territory.
What did the General Assembly do?
In response to a request from a regional Presbyterian body, the 2004 General Assembly instructed the stated clerk to "make known" its opposition to the construction of a wall and other barriers by the state of Israel, and further to make known the desire of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that the United States of America make no monetary contribution to the $1.3 billion cost of the construction of this wall."
Is this consistent with previous General Assembly actions?
The Assembly has approved numerous resolutions on Israel and Palestine, repeatedly affirming, clearly and unequivocally, Israel's right to exist within permanent, recognized, and "secure" borders (for example: 1969, 1974, 1977, 1983, 1989). It has deplored the cycle of escalating violence — carried out by both Palestinians and Israelis — that is rooted in Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territories (see statements of successive Assemblies since 1967). Presbyterians have expressed concern about the loss of lives of innocent Israelis and Palestinians (see "Resolution on the Middle East," 1997, and "Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End the Occupation Now," 2003).
Because of its deep interest in peace in the area, and concern about how the separation barrier is impacting the lives of people on both sides, the Assembly expressed grave alarm at the construction of the barrier. Further, given the long-standing, deeply rooted spiritual and programmatic bonds between the PC(USA) and its partner churches in the Holy Land, it is particularly concerned that the life and ministry of the dwindling remnant of the Christian community will be severely impeded.
In a separate action, the 2004 Assembly also "vigorously urges the U.S. government, the government of Israel, and the Palestinian leadership to move swiftly, and with resolve, to recognize that the only way out of this chronic and vicious impasse is to abandon all approaches that exacerbate further strife, lay aside arrogant political posturing, and get on with forging negotiated compromises that open a path to peace."
Good neighborly relations, rather than mutual isolation and suspicion, are urgently needed between Israel and its neighbors in Palestine and the Middle East.
The stated clerk of the General Assembly will communicate this action to the President of the United States, members of the U.S. Congress, the state of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. This action will also form a policy basis for advocating to end the wall's construction and to preclude U.S. financial support for the wall, while continuing to work to bring an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
The 216th General Assembly (2004) adopted this resolution, with comment:
"Recognizing that God's love as evidenced in Jesus Christ is for all God's children, and recognizing the human rights of all people to God's resources including land and water and livelihood, the 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) requests the Stated Clerk make known to the president of the United States, the members of Congress of the United States, and the State of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority its opposition to the construction of a wall and other barriers by the State of Israel and further to make known the desire of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that the United States of America make no monetary contribution to the 1.3 billion dollar cost of the construction of this wall, construction of which has already begun and will continue for several years."
Comment from the General Assembly Mission Council:
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approved numerous resolutions on Israel and Palestine, repeatedly affirming, clearly and unequivocally, Israel's right to exist within permanent, recognized, and "secure" borders (for example: 1969, 1974, 1977, 1983, 1989, etc.). It has deplored the cycle of escalating violence-carried out by both Palestinians and Israelis-which is rooted in Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territories (cf. statements of successive assemblies since 1967). Presbyterians have continued to be concerned about the loss of so many innocent lives of Israelis and Palestinians (see "Resolution on the Middle East," approved in 1997, and "Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End the Occupation Now," approved in 2003).
Because of its deep concern for peace in the area, and how the "Separation Barrier," generally referred to as the "Security Wall," is impacting the lives of people on both sides, the GAMC expresses grave alarm at the construction of this barrier. Further, given the long-standing, deeply rooted spiritual and programmatic bonds existing between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its partner churches in the Holy Land, it is particularly concerned that the life and ministry of the dwindling remnant of the Christian community will be severely impeded. As it voices these concerns within the framework of many General Assembly statements over more than thirty-five years, the GAMC wants to help Presbyterians to understand some of the aspects of the wall's impact. These may be summarized as follows:
- The "Separation Barrier," currently under construction, consists of a twenty-five-foot high concrete wall meandering through mostly Palestinian lands, plus stretches of electrified barbed-wire fence extensions of the wall.
- Israel claims it is building the wall between Israel and the West Bank, but only 10 percent will be on the Green Line (i.e., Israel's 1967 border).
- Ninety percent of the rest stretches into the West Bank, isolates significant amounts of land, and affects the lives of many thousands of Palestinians. This year approximately 210,000 people will be economically and socially cut off from their neighborhoods, their families, their farmlands, their employment, their educational and health-care facilities, and their places of worship.
- A wall built along the Green Line would be half the length of the current wall and much easier to patrol.
Many believe that the route of the wall has been determined not by security, but by the political goals of maintaining the settlements and impacting future peace talks. Palestinian church partners have expressed the view that they might not object to the construction of a wall if it were built on Israeli land. The current wall ghettoizes the Palestinians and forces them onto what can only be called reservations.
The General Assembly Mission Councilis engaged in various ministries that support the Christian churches and ecumenical bodies in their own work of evangelism, outreach and church growth, health ministries, education, economic and social development, peacemaking, interfaith dialogue, reconciliation, and cooperation.
Especially following a recent visit by an official PC(USA) delegation to Israel and Palestine (in February 2004), the GAMC believes that the best hope for security for both Israelis and Palestinians may be found in laying down all forms of aggression on both sides, ending the Israeli occupation, and finding ways to build bridges of peace rather than walls of separation. Good neighborly relations, rather than mutual isolation and suspicion, are urgently needed between Israel and its neighbors in Palestine and the Middle East.