US church rebukes Israel for barrier

A five-million-strong US church has rebuked Israel for building a separation barrier along the West Bank, becoming the second major US Protestant denomination to reject policies implemented by the Jewish state.

    The wall is splitting the church's Jerusalem assembly into three

    The resolution titled "Peace Not Wall" was adopted on Saturday on a 668-269 vote by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their convention in Orlando, Florida, despite pleas from Jews to refrain from the move.

    The document that eschews overt condemnation of either side in the conflict urges both Israel and the Palestinians to renew their commitments "to self-determination and security". 
    It reaffirms the church's support for UN Security Council resolutions that call for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied as a result of the 1967 war while upholding the right of every state in the Middle East "to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries".

    'Breeds despair'

    The wall makes it almost impossible
    for children to get to schools

    The document endorses findings by Munib Younan, the church's bishop in Jordan and Israel, who lamented that the barrier was splitting his Jerusalem congregation into three sectors.

    He said the wall had made it almost impossible for the congregation to meet, for children to get to their schools and for adults to reach their places of work.

    "Our church believes in bridges, not walls; trust, not fear; dialogue for justice and peace, not more reason for division," Younan said in a emotional address.

    "The wall does not create peace, it breeds despair."

    Unlike a measure recently adopted by the Presbyterian Church USA, a 2.4-million-member denomination, the resolution does not contain "a policy on divestment", church officials said.

    Companies lobbied

    On 5 August, the Presbyterian Church began its drive for divestment from companies whose practices it says support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or facilitate violence against civilians.

    Bulldozers built by Caterpillar are
    used to destroy Palestinian homes

    The first five companies targeted by the church include Caterpillar because it manufactures bulldozers used by Israel for demolishing Palestinian homes, Citigroup because some of its financial channels may have been used to pay families of Palestinian bombers, and ITT Industries, a supplier of communications equipment for the Israeli military.

    Motorola has also made the list as a result of its contract with Israel to develop encryption machines, while United Technologies was accused of supplying the Jewish state with combat helicopters.

    Support eroding

    The parallel actions by the Lutherans and Presbyterians are seen as sign of possible erosion of support for Israel among American Christians, a major political constituency behind President George Bush.

    US Christian conservatives have been among some of the strongest supporters of Israel in the United States because of Israel's role as custodian of the most sacred biblical sites.

    The Lutheran resolution came in spite of a passionate appeal by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who implored delegates to "not demonise or isolate Israel".
    "As long as the terror continues, we believe that Israel cannot be denied the right to a defensive barrier whose goal is to end the indiscriminate murder of her civilians," Yoffie said.



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