Churches Worldwide to Advocate for Peace in Palestine and Israel

To highlight the urgency of peace in Palestine and Israel after 40 years of occupation, the World Council of Churches is organising a week of prayers, seminars and advocacy to mark this June's anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The goal of the week is to raise awareness in churches and civil society and to impress upon governments the need for new efforts to end the conflict and negotiate a just settlement.

WCC member churches around the world are organising peace walks, meeting their governments or staging public forums. An ecumenical service will be held in Jerusalem on Sunday 3 June to start the week.

In the US, church groups are joining mass public demonstrations. In Brussels and other European capitals, Pax Christi members are part of joint Roman Catholic delegations to the European Union and member governments.

In South Africa, the national broadcaster has been asked to hold talk shows with ecumenical accompaniers, WCC volunteers who have lived with those affected by the occupation.

The Archbishop of Stockholm, meanwhile, is inviting the media to breakfast. In Sydney, an inter-faith prayer service will be followed by the planting of an olive tree with the local Palestinian community.

In some places, especially the Nordic countries, church events related to Middle East peace are routine. Other churches are taking action for the first time as part of this WCC initiative, running under the banner of "International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel, 3-9 June 2007".

Events are taking place in 14 countries with news still coming in from the 100-plus countries in the membership of the WCC and Pax Christi as well as the Lutheran World Federation, which has endorsed the initiative.

Jerusalem prayers and readings have been distributed around the world and many regard them as a special form of solidarity with those living through their 40th year of occupation. Many churches are planning to hold services at the same time as in Jerusalem.

The search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been on the agenda of WCC governing bodies since 1948.

"Judging from the frequency with which it arises, its importance to member churches has only grown as conflict and crisis continue," the WCC said.