USCCB News Release
June 5, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Religious leaders applaud Obama Cairo speech
Bishops urge bold U.S. leadership in seeking two-state solution
Bishops support new push for Holy Land peace
CATHOLIC BISHOPS, OTHER CHRISTIAN LEADERS APPLAUD OBAMA SPEECH, RESPOND TO HIS CALL TO WORK FOR HOLY LAND PEACE
WASHINGTON—A broad and diverse group of national U.S. Christian leaders, including Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, Chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, applauded president Barack Obama in a June 4 letter to the President on the heels of his historic speech in Cairo, June 4.
The message expressed gratitude for President Obama’s efforts at reaching out to the Muslim world and for making Israeli-Palestinian peace a top priority of his Administration. It also expressed grave concern over the “deteriorating situation in the Holy Land” and urged the Obama Administration to make real and concrete progress in achieving a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I am deeply inspired by the President’s effort to bridge divides of culture and faith and to reach out directly to the people of the Middle East. Confrontation only breeds radicalism,” Bishop Hubbard said. “For this effort at rapprochement to succeed, however, we need to see real progress on the ground towards peace with justice in the Holy Land.”
Catholic signatories included Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington; Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida; Bishop Gabino Zavala, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, President, Pax Christi USA; Franciscan Sister. J. Lora Dambroski, President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Marie Dennis, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Franciscan Sister Margaret Mary Kimmins, President, Franciscan Action Network; Redemptorist Father Thomas Picton, President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men.
Other signatories included Evangelical, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and historic African-American leaders representing millions of Americans.
The letter follows.
June 4, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
As American Christian leaders with a shared commitment to a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, we have come together at a time of great opportunity and urgency. After decades of tragic conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians despair of the possibility of peace, yet with your determined leadership we believe the promise of two viable, secure and independent states can be realized.
We commend your message to the people of the Middle East and your challenge to all of us to work for Holy Land peace as we seek to build a more positive future for the people of the region and the world. We are grateful that you have identified resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a top priority and made clear your Administration’s commitment to sustained, hands-on diplomacy. As you embark on peace efforts, we ask you to provide a clear framework for an end to the conflict, help Israelis and Palestinians make the difficult decisions necessary to achieve lasting peace, and hold both parties to account when they fail to honor their commitments.
Mr. President, you have assumed office at one of the most critical moments in the long history of this conflict. While the international community and majorities of the Israeli and Palestinian people are all committed to a two state solution as the best option for achieving peace and security, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Continued settlement growth and expansion are rapidly diminishing any possibility for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The targeting of Israeli civilians through ongoing rocket fire and the insistent rejection by some of Israel’s right to exist reinforces the destructive status quo. These actions, along with the route of the separation barrier, movement restrictions, and continued home demolitions, serve to undermine Palestinians and Israelis alike who seek peace. As hope dims, the threat of violence grows and hardliners are strengthened.
We share a common commitment to all the people of the Holy Land—Jews, Christians and Muslims— and are particularly concerned with the plight of the Palestinian Christian community. In the birthplace of our faith, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities is dwindling rapidly, and with them the possibility of a day when three thriving faith communities live in shared peace in Jerusalem. Mr. President, it is apparent that unless there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement Christians in the Holy Land may cease to exist as a viable community.
Now is indeed the time for immediate and bold American leadership. Fruitful diplomacy will require U.S. engagement with a Palestinian unity government committed to peace with the state of Israel. We commend your important statements pressing both Israel and the Palestinians to live up to their obligations, and we urge your Administration to continue to bolster Palestinian capacity to halt violence and continue to demonstrate firm dedication to a viable Palestinian state by exhibiting no tolerance for Israeli settlement activity. While working to end rocket attacks against the people of southern Israel, the U.S. should also seek immediate relief for the population of Gaza—living in rubble and without basic necessities—by ending restrictions on humanitarian goods and opening the borders to reconstruction material, commerce and transit in a secure manner.
We welcome your call for people on both sides to recognize the pain and aspirations of the other. Because of this conflict many have lost the ability to see the other as human beings worthy of dignity and respect. An entire generation of Israelis and Palestinians has grown up amidst violence and hatred. We pledge to join with you to work with and support those in both societies who seek peace, justice, and security, standing beside those who hope for a better future for themselves and for the generations that follow.
The current political stalemate and declining situation on the ground demonstrate that Israelis and Palestinians cannot reach a negotiated agreement without a strong, helping hand. We urge your Administration to present proposals that go beyond the mere principle of two states and lay out a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples. Moreover, we appreciate your strong support for a comprehensive peace and we look forward to diplomatic efforts to build upon the historic Arab Peace Initiative, with its offer of recognition and normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for an end to the occupation.
There is no greater work than the Psalmist’s call to “seek peace and pursue it” and no more critical time than now to finally end the conflict in the Holy Land (Ps. 34:14). We stand ready to support your bold action and are rallying Christians nationwide around robust U.S. peacemaking efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Our prayers and mutual commitment are with you in this difficult and most important task.
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Keywords: Israel, Palestine, U.S. shops, peace, justice, Holy Land, Middle East, Barack Obama