Geneva, 17 October 2000
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to bring to this Special Session a message of peace and hope from the churches and Christians of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
I am Father Georges Tsetsis from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and a member of the Central and Executive Committees of the World Council of Churches.
I speak on behalf of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches whose practice it is to bring to meetings of the Commission on Human Rights representatives of our member churches and individual Christians who can bear first-hand witness to the systematic violation of human rights in their lands. Members of our delegation include Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna, the personal representative of His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Right Reverend, Riah Abu El-Assal, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Dr. Marwan Bishara, a young Arab Israeli journalist and scholar. It is with deep regret that three other members of our delegation were prevented from attending this Special Session due to the military closure of the Palestinian Territories. They included Mrs. Jean Zaru, a pacifist Christian from Ramallah and former member of the WCC Central Committee, Mr. Constantine El’Dabbagh, from Gaza engaged with the Department for Services for Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches, and Ms Nahed Awwad from Beit Sahour, a young woman actively engaged in dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis through the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People.
We have submitted a written statement for inclusion in the record of this meeting. It and information detailing our decades-long engagement for peace in Jerusalem and the Middle East is available for delegates.
We congratulate the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur for their comprehensive statements and for having highlighted the pursuit of peace based on the full enjoyment of human rights for the peoples and citizens of Palestine and Israel. Such a peace must indeed be our goal.
Much has been said about the need for early warning of conflict. The Special Rapporteur this morning has made reference to the warnings he gave in his last report to the Commission of the rising tensions in the region He noted the growing impatience of Palestinians with a peace process which has brought them little peace and which stifles their desire to engage in a form of development of their homeland which will threaten no neighbor, but rather give them and their children the essential basis for dignified life. In view of this and many other such warnings, no one in this room can be surprised at the terrible violence in recent days, the genesis of which has been traced skillfully by the High Commissioner.
The churches in the Holy Land have long given a credible and compelling witness for lasting peace built on the foundations of justice. The experience of the past half-century has shown that justice delayed is justice denied. For too long the ministries of these churches have been to the victims of injustice: the displaced, the abjectly poor, and the victims of systematic violation of human rights. The churches have never failed, however, to bring a message of hope, of the longing for peace, and the promise of peace given by God who loves all without distinction.
We bear testimony today of how difficult it has been to hold fast to this message in the face of the consistent defiance of international law and the admonitions of the international community on the part of the occupying power. The roots of the present violence certainly lie there, and in Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights including collective punishments. The repeated use of excessive military and armed force in the name of a false notion of security has effectively denied both peace and security to both peoples. This force has been turned now upon the Arab population of Israel itself, contributing further to their vulnerability and alienation. It has intensified the polarization of Israeli society and widened the chasm that separates Israelis from Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
Peace and security for both peoples does not reside in the accumulation and use of military might, but rather in a will to share: to share the land and its resources equitably, to share the peace and responsibility for maintaining it, and to share the truth. We believe that a shared future is not only possible, but essential.
Christians firmly believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. But for this to be possible it is essential for the truth about past offenses to be revealed publicly, to be acknowledged and shared. For this reason we warmly welcome the call of the Security Council for the establishment of "a mechanism for a speedy and objective inquiry into the tragic events of the last few days with the aim of preventing their repetition". We hope that this Commission will take a lead to put such a mechanism in place without delay. Without such a process there can be little hope for overcoming impunity or for justice, peace or reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
However, Mr. Chairman, the experience of this Commission through the work of the Special Rapporteur, and of the United Nations General Assembly through its Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People is not encouraging. These have been efforts to ascertain the truth, but that truth has not been acknowledged and shared by the Occupying Power. Thus we appeal to Israel to cease withholding its cooperation and to use the occasion of the creation of a new mechanism to show its firm will to deal with the past in order to build a new future for themselves and their neighbors.
Mr. Chairman, reference has been made to intemperate statements of religious leaders in the course of the recent violence. We grant that some religious figures on both sides have given in to passion and expressed views that demonize the other. Religion can indeed be susceptible to misuse by political forces that aim to divide. But true religion is a resource for peace, harmonious living together, and of hope for a better, more just day.
Christian churches around the world have over the years, and especially now been constant in prayer for peace with justice in the Holy Land. They have found in the Holy City, Jerusalem, in its Holy Places and its "living stones", and especially in its churches and Christian communities a source of profound spiritual strength and hope. This strength does not reside in sectarian ideas or exclusivist claims, but rather in the promises shared by those who place their trust in one God. Their Beatitudes and Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem gave witness to this in their statement of 26 September in which they expressed their longing for "true peace with true justice and security for the ‘two peoples and three religions’ of this land - Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike."
Late last week, at a service of Ecumenical Prayer for Peace organized on the initiative of His Beatitude Diodoros, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Latin Patriarch Michael Sabbah spoke on behalf of his fellow Patriarchs and heads of the thirteen churches in Jerusalem who were present. I should like to conclude these remarks by sharing his words with you:
"Although we believe that our land was in the past and is still today a land of hatred and bloodshed, (he said,) we also believe that it was and must be today too a land of forgiveness and redemption. Violence, as long as it lasts, or as imposed by spirits who refuse to listen to the cries of the poor and to the voice of the victims, and to see the core of the question: in other words. a Palestinian people oppressed and deprived of his freedom... Violence as long as it lasts for these reasons, is neither our goal, nor our destiny. Our destiny is freedom in our land, and hence tranquility and security for all, Palestinians and Israelis alike. ...Amidst the hatred and the bloodshed, the word of God (given to us by the Apostle Paul) should dwell in our hearts; we must hear it, meditate upon it, even if it hurts:This is a call to conversion of the heart, of the mind and of the spirit. May this message be heard by all, and inspire our common pursuit of peace with justice for all."Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them, bless them. Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow. Give the same consideration to all others alike... Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect. As much as is possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone... If your enemy is hungry give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12:14-18, 20-21)""
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and delegates, for your kind attention.