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Israeli-Palestian conflict in focus as Presiding Bishops appeal to President
Episcopal, Lutheran leaders write joint letters

6/30/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  In retaliation for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian gunmen June 25, Israel has launched air strikes on the Gaza strip in Palestine, which resulted in the destruction of bridges and the only power plant in Gaza. An estimated 700,000 Palestinians are currently without power, and engineers estimate it will take three months to restore it. 

Reacting to the situation in Gaza, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bishop Mark S. Hanson, have sent a letter to President Bush condemning "the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and praying for his safe return" and calling upon the United States to "use its long friendship with Israel to find a diplomatic solution which will not further impoverish and burden ordinary Palestinians."

The Executive Committee of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), an alliance of 21 Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant denominations and related organizations,  has sent a letter appealing to the Bush Administration's top diplomats for the Middle East to do everything possible to calm the crisis in Gaza.  Maureen Shea, Director of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church, is chair of CMEP.

The text of both letters follows:


Letter to President Bush:

June 30, 2006

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

Mr. President, we write out of the deepest concern for the ever deteriorating situation in Gaza.  We condemn the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and pray for his safe return. We recognize the grief this brings to all Israelis but we cannot accept the response which punishes all Palestinians in Gaza. 

While it is helpful that President Mubarak and the Group of Eight foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are addressing the issue, the United States must use its long friendship with Israel to find a diplomatic solution which will not further impoverish and burden ordinary Palestinians. The loss of electricity alone affects all and only further escalates the mounting humanitarian crisis. Our churches and institutions there are filled with anguish as they try to meet the needs of Palestinians – whether Christian or Muslim. 

We have long applauded your vision and ours of a two-state solution and your Road Map for Peace. We continue to work with our Christian and Jewish colleagues to gain citizen support for this initiative but have been saddened that more progress has not been made toward its realization.  If the present situation is allowed to continue unchecked, it could end the tenuous hope that remains for a solution that brings peace to Israelis and Palestinians.

You, and your administration, are always in our prayers as you seek a way forward in these difficult times.

Sincerely yours,                                                               

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Churches for Middle East letter to Michael Doran at the National Security Council and to Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch:

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) appeals to you to encourage the Administration to do everything possible to calm the crisis in Gaza.  CMEP condemns the capture by Palestinian militants of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and prays that he will be released by Hamas without further delay and returned safely to his family.

CMEP urges the immediate intervention of the United States at the highest level with both Israeli and Palestinian officials. The mediating efforts of President Mubarak and the call by the foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, of the Group of Eight nations are important and appreciated, but this is not adequate. The United States, as Israel's closest ally, must work closely with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz and insist that they restrain their military response and work with President Abbas to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. 

The CMEP coalition of 21 Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches and church-related organizations receives reports from Palestinian partner churches and agencies. The Middle East Council of Churches' Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees, in a June 29 update of the situation in Gaza, reports on the horrible impact of the military campaign on the people of Gaza. Israel's attack on civilian infrastructure in Gaza including disabling the only power plant in Gaza and destroying bridges are acts of collective punishment that have resulted in tremendous suffering by ordinary Palestinian people.