|Historic black Methodist church delegation visits Holy Land|
Delegates from historic African-American
Methodist churches confer in the Holy Land. Photo by Lesley Crosson,
Church World Service.
By Lesley Crosson*
Nov. 14, 2006 | ORLANDO (UMNS)
A delegation of leaders from historic African-American churches who
just returned 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, which included
representatives from three Methodist denominations - the Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and
the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church - now are vowing to work
with their communions and congregations, the Jewish, Christian and
Islamic faith communities, politicians and Palestinians in the Diaspora
to focus attention on the deteriorating situation in the Holy Land.
The Oct. 27-Nov. 3 trip was hosted by the global humanitarian agency
Church World Service, and the delegation was led by the Rev. John L.
McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and CWS executive director.
Bishop Aris (left), Armenian Patriarchate Ecumenical Officer for Jerusalem, speaks
to the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and chief
executive for Church World Service. Photo by Lesley Crosson, Church
Delegation members reported their findings 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
On a visit to the Israeli-built barrier now separating Palestinian
residents in the West Bank from residents in Israel-controlled
Jerusalem, AME 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, 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 nearly 26-foot-high wall portion of the barrier,
which in some places runs through the home sites and farms of
Palestinians, a "separation barrier." Palestinians alternately referred
to it as the "apartheid wall" or the "segregation wall."
The controversial 400-mile-plus West Bank barrier is marked with
protest slogans left by visitors, including a fading stencil of the
United Methodist Cross and Flame symbol.
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.
"I can understand Israelis concern about security. That's a valid
concern for anyone, even though there have been very few incidents that
truly threaten their security. But when you take a wall that separates
families, that keeps people from their land, that causes immense
hardship, that is overkill and there is no justification for that wall,"
said Bishop Louis Hunter of the AME Zion Church.
The 12-member 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.
Linked to the discussion of the oppression of the mostly-Christian
community in Jerusalem was the threat to the survival of a Christian
presence in the Holy Land, where Arab Christians and Palestinian
Christians have lived for 2,000 years since the earliest Christian
The 400-mile-plus West Bank barrier is marked
with protest slogans left by visitors. Photo by Lesley Crosson, Church
Bishop Aris, the Armenian Patriarchate Ecumenical Officer for
Jerusalem, called upon Christians to "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.
"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," McCullough observed.
"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," he 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
In a Nov. 2 meeting with the delegation 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 percent of Palestine. The share now
is 22 percent."
Abbas said the international siege over the past 10 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."
Emphasizing the need to draw more worldwide attention to the crisis
in the region, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Catholic Patriarch
of Jerusalem, told 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."
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."
Delegates vowed to try to change that. Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham of
the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church said 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."
McCloud pledged to look "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."
Other members of the delegation included the Rev. Tyrone Pitts, chief
executive, Progressive National Baptist Convention; the Rev. A. Wayne
Johnson, chief executive, National Missionary Baptist Convention of
America; the Rev. George T. Brooks Sr., National Baptist Church of
America; the Rev. Charles Mock, executive secretary, National Baptist
Convention USA; and David Weaver and Cheryl Dudley, CWS staff.
*Crosson is the media relations officer for Church World Service and she accompanied the delegation.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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