Christian groups slam Israel over Gaza 'prison', call on US to cut military aid

Two leading Christian groups have strongly criticised Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, demanded the Jewish state end the "prison-like conditions" in Gaza and called on the US to cancel its military aid budget to its Middle Eastern ally.

A Palestinian boy rides his bicycle past the ruins of houses in Gaza, which two major Christian groups have described as having 'prison-like' conditions.Reuters

In a joint statement following a "consultation on the Holy Land" this week, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and The National Council of Churches of Christ, USA (NCC) ecumenical groups that represent over 545 million Christians combined, said that "keeping an entire population under occupation and even in a closed area, such as Gaza, in prison-like conditions is a grave and unsustainable situation." It added: "We are also well aware that Israel is the occupying force and has commanding power over the people of Palestine and, thus, bears special responsibility for taking the initiative."

The statement called on the US to "cease its practice of arming various state and non-state actors in the Middle East and, in particular, to reconsider its proposed $38 billion military aid package to Israel, for the last thing needed at this time is more weapons," and "end the current wave of legislative efforts to penalize the use of non-violent economic measures to influence policy in Israel."

The statement said: "No people should be denied their rights and, certainly, no people should be denied their rights for generations. The unresolved conflict in Israel and Palestine is primarily about justice, and until the requirement of justice is met, peace cannot be established. As Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza nears the 50-year mark, generations have been suffering under this reality."

The church groups sounded a pessimistic note on the prospects of a two-state solution. "The possibilities of a viable two-state solution, for which we have long advocated, are more elusive and, seemingly, more unrealistic than ever," their joint statement said.

The two umbrella organisations met in Arlington, Virginia from September 12-14, 2016. "More than 60 representatives of churches and church-related organizations from around the world gathered because we hear the cries of all who are yearning for peace and justice in the land we call Holy," the statement said.

The statement was signed by Rev Olav Fykse-Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, and Jim Winkler, the president and general secretary of the NCC.

The pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League called the statement "disappointing, yet sadly predictable." It said: "The WCC and NCC preference to blame only Israel for the Arab-Israeli conflict — and for the failure to achieve a two-state solution — is wrong on the facts and detached from the realities in the region," according to a statement Thursday by Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, its director of interfaith affairs.

The American Jewish Committee accused the two Christian groups of having "a long history of anti-Israel bias." It said: "What could have been a powerful plea for peacemaking turned reflexively to a familiar and factually feeble denunciation of Israel from two groups with a long history of anti-Israel bias...These two church bodies claim to seek justice, but uniformly blame Israel exclusively for Palestinian suffering, while utterly failing to hold Palestinians to account for incitement and violence against Israel."

The World Council of Churches is made up of 348 member groups representing some 500 million people, while the The National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, has 38 member groups representing some 45 million Christians.