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In wake of Arafat's death, build for peace, United Methodist leader says

 


In wake of Arafat's death, build for peace, United Methodist leader says

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat meets with United Methodist Bishop William Oden in this December 2000 photo.
Nov. 11, 2004

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Israelis 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.

The 75-year-old 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 the WCC.

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.

In 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 process.

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.

"For 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 years ago.

"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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

The Rev. R. Randy Day’s full statement follows:

The 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.

I 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.

As 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.

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