‘Time for Israeli-Palestinian peace is now,’ say ELCA bishop, U.S. religious leaders

5/22/2014 10:00:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) -- More than 30 U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders -- including the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) -- have declared that "the time for Israeli-Palestinian peace is now." In a May 21 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the leaders also wrote that "achieving peace needs your continued, determined engagement."
            "Indeed, no past progress toward peace has occurred in this conflict without U.S. leadership, facilitation and resolute support," wrote the religious leaders.
            "A two-state agreement, in which both peoples will live in peace, security, and mutual recognition, represents the only realistic resolution of the conflict. Over time, developments on the ground and failures of leadership are making that goal more difficult to achieve," they wrote. "We continue to be committed to mobilizing public support of our members in synagogues, churches and mosques across the country for your efforts, and we look forward to meeting with you at an appropriate time to discuss ways we can help."
            The religious leaders also wrote of their united support for Kerry's "commitment to achieve peace, drawing on benchmark principles and practical ideas from previous official and informal negotiations that offer possible compromises to resolve all issues in the conflict."
            The letter to Kerry comes in anticipation of Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land, May 24-26. The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Holy Land and Jordan and president of The Lutheran World Federation, is scheduled to accompany Pope Francis in meetings at several locations.
            The current slowdown in the progress toward peace has some Lutherans concerned about whether funding from the United States will be offered to cover costs of patient referrals from the Palestinian National Authority to Augusta Victoria Hospital, particularly among patients seeking cancer treatment and kidney dialysis. The hospital is on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
            According to the Rev. Robert O. Smith, "Further advocacy is needed regarding Augusta Victoria Hospital. Unfortunately, the funding from USAID is held up, and we don't know when it will arrive or, perhaps, if it will arrive. Advocacy is important." Smith is ELCA program director for the Middle East and North Africa.
            The Rev. Mark B. Brown, regional representative in Jerusalem, The Lutheran World Federation, has asked ELCA congregations to "encourage members of U.S. Congress and to ask the U.S. Department of State and USAID to ensure that Augusta Victoria Hospital and other East Jerusalem hospitals quickly receive the funding they need. Advocating for the most vulnerable in society, insisting on uninterrupted financial support for life-saving medical treatment -- despite the starts and stops of the peace process -- is a compassionate, generous and faithful response to this crisis."
            Augusta Victoria Hospital is a program of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 142 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
            The ELCA continues to provide annual financial support to Augusta Victoria Hospital, which cared for nearly 28,000 inpatients and outpatients in 2012. The hospital's specialized care centers offered more than 13,200 dialysis sessions, nearly 10,000 chemotherapy sessions and more than 14,000 interventions in the radiation oncology unit on an outpatient basis.
            In a Feb. 4 letter to Kerry, Eaton requested that the U.S. government allocate a portion of its bilateral support to the Palestinian National Authority to paying its debt to Augusta Victoria Hospital. The debt arose from unpaid treatments in 2013 for patients referred by the Palestinian National Authority to the hospital.
            While the hospital is "operating in the black," she wrote, its critical medical services are "threatened by an acute financial crisis caused by the accumulated debt from the Palestinian National Authority."
            Eaton's letter to Kerry is in response to a request from the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of The Lutheran World Federation. In a Jan. 29 letter, Junge asked communion leaders to take up the situation regarding the hospital "with your respective governments."
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with almost 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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