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WCC urges US President to listen to concerns of Churches in Holy Land

As US President Joe Biden prepares for his first trip in the Middle East this week, the acting General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Ioan Sauca, calls his attention to the plight of Churches and Christians in the Holy Land.

By Lisa Zengarini

US President Joe Biden is set to embark on a four-day visit to Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Saudi Arabia on 13-16 July, marking his first trip in the Middle East since taking office.

Ahead of the visit, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has urged the US president “to listen and respond to the voices of the Churches of the Holy Land”, as they face increasing threats to their future existence in the region. The WCC says Churches endure ongoing violence, discrimination, ever-expanding Israeli settlements, and subsequent displacement of Palestinian communities, including Christians.

Christians concerned about their future in Holy Land

The call is contained in a letter signed by the acting General Secretary of WCC, Rev. Ioan Sauca, and echoes the concerns repeatedly expressed in recent months by local Christian leaders who have also lamented growing intimidations perpetrated by extremist Jewish groups against Christian institutions and communities in the Holy Land.

“Your visit takes place in a time of ongoing and escalating dispossession and displacement of Palestinian families and communities from their homes in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, and of expanding settlements and settlement enclaves that threaten the multi-religious and multicultural identity of Jerusalem and undermine any remaining prospect of a viable two-state solution to secure peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Rev. Ioan Sauca
Rev. Ioan Sauca

Expanding Israeli settlements and displacements

Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem has continued since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in the 1967 war and intensified under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a significant boom during PresidentTrump’s US administration.

Also, settler attacks against Palestinians and their property are a regular occurrence in the occupied territory, which is home to nearly three million Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership, for its part, views the illegal settlements as a major obstacle to any potential deal with Israel.

Commenting on the resurgence of clashes in the Holy Land, earlier this year, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem remarked that the main cause of the perpetuation of violence is "the occupation of Palestine” that "has been going on for fifty-five years".

In a strongly-worded document, Justitia et Pax recalled that the violence of the occupation includes the expropriations of Palestinian lands, detentions, the withdrawal of building permits, the demolition of houses, the restriction of movements, the stifling of political, social and economic development and the the ongoing siege of the Gaza strip, which is controlled by the Islamic militants of Hamas.

A just peace for Palestinans and Israelis

In his letter, Rev. Sauca asked Biden to help end the displacement and marginalization, and to restore hope in a just peace in the region, warning that “the rich religious and social diversity, the historic status quo and heritage of the Holy City of Jerusalem are in imminent danger”.

He appealed to Biden “and to all people of good will who recognize Jerusalem as sacred to three religions and a city of two peoples" to "speak and act to secure this vision and this hope, against those who seek to displace, exclude and marginalize others.”

“I pray that you will be inspired with this vision of inclusive peace as you undertake your visit, and that you will be granted wisdom and fortitude to seek this peace and to pursue it,” the letter concludes.

Biden's visit

President Biden is scheduled to land at Ben Gurion Airport, where he will be greeted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday afternoon, and will depart for Saudi Arabia on Friday afternoon.

The visit is expected to focus on Israel’s fast-strengthening ties with Arab countries and an emerging Arab-Israeli military partnership to combat threats from Iran.

His intense schedule includes, amongst other things, a visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital on East Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, a cornerstone of the Palestinian healthcare system that works with Israeli healthcare providers, marking the first time a US president visits a largely Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem that is not the Old City.

There, Biden will announce US funding for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, as well as funding from other Gulf States.

He will also travel to Bethlehem to meet with the President of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, and is expected to announce number of steps that both the US and Israel plan to take to strengthen the PA.

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11 July 2022, 14:30