From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Return Home after Meeting with Arafat, Peres

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date Fri, 14 Jun 2002 15:40:36 -0500


June 14, 2002


       CHICAGO (ELCA) -- A Lutheran World Federation (LWF) delegation
was in Palestine and Israel meeting with prominent leaders and
visiting Lutheran schools June 7-10.  The delegation included members
of the LWF executive committee, LWF staff, and representatives of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (and Palestine) (ELCJ).
       The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition.  The LWF has 133 member churches in 73 countries
representing more than 60.5 million of the 64.3 million Lutherans
worldwide.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is an
LWF member.
       The delegation members visited Palestinian Authority President
Yasser Arafat first, following a recent attack on his Ramallah
headquarters.  They drove past demolished buildings, walked up an
outside staircase of sandbags and passed through heavily guarded
hallways to reach the meeting place, according to an LWF news
       "Your delegation is the first one to visit me since our
Palestinian Authority (PA) compound was bombed and nearly destroyed,"
said Arafat.
       Early in the morning of June 6, Israeli troops moved into
Ramallah with F-16 fighter jets, tanks and armored personnel
carriers, targeting the PA compound and destroying many buildings and
automobiles, Arafat said.  Arafat's bedroom was struck and severely
damaged, but he was not injured.  His office was damaged.  The attack
came after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and 16
        In the meeting with Arafat, "all of us affirmed that
violence from any side is not acceptable.  We also exchanged ideas
about the peace process," said the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of
the ELCJ, in a telephone interview with the ELCA News Service.
     The Rev. Christian Krause, LWF president and retired German
bishop, expressed his gratitude to Arafat for receiving the group and
extended his sympathy for the grave situation which the Palestinian
leader and people are experiencing.
     "Palestinian Christians are part and parcel of the Palestinian
people," said Younan.  "What happens to Palestinians also happens to
us.  We are very concerned about a political vacuum if the
Palestinian Authority is destroyed."
     Arafat agreed and acknowledged the role Lutherans around the
world have in Palestine.  Younan said Arafat told the group the
church can be a positive force for building peace and reconciliation,
and it can work for justice.
Churches provide important links between local people and their
leaders, Younan said.  Churches can also help people help themselves
and be less dependent on others, he added.
     "We are in the midst of a real tragedy," said Arafat.  "More
than 67,000 Palestinian people have been killed or wounded in this
conflict.  Our entire infrastructure is completely destroyed and our
Palestinian economy is devastated.  In the Gaza Strip, 66 percent of
the people live below poverty level and 45 percent in the West Bank.
The Israeli army has destroyed 50 percent of our farmland, and 60
percent of our olive trees have been uprooted.  We call these Roman
trees, because many of them were planted when the Romans were in this
land, 2000 years ago."
       The Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, assured Arafat
that people around the world support the Palestinian people.
       "I have lived in South Africa and I have experienced the
apartheid system which existed there," said Noko.  "But I have never
seen anything like this."
     Arafat showed the representatives pictures of broken crosses
that had been destroyed in a Lutheran school in Bethlehem during the
recent Israeli incursions.  He deplored such actions, including the
recent destruction of the Santa Barbara shrine in the Palestinian
village of Aboud.
     Members of the LWF delegation expressed solidarity with Arafat,
saying they indeed would speak in many countries on behalf of the
Palestinian people and society.
     "You have to push and do it quickly," said Arafat.  "There is
not much time."
     Younan told the ELCA News Service he is still greatly concerned
about the "hemorrhage" of the Palestinian Christians living in the
Middle East who continue to leave for other parts of the world.  U.S.
Lutherans should be concerned about continuing a Palestinian Lutheran
presence in the Middle East, and should be concerned about the
eroding infrastructure in the region, Younan said.

     Krause led a smaller LWF delegation that met with Israeli
Minister for Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres June 10 to discuss the
imposition of employment taxes on Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH),
located on the Mount of Olives in Old Jerusalem.  The tax case is now
in an Israeli court.  The group met earlier with AVH chief executive
officer Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, who introduced the LWF delegation to many
medical services provided to the community, including a kidney
dialysis unit and a cancer treatment center nearing completion.
     AVH is operated by the LWF and is open to all people but most
of its patients are Palestinian.
     "The discussions were cordial, open and frank," said Noko of
the meeting's outcome in an LWF news release.  "In the context of
these discussions, the LWF requested, through Peres, the State of
Israel to uphold the present agreement between the LWF and the State
of Israel.  This agreement grants the LWF blanket tax exemption among
which is the employer's tax, and secondly, that the two parties
should agree on suspension of the pending court case.  The LWF also
raised the issue of recent destruction of Lutheran church property by
Israeli military forces, amounting to 1 million U.S. dollars.  Peres
promised to convey all these concerns to the relevant government
ministers and ministries."
     After meeting with Peres, Younan made a request; "I ask local
and international Lutherans to be united on the legal status of local
churches in general and the local Lutheran church and communion in
particular with regard to their rights.  If not, we run the risk of
losing those rights, being only narrow-minded in our own selfish
     Younan said he felt the meeting with Peres went about as well
as he expected, adding there is much work to be done, especially in
partnership with other Christian bodies in Jerusalem, such as the
Roman Catholics.
-- -- --
*Amy Wineinger is a junior at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa.  This
summer she is an intern with ELCA News and Media Production.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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