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March 29, 2002
Open Letter to Colin Powell from English-Speaking Communities in the Holy Land



The Rev. Michael P. Thomas & the Rev. Susan P. Thomas
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
P.O. Box 14076 - Old City
91140 Jerusalem, via ISRAEL

Office: +972 (0)2 627-6111
Home & fax: +972 (0)2 628-1049
Handy number: 054-378-057

from Members of English-Speaking Christian Communities in the Holy Land

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
U.S. State Department
2202 C Street NW
Washington DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary,

... No one can remain indifferent to the injustice of which the Palestinian people have been victims for more than fifty years. No one can contest the right of the Israeli to live in security. But neither can anyone forget the innocent victims who on both sides fall day after day under the blows of violence. Weapons and bloody attacks will never be the right means for making a political statement to the other side. Nor is the logic of the law of retaliation capable any longer of leading to paths of peace.
John Paul II (January 10, 2002)

We, the undersigned, have experienced and can attest to the truth of these words of Pope John Paul II. We are members of several English-speaking Christian communities in the Holy Land who have been living in Israel and in the Occupied Territories. Our length of residence ranges from six months to twenty years. We represent a number of English-speaking nationalities, predominantly American but also many others, and a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. We include students and professors, parents and clergy, US government/ USAID personnel, heads/personnel of American and other non-governmental aid agencies, international diplomats, officials working for UN agencies and health and education professionals.

We are writing to you out of a deep concern and urgency. The violent and horrible events in this land have escalated in recent weeks. America is deeply involved in this conflict both as a broker of the peace process and as a supplier of weapons of death and destruction. The increased violence has underscored the failure of successive American administrations to implement defined policies for the resolution of this conflict.

Twenty-five years have passed since President Sadat visited Jerusalem and opened the way to the Camp David peace process. Camp David was eventually succeeded by the Oslo Accords, then the Wye River Agreement, and more recently by the Mitchell and Tenet reports. None of these agreements have been implemented. A generation of Israeli and Palestinian youth has grown up observing the lack of political will of the United States government to implement our defined policies for the Middle East. Moderates on both sides of this conflict have been marginalized and discredited by the failure to bring about a just and lasting peace. Both the Israeli creation of “facts on the ground”, and the terror attacks against innocent civilians, have succeeded in delaying the timeframe and in presenting further obstacles to the search for a just and lasting peace.

The US government has accepted such negative developments with apparent equanimity. It has capitulated to the demands and excesses of the extremists and radicals on both sides who have no interest in peace and reconciliation. To date, it has failed to address the major cause of the problem - the oppressive and illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza The legitimate human and civil rights of the Palestinian people and their right to their own national homeland have been denied - rights that most peoples of the earth enjoy and take for granted. Palestinians daily face the expropriation of their land and the unrelenting construction on this land of Israeli settlements and settlement roads. Over the last 18 months ordinary Palestinians have also suffered under the Israeli 'closures' and military siege, which have cut them off from their places of employment, study, basic health-care and families.

During this period, our Christian communities have seen the horrific effects of the work of suicide-bombers and other militants on the people and cities of Israel, and some have narrowly escaped injury in such incidents. Some among us, however, can also testify to having personally eye-witnessed a wide range of violations of Palestinian basic human rights and personal freedoms by the Israeli authorities, including:

  • house demolitions with families made homeless;
  • uprooting of ancient olive and citrus groves on which multiple families are dependent for their livelihoods;
  • families cowering in terror as US-manufactured missiles shower down indiscriminately on civilian areas from US-manufactured Apache helicopters and F-16 bombers, or from Israeli tanks;
  • shelling of buildings right beside foreign diplomatic and UN offices in Ramallah and Gaza, recklessly endangering their international and other staff;
  • indiscriminate shootings by IDF soldiers at checkpoints of civilians, including children, women, the elderly and the disabled; as well as firing of tear gas at such people crossing the checkpoints on foot by young, seemingly bored or frightened IDF recruits;
  • severe harassment and physical abuse of Palestinians of all ages at such checkpoints;
  • inappropriate handling of young Arab women at these locations;
  • regular obstruction of teachers and students trying to reach schools and universities;
  • harassment and obstruction of ambulances trying to carry emergency cases to hospital and blocking of UNRWA and other humanitarian relief operations.

    Similar incidents of this kind have been widely reported on by almost all the main Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights and humanitarian organizations.

    All the members of our Christian communities unequivocally condemn and reject terrorism and violence as a means of advancing the political cause of the Palestinians, and fully recognize the right of the Israeli people to live in peace and security in their own state. Our experience here also helps us understand why, in their desperation, some young Palestinians see no other options available to them and nothing for them to live for. The US Administration has focused predominantly on the admittedly horrific and unacceptable violence of the Palestinian militants against Israelis but it has given insufficient attention both to the causes of Palestinian militancy and terror, and the daily terror and war that Israel is inflicting with impunity on the largely civilian Palestinian population. This has, not surprisingly, led to the emergence of a strong sense of moral outrage on the part of the majority of Arabs and Muslims worldwide. It has also generated a major questioning among millions of people of conscience internationally of the credibility, impartiality and moral authority of the US government and its policies. This in turn has contributed significantly to the hostility felt by many people internationally towards the US, its government and its citizens.

    There is an urgent need for the resolution of this conflict. There is a solution possible, but it is neither a military one, nor a terrorist one. The parameters of the solution have been clearly delineated and the vision spelled out by you yourself, Mr. Secretary, in Louisville, and by President Bush at the UN. They are expressed in US-sponsored Security Council Resolution 1397, a very welcome initiative indeed; and also in the proposals recently set forth by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and, most tantalizingly of all, in the Taba talks that ended in January last year, which brought the two sides to the brink of an historic breakthrough on most of the highly complex and deeply entrenched of the issues dividing the two sides. It is no longer appropriate to discuss proposals about interim solutions or arrangements. These interim policies have been the framework under which Israel has extended and expanded its illegal presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The US government has been a proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now is the time for the US government to operate within the rubric of the United Nations and to finalize a settlement to this conflict in accordance with Resolutions 242, 338 and 1397. This is a period in history that requires clear policy definition, firm political will, and consistency in action by the US government. The US government needs to display a type of “tough love” that links funding assistance with policy decisions that express its concern for all the peoples of this land.

    We welcome General Zinni to Jerusalem and recognize the very severe obstacles he faces. We express the fervent hope that he will continue to receive the firm political backing, and strong, balanced mandate he needs from the top levels of his Administration in order to broker a just and lasting peace. It is the consensus of the undersigned members of our Christian communities that the only way to achieve success will be a firm, even-handed approach exerting equal pressure on both parties to halt the violence and provocation. From what we have observed, the presence of international observers is crucial for achieving this halt to violence and facilitating the return to negotiations. Necessary also is a simultaneous move to develop the political dimension, through the implementation of the Mitchell Report and the resumption of final status negotiations. To demand that President Arafat deliver a unilateral cease-fire while the closures remain firmly in place and Israeli military offensives and provocation continue, cannot and will not succeed. In the interests of the Israeli people who are suffering so much from the conflict, the United States must also persuade the Israeli Government to play its part, by implementing parallel measures to lift the military and economic siege and by progressing toward finalizing negotiations. Consistency of will to move beyond the rhetoric of US policy and to implement its stated goals will restore the credibility to the peace process and to the role the US government seeks to play as the honest broker of the peace process.

    As people of faith, committed to the struggle for peace, justice and reconciliation, we have a deep love for this Land and for all of its people. Our experience here convinces us of the basic truth expressed in the words of John Paul II, and we appeal to all sides in this present conflict to come to this same recognition: One against the other, neither Israelis nor Palestinians can win the war. But together they can win the peace.

    Members of English-Speaking Parishes in the Holy Land
    25 March 2002

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