Global and US church bodies have joined in calling for the US Government to reconsider a $US38 billion military aid package to Israel, saying that more weapons were the "last thing" needed in the "unresolved conflict" in Israel and Palestine.

In a joint statement issued following a "consultation" on the crisis in Israel and Palestine held in Washington, DC, this week, Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tviet, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Jim Winkler, general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, called on the US Government to "cease its practice of arming various state and non-state actors in the Middle East", and, in particular, to "reconsider its proposed $38 billion military aid package to Israel, for the last thing needed at this time is more weapons".

They also called for the US to end what they described as a "wave of legislative efforts" to penalise the use of non-violent economic measures to influence policy in Israel, noting that churches have used such strategies to "advance the rights of people and further the cause of justice both domestically and internationally for many years".

The $US38 billion aid package, is the largest such aid package in US history ever given to any country, and will be rolled out over the next decade, reportedly allowing Israel to ugrade fighter aircraft, improve the mobility of ground forces and strengthen missile defence systems.

Elsewhere in their statement, the two church body leaders noted that the unresolved conflict in Israel and Palestine is "primarily about justice, and until the requirement of justice is met, peace cannot be established".

They said that while they were "well aware no one person or group of people or government is blameless, that crimes and depredations have been committed by many over many years, but the cycle of violence must be broken".

"Too often the structural and permanent violence against a whole people is ignored. But keeping an entire population under occupation and even in a closed area, such as Gaza, in prison-like conditions is a grave and unsustainable situation. We are also well aware that Israel is the occupying force and has commanding power over the people of Palestine and, thus, bears special responsibility for taking the initiative."

They called for an end to the "occupation and to settlements on occupied land, with all its grave and deteriorating dimensions for the Palestinian people, but also for Israel and the whole region beyond".

"We ask for full respect and protection of human rights defenders, for the rights to tell the truth, to express concern, and to take democratic, non-violent actions for justice and peace. We are deeply concerned by Israeli legislative and other measures to curtail the work of Palestinian and Israeli development and human rights organisations, as well as the lack of transparency concerning investigations into international humanitarian (including faith-based) organisations in the Gaza Strip and the possible negative consequences to delivering critically needed aid to this besieged area."

Noting that Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza was nearing the 50 year mark - meaning "generations have been suffering under this reality" - and that the possibilities of a viable two state solution are more elusive and seem more unrealistic than ever, they said the current situation in Israel and Palestine "demands urgent action". They encouraged churches in the US to mobilise and call on the US Government to secure a "just and lasting peace" for Israel and Palestine.

The consultation involved more than 60 representatives of churches and church-related organisations from around the world including Palestinian, Native American, South African, and Israeli participants.

Read the full text of the statement here.

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