Over 140 Christian leaders urge ceasefire in Gaza, end to foreign military aid for Israel

A plume of smoke follows an Israeli airstrike in the northern part of the Gaza Strip as Israel continues its bombardment and ground offensive on Nov. 9, 2023, seen from Sderot, Israel.
A plume of smoke follows an Israeli airstrike in the northern part of the Gaza Strip as Israel continues its bombardment and ground offensive on Nov. 9, 2023, seen from Sderot, Israel. | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Around 140 Christian leaders have signed onto a letter sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to foreign military support for Israel.

"As Christians around the world prepare to commemorate the final suffering in the earthly life of Jesus Christ during Holy Week, we stand in solidarity with all in the Holy Land who suffer," began the letter.

The nonprofit Churches for Middle East Peace, a group of over 30 national church communions and organizations comprising Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches founded in 1984, organized the statement.

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Those involved span the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Mennonite, Quaker and Evangelical backgrounds. 

The signatories include Roman Catholic Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini of Guatemala, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, United Church of Christ President Karen Georgia Thompson, progressive Evangelical activist Shane Claiborne, Sojourners President Adam Taylor and longtime progressive Evangelical activist Jim Wallis. 

"During Passion Week, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike engage in prayer, reflection, and repentance. We repent of the ways we have not stood alongside our Palestinian siblings in faithful witness in the midst of their grief, agony, and sorrow," the group wrote.

The letter suggests Israel is engaging in "genocide" through its ongoing offensive in the Gaza Strip, noting South Africa issued a complaint against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). South Africa alleged "genocidal intent" behind Israel's offensive in Gaza, which began in October following Hamas terrorist's surprise attack in which over 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed and about 240 abducted in southern Israel. 

Israel has said the offensive is aimed at wiping out Hamas, a terror group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, and securing the release of its hostages. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry states that over 32,000 people in Gaza have been killed. Those numbers don't distinguish between civilians and combatants and have not been independently verified by the United Nations. 

While Israel contends its forces are doing all they can to protect civilian life, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told his Israeli counterpart this week that the civilian death toll in Gaza is "too high" and the amount of aid entering the territory is too low. 

The Christian leaders cited the World Health Organization (WHO), which reports that more than 15% of young children in Gaza under age 2 are showing signs of malnutrition and irreparable wasting.

Israel pushed back this week against a U.N. expert's accusations of genocide, with its diplomatic mission in Geneva describing the use of the word as "an outrageous distortion of the Genocide Convention" and an "an obscene inversion of reality," BBC reports.

Signatories of the CMEP letter also called on the U.S. and other nations "to halt additional military support and arms to Israel and not be complicit in the ongoing military campaign that is having such devastating effects on civilians in Gaza."

CMEP drew attention to their statement in a separate letter addressed directly to Biden, imploring him "to have the moral courage to end U.S. complicity in the ongoing violence and, instead, do everything in your power to prevent the potential genocide against Palestinians in Gaza."

"The horrific actions Hamas committed on October 7th in no way justify the massive deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli military," they wrote.

"As we prepare for Holy Week, we lament and pray for comfort for all who have lost loved ones over the past months in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel," the letter concluded. "We know that Jesus himself was among those who suffered, and he comforted the brokenhearted."

"We hold onto the hope that peace is possible even in the midst of this darkest hour," they added.

A day before the group fired off its letter, the U.S. abstained during a vote on the U.N. Security Council Resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip during the remainder of Ramadan.

The resolution passed after 14 nations voted in favor, drawing condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused the U.S. of harming the war effort by abstaining and exhibiting a "clear departure from the consistent U.S. position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war."

On Monday, Netanyahu canceled a delegation that was scheduled to arrive this week in Washington. 

Other church leaders have similarly called for a ceasefire in the region, such as the leadership of the African Methodist Episcopal Church leadership, who wrote last month that the "cycle of violence between historically wounded peoples will not be dissolved by the creation of more wounds or through weapons of war." The bishops urged the U.S. to cut funding to Israel, which they accused of "mass genocide."

Other Christians have been vocal in their support for Israeli military efforts, with more than 50 notable Israeli and American Christian and Jewish leaders urging President Joe Biden in an October letter not to pressure Israel into an immediate ceasefire.

"Israel must do all that is necessary to destroy Hamas," the letter warns. "It is not sufficient for Israel to degrade or even defeat this brutal terrorist regime, which oppresses its own people. Israel must completely destroy every Hamas terrorist, so that this evil is erased from human history. If America pressures Israel into a ceasefire, Israel's enemies will be emboldened, and Israel imperiled, long into the future."

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