and Palestinians should consider the death of Yasser Arafat to be an
opportunity for peacebuilding rather than an excuse for further
conflict, a United Methodist official said.
The Rev. R. Randy Day,
chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries,
noted that Arafat’s death "comes at a crucial and volatile time in the
Middle East." Day returned Nov. 1 from a trip to the Middle East, where
he and other members of a Church World Service delegation met with
Christian and Muslim leaders in the region.
Arafat, who led the Palestinians in their quest for independence for
some 40 years, died Nov. 11 in a hospital in Paris, where he had been in
a coma. Following a memorial service in Cairo, Egypt, he will be buried
in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Peter Weiderud, director of
the World Council of Churches’ International Affairs Commission, sent a
letter to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei, recognizing Arafat’s
commitment to including both Christians and Muslims as participants in
Palestinian society. The United Methodist Church is a major supporter of
Weiderud said the WCC would continue working with the
Palestinian people on human rights issues and the goal of sustainable
livelihoods. The ecumenical organization inaugurated the Ecumenical
Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel in August 2002.
December 2000, United Methodist Bishop William Oden, then president of
the denomination’s Council of Bishops, was part of a high-level
delegation of U.S. Christian leaders who met with Arafat during a visit
to Gaza City in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. At the time, Arafat
complained that all Palestinian towns and cities were "under siege" and
encouraged the delegation to make a strong push to save the peace
In his statement, Day pointed out that a two-state
solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories is urgently needed.
"People of political and religious affiliation on all sides are tired of
relentless violence and of 37 years of military occupation," he said.
decades, Arafat symbolized the hopes and aspirations of Palestinians
and brought international attention to their cause," he said. "The most
fitting tribute to him would be strong and deliberate measures by
Palestinians and Israelis — and by the international community — to
uphold international law and human rights."
The Rev. Alex Award, a
Palestinian-American and missionary with the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries, also believes a new chance for peace is possible.
"The selection of the new Palestinian leadership following the death of
Yasser Arafat may actually speed up the peace process," he said during a
Nov. 11 meeting with board staff in New York.
"For two years,
Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush have refused to talk with
Arafat," he added. "They will not be able to refuse to talk with the new
leadership of the Palestinian Authority."
Awad expressed strong
concern about the continuing decline of the Christian population.
Present since the first Pentecost, the Christian population is about 2
percent of the "Holy Land" population, down from about 20 percent 40
"The presence of Christianity in the land of
Jesus’ birth will end in 10 to 15 years unless the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict comes to an end," Awad said. "Christians will continue to
leave. I am deeply troubled when American Christians go to the Holy Land
and do not seem to be aware of or meeting with Christians there."
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. R. Randy Day’s full statement follows:
death of Yasser Arafat comes at a crucial and volatile time in the
Middle East. This I can affirm having just returned from an extensive
tour of the region with other church leaders concerned with peace and
justice. The necessity of a viable Palestinian state in Gaza, West Bank,
and East Jerusalem – existing side by side with Israel – is more urgent
than ever and may even be possible. People of political and religious
affiliation on all sides are tired of relentless violence and of 37
years of military occupation.
For decades, Arafat symbolized the
hopes and aspirations of Palestinians and brought international
attention to their cause. The most fitting tribute to him would be
strong and deliberate measures by Palestinians and Israelis — and by the
international community —to uphold international law and human rights.
pray that all sides in the protracted Middle East conflict, including
the many factions among the Palestinians and the Israelis, will use the
passing of Yasser Arafat as a time to build for peace rather than an
occasion to escalate tensions by either words or actions. I pray that
collective punishment, curfews, house demolitions, and the killing of
civilians will cease immediately. Israeli jubilation or aggressive
police actions at this time would be as counter-productive as would
outbreaks of Palestinian violence against Israelis or Palestinian
in-fighting. All sides should agree to a moratorium on military
activities and strong political rhetoric during the time of mourning.
we mark the passing of the Palestinian leader, let those of us in the
international faith communities commit ourselves to stand with our
Palestinian and Israeli sisters and brothers who are working to end the
violence and achieve full human rights and security for all. May the
hopes for a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis, living
in two viable states, guide and inspire us in the days to come.