Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) executive leaders returned to the United States this week after completing extensive visits with Patriarchs and Heads of Churches, pastors and local Christians, political leaders and heads of state, peace activists and human rights leaders in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Lebanon. CMEP leaders advocated for an end to all violence and called for a comprehensive ceasefire, highlighting the massive number of deaths and demanding an end to the bombing and ground invasion and its effects on civilians in Gaza. CMEP also advocated for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas and other militant groups and the release of Palestinian prisoners. In addition, CMEP demanded immediate and adequate humanitarian access be granted to Gaza so that basic needs like water, food, electricity, and health care be provided and not utilized as leverage for political aims.
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
H.E Vicki Downey, Lieutenant of Honor of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem
Hassan El-Tayyab, Legislative Director for Middle East Policy, Friends Committee on National
Legislation, CMEP board representative
Susan Gunn, director of Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, CMEP board representative
Bishop Steven Kellogg, CMEP board representative, Community of Christ
Rev. Rev. Sue Koenig, CMEP board representative, Moravian Church in America
Bridget Moix, general secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Rev. Laura Osborne, CMEP board representative, Reformed Church in America (RCA)
Russell Testa, CMEP board representative, Franciscan Friars and chair of the CMEP Board
Meetings Included, but not limited to:
Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem: His Beatitude, Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem; His Beatitude Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; His Excellency, Bishop Azar, Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (LCJHL); Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land; The Rev. Canon Dr. Donald Binder, pastor to the English speaking congregation on behalf of His Excellency The Most Reverend Archbishop Hosam Naoum of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt): Beit Jala Women’s Child Care Society; CMEP’s Ecumenical Advisory Council; Rabbis and Jewish leaders in Israel; Ramallah Friends School; Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center Rehabilitation Center; church leaders in Bethlehem and Jerusalem; human rights activists and civil society leaders.
Palestinian Political Leaders: President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority; Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, also known as al Mubadara; Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority.
Jerusalem Worship Service: Sunday, January 14, 2024, worship service calling for a ceasefire from Dominus Flevit with trip participants, Father Sebastian (Presiding Priest of Dominus Flevit Holy Site, Mount of Olives), and Rev. Dr. Jack Sara of Bethlehem Bible College (BBC). The service can be viewed here.
U.S. Government Leaders: George Noll, United States, head of the Office of Palestinian Affairs (OPA) in Jerusalem; staff from the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem; and the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan – Her Excellency Ambassador Yael Lempert in Amman.
Meetings in Jordan: Jordanian Council of Churches with His Eminence Bishop Christophorous; Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies with HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal; Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi; HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad; American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
Lebanese Christian Organizations and Leaders: Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai and Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour; Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) with Rev. Dr. Elie Haddad; Haigazian University with Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian; The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) with Dr. Michael Abs; The Near East School of Theology (NEST); Rev. Joseph Kassab, President at Supreme Council of Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon; and Rev. Najla Kassab, president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).
Quotes from Trip Participants:
“While the United States remains focused on preventing a ‘broader regional war’ – our visit to several countries outside of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories made it very clear – the war has already extended throughout the Middle East. The people we visited in Jordan and Lebanon, in large part, expressed anger and distress about what’s happening in Gaza. The United States’ reputation has been deeply damaged by blind support and further militarization of the Government of Israel’s devastating bombing campaign on Gaza that, to date, has already killed more than 25 thousand civilians, many of whom are children. We also heard that the trauma experienced by Israelis on October 7th has been unparalleled in past decades. Trauma and pain, profound division and distrust, anger, and hatred leave little if any room for Israelis and Palestinians to be willing to pursue negotiations toward permanent diplomatic solutions. Nonetheless, courage and willingness to pursue a comprehensive ceasefire remain the only option that is in the best interest of all parties. We will continue to do all we can to pray and advocate for nonviolence, a comprehensive ceasefire and the laying down of arms, the release of all hostages on both sides, an end to death and destruction, and a peaceful pathway forward in the belief that both Palestinians and Israelis might one day have a future full of dignity, freedom, peace, and prosperity.” ~ Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
“After spending several weeks with communities in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory as a part of CMEP’s peace delegation, I’m even more determined to press policymakers to reach an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the wider Middle East,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee for National Legislation (FCNL). “More war and weapons won’t bring peace, and the longer this violence goes on, the harder it will be to achieve collective security for all peoples in the region. In the face of growing violence, lawmakers must publicly call for a ceasefire, de-escalation, restraint, a release of all hostages, and respect for international law. The only way forward is finding a pathway to address the root causes underlying this explosion of violence, including decades of institutionalized oppression and collective punishment of Palestinians through brutal military occupation and a 17-year Gaza blockade.”
“After listening to the griefs and anxieties of Christian leaders and communities in the Holy Land as a member of the Churches for Middle East Peace delegation, I am convinced the only way forward is with a comprehensive ceasefire,” said Susan Gunn, director of Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. “A ceasefire is the only way to free the hostages, end the bloodshed, and address the growing humanitarian catastrophe. Only with a ceasefire can the universal hopes for safety and security be nurtured and grow into a reality. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility, as a Christian and as an American, to deliver this message to elected officials in Washington, D.C.: call for a ceasefire now, stop sending more weapons of war, and focus on freeing the hostages, saving the people in Gaza from famine and disease, and opening imaginations to new ways of coexistence.”
“I experienced insightful affirmation about the kingdom of God being like leaven while traveling with a small delegation from Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Our delegation asserted the need for a ceasefire, free flow of humanitarian aid, release of hostages and comprehensive plan for peace with justice in conversations with other religious and governmental and nongovernmental leaders who are all suffering the collateral effects of the conflict.” ~ Steve Kellogg, CMEP board representative for Community of Christ
“The immense suffering in the Holy Land is heart-breaking and nearly impossible to grasp. There must be a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid – immediate and adequate – to be delivered to those in Gaza who are without the basic needs of life, who are without food, water, shelter, and medical care. There must be a ceasefire to enable the release of hostages and those unjustly imprisoned. There must be a ceasefire to begin those steps that make for peace. Security and freedom from fear, an end to suffering and pain, and a lasting and just peace are not attainable through violent means. Violence begets only violence. True peace comes through just and peaceful means.” ~ Rev. Sue Koenig, CMEP board representative for the Moravian Church
“As we traveled the region and witnessed the remarkable resilience of people on all sides, it became clear our world is at a crossroads in the Middle East. There is still a chance to forge a pathway to peace, but urgent efforts are needed to de-escalate the violence, protect all civilians, respect international law, and revitalize diplomacy. What we are seeing unfold in Gaza is an unconscionable level of mass violence, within an expanding regional war, that will do nothing to help the hostages. An immediate comprehensive ceasefire is urgently needed to save not only Palestinians and Israelis, but to preserve our common humanity. The United States must end its complicity and participation, in addition to helping find a way forward for a just and lasting peace for all people in the region.” ~ Bridget Moix, General Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
“Listening to the individuals around the region, we kept hearing the same thing. ‘We have known war for far too long, it is time for peace.' From students at the local university in Beirut to the pastors in Jordan to the Palace and the Ambassador's office, we heard the urging for peace. The people we met with were grateful we were there hearing their stories. On one of the last days we were there, I read this scripture verse in my journal: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’ This is my prayer for this work.” ~ Rev. Laura Osborne, CMEP board representative for the Reformed Church in America (RCA)
“Through our travels in the Middle East, it became clear in our meetings that there is an effort to dehumanize and break the will of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the other occupied Palestinian territories. I expected to find anger and hate among the Palestinians. Yes, people are in pain, but what I experienced instead was people of courage and an openness for dialogue and peace. They have embraced their humanity in an inspiring way… I believe if political leaders in the United States had this same sensitivity toward humanity, they would have the courage to help move all of the parties forward in a pathway toward peace.” ~ Russell Testa, (Franciscan) and Chair of the Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Board