Christians from across the globe have appealed for an end to the conflict in Gaza as the Middle East crisis continues into its third week.

Reports claim that at least 900 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,500 injured since Israel launched a military offensive on the Hamas-controlled territory in late December. Thirteen Israelis have also died.

Child in Gaza

CASUALTY OF WAR: An injured child is treated at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. The hospital is supported by act for peace, the international aid arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia. PICTURE: Courtesy of NCCA/act for peace.

 

“It is hard to imagine that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved at all...However, we dare to dream together of a Middle East where Jews and Arabs are able to enjoy life side by side in peace.”

- Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, the international director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), and Reverend Harry Tees, the WEA’s Ambassador to the Holy Land.

In a statement released Sunday 11th January, Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, the international director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), and Reverend Harry Tees, the WEA’s Ambassador to the Holy Land, have called upon those in leadership on both sides of the conflict to “do their utmost to end all hostilities and consequent violence” and say the international community needs to respond carefully but resolutely to the crisis.

“It is hard to imagine that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved at all.  We understand that it is extremely complex and that it needs a lot of work to build up trust and the political will on all sides,” they write.  

“However, we dare to dream together of a Middle East where Jews and Arabs are able to enjoy life side by side in peace.”

Meanwhile, the World Council of Churches' General Secretary, Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, has called on Christians everywhere “to pray for peace and wherever possible, to inspire and encourage their leaders in the constructive work that leads beyond enmity to reconciliation".

In a letter to its member churches in the Middle East, Rev Dr Kobia said the WCC was asking for a new commitment to a negotiated settlement that will ensure a “just and lasting peace to both Palestinians and Israelis”.

“Such a peace must include respect by all authorities for international law as it applies to human rights, humanitarian aid and protection of civilians in conflict zones,” he said. “It must reinstate the ceasefire on both sides of the border and speed the lifting of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.”

In an earlier communiqué, Rev Dr Kobia said that “collective punishment against one’s neighbours” is illegal and had no place in building peace. The message came a day before the heads of churches in Jerusalem issued a statement in which they called for “officials of both parties to return top their sense and refrain from all violent acts”.

Dr Bernard Sabella, executive secretary, of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees - which is providing emergency assistance to overstretched hospitals, has described the situation in Gaza as “absolutely disastrous”.

“The borders remain closed, and the constant bombing is inflicting civilian casualties,” he says. “As a result, Gaza is in a dire humanitarian situation as the Israeli air strikes have devastated the governmental and civil society infrastructure such as universities and mosques."

Meanwhile the WCC says it has had reports of church-related advocacy concerning the crisis in 20 countries including statements, public demonstrations, letter campaigns, vigils, prayer services and collection of funds to support humanitarian relief work.

These countries range from Brazil to Canada, Malaysia and the United Kingdom where tens of thousands of people have been involved in protests.

In Australia, the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) has released a statement deploring the loss of lives and asking for a ceasefire to be declared and unfettered access to Gaza.

Alistair Gee, executive director of act for peace - the international aid agency of the NCCA, has suggested that once a genuine ceasefire is established, the international community - including Australia - should ensure that a “proper war crimes investigation” take place.

“Well-founded allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been made against both sides, just as they were in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict,” he says. 

“Nothing was done about the apparent crimes in 2006 and we again have a similar conflict with combatants appearing to give little more than lip-service to international law.”

Mr Gee says that the situation could be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and called for Australia and like-minded nations to demonstrate their support for the protection of civilians in Gaza and southern Israel and to show that war crimes will not be tolerated.

• To support the NCCA’s Christmas Bowl appeal, please see www.actforpeace.org.au or call 1800 025 101.