Churches call for investigation of military aid in Israel

October 5, 2012

CHICAGO (ELCA) – Concerned about the deteriorating conditions in
Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and the commitment for a
just peace, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other U.S. Christian leaders are
urging Congress to conduct an investigation into possible human rights and
weapon violations by the government of Israel.
In an Oct. 5 letter to Congress, the religious leaders cited possible
violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms
Export Control Act, which respectively excludes assistance to any country
that engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limits
the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”
The leaders also urged Congress “to undertake careful scrutiny to
ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel
that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to
examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on
compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.”
U.S. churches and religious organizations have been deeply involved
in the pursuit of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. The religious
leaders shared in their letter that they have witnessed the pain and
suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of
Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions.
“When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for
justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in
complex issues. While we do not all agree on the best way to establish
justice and bring peace, we will be involved in lively, respectful,
passionate conversations,” said Hanson.
In their letter, the U.S. Christian leaders were clear in their
recognition that Israel faces real security threats and that it has
both “a right and a duty to protect both the state and its citizens,” but
the “measures that it uses to protect itself and its citizens, as in the
case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and
human rights law.”
The leaders further said it is unfortunate that “unconditional U.S.
military assistance to Israel has contributed to (the) deterioration,
sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests
of both Israelis and Palestinians. This is made clear in the most recent
2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering
Israel and the Occupied Territories, which details widespread Israeli
human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of
which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.”
Examples of human rights violence related to U.S. military support
were included as an annex to the letter and, in addition to specific
rights violations, the Christian leaders expressed their concern that
Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, claiming territory “that under international law and U.S.
policy should belong to a future Palestinian state.”
“From Palestinian Lutherans, I hear discouragement about the lack of
progress and questions about where the voice is of American Christians,”
said Hanson. “Our letter seeks to be a partial answer to such questions,
that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and
lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”
The U.S. Christian leaders wrote that it is “our moral responsibility
to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to
the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require
this accountability, as continued U.S. military assistance to Israel —
offered without conditions or accountability — will only serve to sustain
the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian
territories.”
They requested that Congress hold Israel accountable to these
standards by “making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to
Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable
U.S. laws and policies. As Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S.
foreign aid since World War II, it is especially critical for Israel to
comply with the specific U.S. laws that regulate the use of U.S.-supplied
weapons. We also encourage Congress to support inclusive, comprehensive
and robust regional diplomacy to secure a just and lasting peace that will
benefit Israelis, Palestinians, and all the peoples of the region and the
world.”
Through an action, the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly expressed
concern over continued U.S. military aid to Israel.

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