The Middle East is the most pressing global issue today, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has told the organization’s main governing body, asserting that church and religious bodies can help attain a solution there.
Kobia was speaking on the second day of the WCC’s central committee as it met to navigate policy until the next general assembly of the world’s largest grouping of churches meets in about seven years.
"Events in the Middle East pose the greatest of challenges to the international community," said Kobia, adding, "I believe that the ecumenical movement has an important role to play in the search for just peace," in the region. A Methodist from Kenya, Kobia said: "I believe that if we mobilise our collective efforts, we can make a contribution – just as we made a contribution to South Africa’s struggle against apartheid."
Kobia, who is the top staff official of the WCC, said, "The region and the world are at a crossroads."
A WCC delegation in August to the Middle East said the root cause of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict was the failure to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue. Led by the president of the Conference of European Churches, the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Clermont, the delegation visited Beirut, Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Kobia said the WCC with its experience in inter-religious dialogue could make a major contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by working to break down barriers between the two peoples and the various religious communities caught in the conflict.
The world church body is meeting at its headquarters in Geneva from 30 August to 6 September. It is the first gathering under the leadership of Brazilian Lutheran theologian the Rev. Walter Altmann, who was elected central committee moderator following the WCC’s February assembly in Brazil.
Among the critical issues facing the world, Kobia cited the future of Iraq and how events there are influencing the rest of the region, as well as questions about whether Iran will renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Then he pointed to questions on the prospects for the new Palestinian leadership.
"Will it have a chance to exercise its democratic mandate, a chance to prove itself and a chance to engage in equitable negotiations with Israel? Will Israelis find a way to engage in equitable negotiations with the Palestinians? What are the real prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine, given the apparent dedication of the present US administration to imposing hegemony in the Middle East?"
In relation to a lasting Middle East peace was the issue of how and when the international community would end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, in compliance with international law and UN resolutions.
"Ending the occupation will allow different forces to emerge and give a new face to the Middle East," said Kobia. "A way must be found to allow people of goodwill in Israel to begin to rebuild relations with neighbours – not only on the basis of law but also through negotiated solutions to mutual problems."
He continued: "It is not right for a people, the Palestinians, to experience perpetual humiliation. It is not right that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees have lived in refugee camps for almost 60 years." Kobia said sanctions imposed on the West Bank and Gaza following a democratic election in January were wrong.
"Nor is it right for the people of Israel to live in perpetual fear of their neighbours so that they are impelled to depend upon their military might and their powerful allies," he asserted. "It is not right that people in Israel huddled in shelters for a month, and people in Lebanon abandoned their homes, while rockets, artillery shells and attack aircraft screamed through the air and the UN Security Council deliberated."
The WCC is a grouping of 348 mainly Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican churches representing more than 560 million Christians. Although the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the WCC, it cooperates with it on many issues.
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