A coalition of Christian groups released a statement Nov. 18 blaming Israeli and U.S. officials for the rising death toll in the Israel-Hamas war and admitting their own complicity in the weaponization of religion in the conflict.
“We confess that we ourselves, our religious leaders and our institutions have too often dismissed the example of Jesus when we have stood with the status quo and allied ourselves with the powers that be,” according to the declaration signed by a denominationally diverse partnership that includes Justice for Palestine and Israel Committee of the Alliance of Baptists.
“Too often, we have failed to name and confront false prophets who provide ideological cover for authority and its abuses, destructive wars and the neglect, exploitation and sacrifice of those most vulnerable upon the altars of profit and politics,” it adds.
“Too often, we have failed to name and confront false prophets who provide ideological cover for authority and its abuses.”
The war began with an Oct. 7 Hamas rocket barrage and invasion by fighters who killed more than 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals and took more than 200 hostages. Israel responded with a military assault on the Gaza strip that has killed an estimated 13,000 or more Palestinian civilians, including thousands of children. More than 60 Israeli soldiers reportedly have been killed along with more than 100 aid workers.
Israel’s retaliatory operation in Gaza has sparked global outrage for the violation of international laws against placing civilians at risk in military operations. Israel claims it has a right to defend itself and has enjoyed support from the Biden administration and religious conservatives in the U.S. since the outset of the conflict.
But many Americans disapprove of Israel’s actions and of the president’s support for the Middle Eastern nation, according to a Nov. 9 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey.
“Even among his own party, Biden does not garner overwhelming support — 50% of Democrats approve of his handling of the conflict and 46% of Democrats disapprove. Democrats who disapprove are more likely than those who approve to feel Israel has a great deal of responsibility for the war and to feel the U.S. is being too supportive of Israel,” the study found.
The disapproval of nearly half of Americans was echoed by Christian organizations that signed onto the November statement released by Friends of Sabeel North America, a trans-denominational advocacy organization founded in Palestine.
“We are likewise heartbroken and outraged by the cruelty and complicity of U.S. government officials, and the cowardice or callous indifference of many of our religious leaders and institutions,” says the statement signed by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Kairos USA, the Mennonite Palestine/Israel Network, Pax Christi USA and International, United Methodists for Kairos Response and UU for Palestine, among others.
The statement goes on to mourn the loss of innocent lives in Israel and in Gaza and to demand a ceasefire by Israel and Hamas, the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, accountability for war-crimes perpetrators, an end to the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, the termination of U.S. military aid to Israel and the cessation of settler violence in the West Bank.
“The laws of armed conflict are clear. Neither civilians nor civilian institutions can be targeted,” the statement explains. “Yet, Palestinians in Gaza have been under the most intense and indiscriminate Israeli bombardment ever, targeting homes, markets, schools and universities, hospitals, health workers, journalists, and the entire civilian infrastructure, while cutting off all food, water, medicine and fuel.”
The statement recognizes that discrimination and repression have flowed in both directions throughout the region’s history. “We acknowledge the reality that Zionism emerged within a context of abhorrent, deplorable anti-Jewish discrimination and violence, and we lament that Palestinians have been unjustly paying the price for centuries of Western bigotry.”
Lamentations also were offered for the role religion is playing in the war.
“Religious devotion is being weaponized in the service of profound evil,” the statement says. “In Palestine/Israel, there are countless ways in which religious ideologies and institutions have been employed in the service of violent dispossession and oppression, working to provide theological justification, financial capital and political cover for decades of land confiscation, ethnic cleansing, settlement activity and apartheid. And now, genocide itself.”
So it is that people of faith must also be part of the solution in the region, the group contends: “The eyes of history are upon us. We therefore: confess our complicity; raise our collective voice in protest; renounce the complicity and cowardice of our leaders and institutions along with the ideological justifications constructed in defense of genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid; and call for an accountability for war crimes undertaken now in Gaza and throughout historic Palestine.”