US Press Release
US Office, World Council of Churches, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 915, New York, NY 10115, 212-870-3193

July 2000


As Middle East peace talks got underway at Camp David, 13 young adults from US churches were participating in a one-week seminar and exposure trip to learn about the different elements in the final status negotiations, especially the question of Jerusalem. The young adults have returned to the US with proposals for building awareness and advocacy in their denominations and in the ecumenical community.

The seminar, sponsored by the (then) WCC International Relations 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 9-15 July 2000. Participants were encouraged to develop partnerships with youth in Jerusalem and to establish a network of young Americans for peace in the Middle East.

The visit included a two-day study seminar on Jerusalem organized by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study on International Affairs (PASSIA). From 12-14 July, the ecumenical outreach program of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church (General Board of Global Ministries) based in Jerusalem organized an exposure trip. 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.

Ruth Allen, Gender Justice Issues Program Coordinator for the Presbyterian United Nations Office in New York, said the seminar had a profound effect on her understanding of the issues being discussed at the Camp David talks. « Christians just look at this as our Holy City. We have to recognize that this is a significant place for two other religions as well. We need to respect that and find ways for the city to be shared. »

The status of Jerusalem is one of the key issues essential to any final negotiated agreement in the Middle East peace process. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, and it is considered a holy city for Judaism, Islam and Christianity. During the 1948 war, Israeli forces captured 85% of Jerusalem, mainly in the city’s western part and surrounding neighborhoods. In June 1967, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In 1993, the Israeli government imposed a general closure denying Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip entrance to Israel and access to Jerusalem.

Palestinian Christians now make up only about two percent of the population in Jerusalem, and three percent in the Occupied Territories. Approximately 59 percent are from the Orthodox traditions, 36 percent are Catholics, and 5 percent are Protestants.

Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan, called on international churches to stand in solidarity with the local churches: « If you lose the local churches, you lose Christianity in Jerusalem ». He noted that Christians need « equal rights and responsibilities » in Jerusalem, including free access to the Holy sites. Currently Palestinian Christians and Muslims living in the Occupied Territories outside Jerusalem cannot enter Jerusalem and visit the sites holy to each tradition.

His Beatitude Michel Sabbah of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem also emphasized to the group that « Jerusalem should remain a city of God and accessible to all people. »

For some seminar participants, personal connections to the conflict were found. Following a presentation by a legal office documenting both Israeli and Palestinian human rights abuses, Vance Robbins, who grew up in a Cherokee community and is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, shared emotionally how similar he found the situations of Palestinians to those of Native Americans in the US. « I am going to pray for you and for the Israelis », he told the Palestinian lawyer, « because the injustice still exists in the US and it shouldn’t exist anywhere else. »

Allen said, « The church - the global church - needs to be relevant in Jerusalem. The local church is dealing with the situation daily. The international churches need current, clear and accurate information on the situation and need to listen to the local church for ways to relevant. »

The young adult participants committed themselves to raising awareness and engaging in advocacy back in the US. They identified methods such as writing articles, leading workshops, engaging in campaigns, and networking with church and ecumenical groups including groups based in Palestine/Israel.

The World Council of Churches has repeatedly addressed the question of Jerusalem since 1948. Most recently in 1998, the WCC’s 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 Jerusalem’s 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 WCC’s Central Committee meeting in September 1999, reiterated the WCC’s conviction that « Jerusalem is central to the faith of Christians » and that Christians’ have a responsibility to « pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem ».

Participants in the seminar included:
Ruth Allen, Presbyterian Church USA (New York)
Michelle Curtis, Presbyterian Church USA (New Mexico)
Wylin Dassie, Freewill Baptist Conference (Georgia)
Lars Jepsen, Presbyterian Church USA (California)
Kawi Mailutha, Presbyterian Church USA (Kenya and New York)
Hannah Merriman, Friends United Meeting (New York)
Jodie Mueller, Episcopal Church (New York)
Kathryn Olsen, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Illinois)
Nick Reith, Episcopal Church (Connecticut)
Vance Robbins, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Texas)
Traci Scheuermann, Presbyterian Church USA (Iowa)
Casey Thompson, Presbyterian Church USA (Iowa)
Ana Toledo, United Methodist Church (Maryland)

The 1998 WCC Assembly Statement on the Status of Jerusalem can be found on this web site.

For more information contact:
Philip E. Jenks, Communications Officer
475 Riverside Drive, Room 915
New York, NY 10115, 212-870-3193, USA

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.