President of National Council of Churches, Jim Winkler, on why faith leaders must confront injustice in Jerusalem

by Jim Winkler

I am honored to be part of “The Jerusalem Conference” in Houston, Texas on October 11. The conference is being organized by Bright Stars of Bethlehm, a non-profit organization that provides funding and support to educational and cultural initiatives through Dar al-Kalima University of Arts and Culture, Diyar Academy for Youth, and Ajyal Senior Care Center.

My good friend, the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, serves as president of Dar al-Kalima University and also of Bright Stars of Bethlehem. For many years, Mitri served as pastor of the wonderfully-named Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem. In that capacity, he had a creative ministry which included the establishment of a guesthouse, a gift shop, an artists’ workshop, and meeting rooms.

I had the opportunity to visit Christmas Lutheran Church soon after Israeli Defense Forces invaded Bethlehem in early 2002 and smashed the gift shop and the artists’ workshop. The soldiers deliberately defecated in those rooms. Nevertheless, Mitri and his congregation regrouped and continued to live out their vision.

So, when I was invited to participate in the conference, I happily accepted. Bright Stars of Bethlehem is dedicated to supporting the educational, medical, professional and spiritual development needs of people living in Palestine.

Further, it is important we gather together in solidarity during such a difficult time. The Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories is now 51 years old. The move by the United States of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem deepened its own diplomatic isolation and severely undermined its credibility as a peacemaker between Israel and Palestine. The closure by the US of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, DC is a punitive measure taken because Palestine has called on the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes.

The list goes on and on. The US is cruelly cutting off funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Administration which assist Palestinian refugees and provide education to more than a half million children and health care, social services, and other forms of help to two million refugees.

The US government is cutting funding for six East Jerusalem hospitals, including the Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital. This funding provided ongoing lifesaving treatment for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Sick people will have to pay the price for the Trump Administration’s pettiness and fury.

Meanwhile, the continued growth of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank have all but choked off the possibility of a two-state solution.

US foreign policy is predicated on the premise that humiliation and punishment will break the will of the Palestinian people, the international community, and ecumenical movement. This is a flawed analysis and strategy.

Please join us in Houston next month. In addition to Dr. Raheb, several friends of mine will be speaking as well, including Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon, Dr. Iva Carruthers, Rev. Jim Forbes, Rev. Jim Wallis, and Dr. James Zogby. REGISTER HERE.