BLACK CHURCHES RETURN FROM JERUSALEM

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"I found myself tearful at times as I looked at the consequences of that wall,� said delegate Rev. Dr. Charles Mock of the National Baptist Convention USA. “I come back with mixed emotions because I also see complacency and a lack of commitment to struggle in defense of the have-nots at home."

Photo: His Beatitude Theophilos, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in
Jerusalem, told leaders from the historic Black churches in the United
States, "You are the right delegation to come to talk about these problems
because of what you have experienced yourselves." Pictured l-r: Rev. John L.
McCullough, Church World Service; Rev. George T. Brooks, Sr., National
Baptist Convention of America; Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham, Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church; His Beatitude Theopolis; Bishop Louis Hunter,
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Rev. Dr. A. Wayne Johnson, National
Missionary Baptist Convention of America; Rev. Dr. Charles Mock, National
Baptist Convention USA.

Photo Credit: Lesley Crosson/Church World Service


ORLANDO ­-- Fri Nov 10­ -- A delegation of leaders from historic African American
churches just returning from Jerusalem and the Holy Land says conditions for
Palestinians in the West Bank painfully echo the injustices suffered by
people of color during South Africa’s apartheid era and during the pre-civil
rights era in America.

Black church leaders in the delegation, hosted by global humanitarian agency
Church World Service, now are vowing to work with their communions and
congregations, the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith communities,
politicians, and Palestinians in diaspora to focus attention on the
deteriorating situation in the Holy Land.

On a visit to the Israeli-built barrier now separating Palestinian residents
in the West Bank from residents in Israel-controlled Jerusalem, African
Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop E. Earl McCloud, Jr., said, “I'm surprised
by the blatant attempt of Israelis to separate themselves. I've also been on
the backside of fear of Black people,� he said, “and it makes me sad to see
this wall and to hear so many say this wall has been built with money I have
sent to the U.S. government in tax dollars.�

Supporters call the approximately 26 foot high wall portion of the barrier­
which in many places runs through the home sites and farms of Palestinians­
a “separation barrier.�  Palestinians alternately refer to it as the
“apartheid wall� or the “segregation wall.�

The controversial 400-mile-plus West Bank barrier is being constructed by
Israel using a network of 90% fences, with vehicle-barrier trenches
averaging 65 yards wide, and 10% of concrete wall up to 26 feet high.

Supporters say the barrier is necessary to protect Israeli civilians from
Palestinian suicide bombing in public places. Opponents say the barrier
violates international law, is an illegal effort to annex Palestinian land,
and severely restricts the normal life movements of Palestinians who live in
the area.

This delegation, led by Church World Service Executive Director and Chief
Executive Officer the Rev. John L. McCullough, is the first time that the
historic Black churches have been invited by Christian leaders in the Holy
Land to come as a group to witness people living severed in the heart of a
divided land.

Delegates reported their findings on Thursday (Nov 9) in Orlando at the
combined General Assembly of Church World Service and the National Council
of Churches­ an annual meeting of leaders from 35 mainline Christian
denominations.

"I found myself tearful at times as I looked at the consequences of that
wall,� said delegate Rev. Dr. Charles Mock of the National Baptist
Convention USA. “I come back with mixed emotions because I also see
complacency and a lack of commitment to struggle in defense of the have-nots
at home."

The twelve-person delegation met with heads of the region’s oldest Orthodox
and Latin Catholic churches and with Anglican, Lutheran, and Jewish faith
leaders and government officials. The group also conferred with Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry
representative Shmuel ben Shmuel.

In a sign of unity, after his meeting with the Church World Service
delegation on Nov. 6, His Beatitude Theophilos, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch
of Jerusalem, was moved to visit the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
Jerusalem following Reformation Day services at the church.  It was the
first time ever that the Greek Orthodox Church­ considered the mother church
of Christendom in the Holy Land­ has visited the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in Jerusalem.

The patriarch told the delegation that Jerusalem, the Holy City, “has been
watered with the very blood of Christ,� and that the Christian presence
survives only because of the holy places.

He added that beyond moral support, the church also needed material
support-- in the form of schools, churches and job opportunities to assist
the Holy City’s mostly-Palestinian Christian community.


President Abbas tells delegation: Palestinians’ share of Palestine down from
95% to 22%:

In a November 2 meeting with the delegation, Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas shared his views on a two-state solution for Israel and
Palestine. “We should have our own state within the borders outlined in the
1967 agreement,� Abbas said.  “In the past, Palestinians owned 95% of
Palestine.  The share now is 22%."

Abbas said the international siege over the past ten months has increased
the suffering of people living in occupied Palestine, “with invasions every
day, fatalities, and increased demolitions of houses.�

“We recognize the right of Israelis to live, but we also want them to
recognize our right to live safely within our own borders,� Abbas told the
delegation.

When Abbas revealed that his optimism has grown because the American
government now is trying to facilitate, with the help of a mediator,
discussions to resolve the conflict, CWS head McCullough told him, “I am
encouraged to hear you say that America has been showing some positive
signs.�

As a relief, development and refugee assistance agency, Church World Service
advocates in the U.S. and internationally for human rights and justice.

The Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, said
to the delegation, “The conflict is not just the business of Palestinians
and Israelis. It is the business of every Christian whose obligation is to
witness justice, equality and love for all, not just for a chosen few.� He
described life for Palestinian Christians as an existence "behind walls,
with checkpoints, like prisoners living life by permit."

Sabbah said that Palestinian terrorism, violence and anti-Israel attitudes
all are fired by the Israeli occupation of Palestine. "Take away the
occupation and all these things will go away,� he said.

He asked the delegation to tell U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
that "Palestinians are able to live with and love the Israelis, but the
Israelis do not believe this. They will live in peace once the Palestinians
have their rights.�

The severely limited freedom and discrimination against Palestinian
Christians make social and economic development impossible. "In the
political arena,� Sabbah said. “I think that we have no place on the agenda
and we do not count," he said.

In another meeting, Bishop Aris, the Armenian Patriarchate Ecumenical
Officer for Jerusalem, said he wanted the people and government of the U.S.
to know that "We have the same Lord and Savior, the same Bible that unites
us.

“Christians should therefore unify in the common cause of maintaining the
holy places of Jerusalem for people of all faiths,� Aris said.

The Christian community represents less than 1.5 percent of the population
in the region.   Says CWS head McCullough, “If the current situation
continues it may well result in the extinction of the Christian presence in
the Holy Land and seriously endanger continued collaboration amongst the
three Abrahamic traditions represented there.

"The mostly Palestinian Christian community is facing a period of intense
crisis because of the expanded separation wall and restrictions on the
ability of Palestinians to travel from the West Bank into Jerusalem,�
McCullough said. “Israeli security and defense policies also seem to
unfairly infringe upon the churches, including the effective conduct of
their affairs, the nurturing of their members, and the fulfillment of their
ministries,� he said.

The American group also visited the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit
Sahour, just outside Bethlehem. The school’s principal, Salameh Bishara says
the pass laws for Palestinians---similar to the apartheid-era pass laws in
South Africa--mean that he and other Palestinians in the occupied
territories "are living in a box; a big ghetto. My daughter has never been
to the sea. We live a one-hour drive from the Dead Sea and I cannot take
her."

Bishop Louis Hunter of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, said, “I
don't care what anyone says, I'm going to do something for the kids in that
Lutheran School.�   Hunter, whose episcopal seat is in Suwanee, Georgia,
also declared that he will “become a megaphone in the AME Zion Church� to
bring attention to the inequality in the Holy Land.

Others delegates share those sentiments.  Christian Methodist Episcopal
Church Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham says he is “prepared to become a part of
a prophetic ministry to bring this situation to the forefront and to be a
part of the search for a solution.�

AME Bishop McCloud says, "We're going to be looking for ways to positively
and dramatically impact this situation.  We're going to work with Church
World Service. We're going to work with the Congressional Black Caucus.
We're going to work with the ecumenical leadership. We've got to bring
attention to this in America."

In a somber assessment, Church World Service Board Representative Dr.
Belletech Deressa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, observed,
“This crisis is different to me than any other one.  I always thought that
yes, there is a difference between the Palestinians and the Jews; yes, there
is animosity. But now I realize that it is worse than racism and worse than
apartheid.  I don't really have a word for it."

In describing Church World Service’s decision to sponsor the historic
delegation in response to the invitation from the Mideast church leaders,
McCullough said, "Our goal was to provide African-American religious leaders
with an opportunity to analyze this crisis through the lens of their faith
and their experience of the civil rights movement in the United States.

“We wanted to give them an open forum through which they could expand their
previous knowledge of the region and give them sufficient space to reach to
their own unbiased assessment."

Other members of the delegation included Dr. Tyrone Pitts, general
secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention; Rev. Dr. A. Wayne
Johnson, general secretary, National Missionary Baptist Convention of
America; Rev. George T. Brooks, Sr., pastor of St. James Baptist Church,
National Baptist Church of America; and Church World Service staffers Lesley
Crosson, media relations officer, Cheryl Dudley, Senior Advisor to the
Executive Director, and David Weaver, director of mission relationships and
witness.

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“Speaking Truth To Empower.�

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