The Southeastern Iowa Synod has an active regional ministry advocating for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine. Through accompaniment, advocacy and awareness-raising, Peace Not Walls connects ELCA members to our companions and promotes dignity, full respect for human rights, healing and reconciliation. With our Palestinian Lutheran companions, we also accompany Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims working together for peace with justice. For more information visit: www.elca.org/peacenotwalls

The Southeastern Iowa Synod Peace Not Walls joins the National Peace Not Walls campaign in concern for Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives, the sole provider for cancer and kidney specialty care for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  It is a fully accredited hospital, which is supported by contributions from Lutheran churches around the world, including the ELCA. Give online to AVH through the ELCA website

2022 Updates
BECOMING CONFERENCE: PEACE NOT WALLS
Respectfully submitted by Revs. Christine Cowan, Russell Melby, and Jack Mithelman
Leaders in the ELCA Service and Justice Home Area met in Chicago, August 21-28, 2022, at the “Becoming Conference.” This area of the ELCA’S work encompasses global mission and relationships, hunger, advocacy, and disaster response ministries, ethnic-specific and migrant ministries, and corporate social responsibility. Thus, several hundred people were in attendance for varying lengths of time for the duration of the conference. Included in this gathering were those involved in the ELCA’s advocacy group working for justice and peace for the Palestinian people, Peace Not Walls (PNW). Three members of the Southeastern Iowa Synod’s PNW Working Group were also in attendance, August 22-24: Revs. Christine Cowan, Russell Melby, and Jack Mithelman.
A special guest at the conference was Rev. Munther Isaac, Pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Along with a sermon delivered to the entire assembly, Rev. Isaac’s remarks to the PNW group focused on recent developments, Israeli attacks on Palestinian society and Christian institutions, as well as the increasing fragmentation of Palestinian society.
At present, Rev. Isaac and other Palestinian leaders view the Oslo Peace Accord as non-functioning. The Israeli government continues to refuse to grant autonomy to the Palestinian people. Instead, Israel continues to annex more and more Palestinian land to expand Israeli-only settlements in the West Bank and to further marginalize Palestinians in various systematic ways. This has resulted in increasing annexation of Palestinian land for settlement expansion, further marginalizing the Palestinians.
The recent “Abrahamic Accords,” ostensibly seek to normalize relationships between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. However, these are essentially arms and weapons deals which further occupation and annexation activity, which enable the establishment of new settlement communities. This is what is meant by the phrase “creating facts on the ground.” Consequently, these accords serve to further isolate Palestinians from other Arabs.
In early August 2022, the Israeli government shuttered seven internationally respected, non-governmental, human rights groups as terrorist organizations, without evidence. One of these, Defense of Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), has brought to the attention of the international community, Israel’s ongoing incarceration of children. DCI-P has reported that in order to create fear within Palestinian communities, IDF forces often arrest children by night, holding them for months at a time, without filing formal charges against them. Obviously, this is a practice Israel wishes to keep from the rest of the world.
While attacks on mosques and Muslim cemeteries have been common, now churches and Christian cemeteries are also experiencing violence. This past Palm Sunday and again on Holy Saturday, Israel chose to limit worshippers at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and surrounding Christian shrines to 2000 people, far below the numbers previously attending.
The conclusion reached by Rev. Isaac and other Christian leaders in the region is that Palestinians in general, and the churches to which they belong, are living under a state of apartheid. This term, once applied to the white South African regime, is vehemently disputed by Israel, the US political establishment, and others who seek to do business with Israel. At present, use of this term is also being discussed by the World Council of Churches and the ELCA but has not yet been endorsed. In conclusion, Rev. Isaac called for new responses to this decades-old conflict, to which much of the western world has by now accommodated itself. He urged us to continue our advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people, and US churches to undertake Cry for Hope (www.cryforhope.org), a blueprint for congregational study and work about the issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During the conference, there were also signs of hope brought to our attention. Peace and justice study tours are once again visiting the area; continued ELCA support for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), particularly its church-related schools and higher education ministries; the Biden administration grant to Augusta Victoria and other East Jerusalem hospitals providing specialized medical care to those in the West Bank and Gaza; and the increasing number of US Arab Christians now being served by ELCA congregations. A particular delight of the gathering was learning about Project Amal. This is an animated series for Arab-speaking children, focused on the character of Saleem, a Christian boy who has been displaced by the conflict, but finds new hope and dignity in the midst of the conflict. In sum, despite the extreme difficulty of this situation, the SE IA PNW group will continue to assist our members to accompany, assist, and advocate for the Palestinian people. In the spirit of 2 Thessalonians 3:13, Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
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