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January 31, 2009

Presiding bishop, others urge diplomacy to maintain Gaza cease-fire


In a Jan. 27 letter to U.S. President Barack H. Obama, U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders called for "urgent U.S. diplomacy" in cooperation with Egypt and others to ensure that an effective and sustainable cease-fire is maintained in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was among the 35 religious leaders who signed the letter. The religious leaders make up the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, an organization that was formed in 2003.

"People in our communities have different precious bonds with Israelis and Palestinians and responded in different ways to the recent war between Hamas and Israel," the religious leaders wrote.

The religious leaders said they were united in supporting specific measures to maintain a Gaza cease-fire: an agreement by Hamas to stop all rocket attacks on Israel; international measures to prevent the resupply of rockets to Gaza through Sinai; an agreement by Israel to halt all military operations in Gaza, withdraw its forces and open Gaza border crossings; and the commitment of all parties to provide substantial humanitarian and economic assistance to the people of Gaza.

The religious leaders said that despite discouraging developments and tragic violence in the Middle East, there are signs of hope. They made a similar statement in a November 2008 statement.

"Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution. Arab states have declared their commitment to peace with Israel in the historic Arab Peace Initiative. Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian negotiations have made progress. Official and informal negotiations have produced principles and practical ideas for resolving the conflict, including the difficult issues of refugees and Jerusalem," the religious leaders wrote to Obama.

The religious leaders said they support the president's commitment to provide "active, fair and firm U.S. leadership for Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace." They appreciated Obama's phone calls to Arab and Israeli leaders on his first day in office and the appointment of George Mitchell as the Middle East envoy. NILI has repeatedly called for a special envoy, the religious leaders wrote. Mitchell is a former U.S. senator and was U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, working on a peace process.

"As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we share a common religious commitment to peace with justice for all of God's children. We refuse, now and always, to give in to cynicism or despair. We are people of hope. We pledge to call upon members in churches, synagogues and mosques across the country to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to support you and your administration in providing engaged U.S. leadership for Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace. The time for peace is now," the religious leaders wrote.

Read the letter (opens a .pdf).

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