International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

World Council of Churches
Study Seminar on the Question of Jerusalem

8-16 July 2000

Summary Report

Seminar feature: "Jerusalem: Who has access to God?" by Sara Speicher
US press release: "WCC hosts US young adult seminar on Jerusalem"

Introduction

As Middle East peace talks got underway at Camp David, 13 young adults from US churches participated in a one-week study seminar to learn about the different elements in the final status negotiations, especially the question of Jerusalem. The seminar, sponsored by the WCC International Affairs, Peace & Human Security team of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in cooperation with the youth program of the WCC USA office of the Church and Ecumenical Relations team, took place 8-16 July 2000.

The purpose of the seminar was to impart first-hand knowledge and viewpoints on the issues that make up the Jerusalem Question, and to give an insight into the ongoing debate on the fate and future of the city from the perspective of those who live there. The participants were also encouraged to develop partnerships with youth in Jerusalem and to establish a network of young Americans for peace in the Middle East for advocacy and awareness-building in the USA. This seminar is considered the first of a series of annual study seminars on this issue involving WCC member churches from different regions.


Study seminar participants, July 2000

Background

The conflict over the status of Jerusalem is often cited as the most sensitive, central and emotive of the conflicts shaking the Middle East region as a whole. Discussion in the current peace process as to the Holy City's future had been postponed at Israel's insistence, and then became the major obstacle in the Camp David talks in July. Palestinians in the annexed city continue to suffer the daily abuse of occupation in the form of Israeli discrimi-natory practices against them. Jerusalem is a unique city. Apart from being home to two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, it is a city central to the faith of Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. There is no other city in the world that generates such intense emotions complicating any political negotiations over its future.

The WCC has repeatedly addressed the question of Jerusalem since 1948. Most recently in 1998, the WCCís Eighth Assembly in Harare adopted a statement on the Status of Jerusalem, in which the churches expressed their conviction on principles that should be taken into consideration in any final agreement on Jerusalemís future status and that provide the basis for a common ecumenical approach. The Statement reaffirms earlier positions that "Jerusalem is a holy city for three monotheistic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- who share responsibility to cooperate to ensure that Jerusalem be a city open to the adherents of all three religions." In addition, the statement notes that "Jerusalem must remain an open and inclusive city" and that it "must be a shared city in terms of sovereignty and citizenship".

The WCCís Central Committee meeting in September 1999, reiterated the WCCís conviction that "Jerusalem is central to the faith of Christians" and that Christiansí have a responsibility to "pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem".

Study Seminar and Exposure Visit

The study seminar had four main components: orientation, workshop, exposure visit and debriefing.


The rooftops of Jerusalem's Old City - security cameras, guards and barricades - show the tension between two peoples.






Jean Zaru, a Quaker living in the West Bank, spoke of being a pacifist in a "violent structure": "I do rage for justice, but I refuse to destroy."

The orientation session began in New York on 8 July, led by David Weaver of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. The second part of the orientation took place in Jerusalem on 9 July with WCC staff Salpy Eskidjian and Sara Speicher, and Rev. Sandra Olewine of the Ecumenical Outreach Programme of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church (General Board of Global Ministries) based in Jerusalem.

A two-day workshop was hosted and organized by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study on International Affairs (PASSIA). From 12 - 15 July an exposure trip was organized locally by the Ecumenical Outreach Programme. It focused on meetings with church and political leaders, human rights activists, visits to the holy sites, and exposure to the political realities on the ground such as settlement and bypass road construction and security restrictions.

A debriefing session, facilitated by WCC staff, concentrated on sharing communication and advocacy strategies that the individual participants and the group as a whole could engage in back in the United States.

After they returned home, the participants were asked to reflect on how the study seminar has affected them. Their responses demonstrated that the workshops and first-hand exposure to the realities in Jerusalem and some of the issues involved in the peace talks have made a tremendous impact on their lives and commitment to action. Their list of presentations and actions that they have already taken, and plan to take, is impressive following a WCC event, as are their comments about the seminar itself. One participant summed it up, "Meeting so many amazing Palestinians and Israelis - people committed to a struggle in the face of adversity... people from all walks of life but (fairly) united in their voice... this was a testament to the purpose of the seminar: to learn and to advocate (and pray)."


Next Steps

The young adults have returned to the US with proposals for building awareness and advocacy in their denominations and in the ecumenical community. A statement on their commitment to advocacy efforts is attached. Participants developed partnerships with youth in Jerusalem and to NGOs and networks working on human rights and advocacy issues, and established an ecumenical network of young adults for peace in the Middle East.

As part of a communication strategy to raise awareness among WCC member churches of ecumenical efforts on the Question of Jerusalem, WCC Communications and the US Office had notified the communication departments of the participantsí denominations to alert them to the seminar and their church membersí participation. This has led to interviews and articles in church press. A press release on the seminar was done specifically for the US context.

Other elements of the wider WCC communication strategy on the status of Jerusalem include a WCC News article, press feature, background folder, and web page.


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