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Churches ask U.S. ‘to refrain from steps that…exacerbate the violence’ in Gaza

The group Churches for Middle East Peace has issued a statement saying that the ongoing conflict in Gaza will not end without the parties involved addressing “core systemic issues” and asks the U.S. to refrain from making interventions that could worsen the situation.

The statement , issued Oct. 9, begins:

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) continues to grieve the devastating loss of life in Israel/Palestine. As the numbers of those killed and injured climb, we ask people of faith to remain committed to praying and working toward an immediate end to the violence. Yet, cessation of conflict will not automatically bring justice. Without attention to the core systemic issues of the war and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory, there will be no real peace. At a time when the rush by governments will be for more military responses, CMEP prays for the de-escalation of violence to prevail. We urge an escalation of diplomatic efforts by the United States, through the United Nations, and other regional bodies. Too many people are already grieving the loss of loved ones.

CMEP calls for an immediate end to all violence and calls for restraint from all parties. CMEP is deeply concerned by the prospect of an Israeli protracted military offensive and possible ground invasion into Gaza that could result in considerably more deaths and destruction and a broader regional war. Half of the 2.2 million people of Gaza are children.

The war between Hamas-led fighters and the Israeli government forces began when Hamas breached a border wall with bulldozers, hang gliders and dirt bikes, killing Israeli soldiers and civilians. In response, Israel began a bombing campaign and sealed all entrances and exits into and out of Gaza, and threatened to bomb the Gazan border with Egypt when aid vehicles approached it. Israel also shut off utility access to Gaza in response to the attack.

As of Oct. 12, 1,799 Gazans had died and 7,388 had been wounded as a result of the violence, while 1,300 Israelis were killed and 3,000 injured.

In discussing the situation, the CMEP calls much of what is happening in Gaza “collective punishment”. The statement largely focuses on Israel’s response rather than on Hamas’ actions, and continues:

CMEP abhors reports from the Israeli government that they have shut off power, water, and fuel to the people of Gaza. These actions constitute collective punishment, and international law designates such actions as illegal and unconscionable. The lack of water, electricity, fuel, and access to medical supplies will have a disastrous impact on millions of civilians in Gaza, especially those who need immediate medical attention. We urge the resumption of power, water, and gas for the people of Gaza. CMEP calls for the protection of access to humanitarian aid and the cessation of conflict so that emergency medical care can be offered.

The call from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu telling Gazan residents “to leave” is completely unrealistic given that all border crossings in and out of Gaza are closed, and leaving is not an option for the more than two million people living there. CMEP calls on Hamas to do no harm and to release all hostages held in captivity. CMEP continues to hold in prayer the families of those held hostage and the families of all who have been wounded or lost their lives already in the violence of the past few days. CMEP calls on the international community and the United States to stop supporting further militarization and pursue every alternative means to protect all Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

The group also issued a call for the U.S. government to resist joining in actions that it said could make the situation worse. The statement continues:

The United States has long failed to serve as a constructive partner in helping to secure a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine. During heightened tension, CMEP implores the U.S. government to refrain from steps that only exacerbate the violence and increase the risk of expanding war into the broader region. Core issues of the conflict must be addressed, including but not limited to: ceasing the expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; ending impunity given to settlers when they attack Palestinians, their homes, their lands, and religious sites; reversing de facto annexation of Palestinian land;  ending the blockade of Gaza while ensuring the legitimate security needs of Israelis; ensuring freedom of access and movement for Palestinians. These are among numerous other issues that the United States and many in the international community have not held Israel accountable for decades.

While mourning the tragic events happening in Gaza and Israel, CMEP remains committed to prayer and the belief that peace is possible even in these devastating times.

The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ — denominations that are part of CMEP — joined 27 other churches in sending a letter to Congress asking for them to call for a ceasefire, to find steps to protect civilians, and to call on everyone involved to follow the Geneva Conventions and international law. The letter opens:

We have watched in sadness the devastating loss of life in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories over the last several days. As Church-based denominations and organizations with deep ties to the Holy Land, we mourn with our Israeli and Palestinian siblings as they grieve the loss of loved ones and remain fearful of continued violence. Our commitment remains to a future in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace, with security and human rights protected for all.

We unequivocally condemn Hamas’ attacks and violent treatment of civilians and call for the immediate release of all hostages in captivity. We also condemn the indiscriminate and violent Israeli response that has already claimed hundreds of civilian lives. The Israeli government’s decision to shut off power, water, and fuel will have a disastrous impact on millions of civilians in Gaza, including over a million children, especially those who need immediate medical attention.

The letter says that past efforts have not prevented further bloodshed, and echoes the CMEP call to end what it calls “collective punishment” of Gazans.

Read the entire letter here.

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