In a June 9 pastoral letter, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote to Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, responding to his Pentecost statement “Liberation, Not Annexation.”

Azar’s statement came in response to the declared intention of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley under Israeli sovereignty. These areas are considered occupied territory under international law and recognized as such by the United Nations.

In her letter, Eaton expressed concern about the grave impact the “annexation will have on the daily lives of the Palestinian people, especially the members of your church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; its schools; and all of its ministries.” She also agreed with Azar that the Israeli plan threatens “any peace process and the future of a two-state solution,” which both of our churches have long supported.

In response to Azar’s call for advocacy, Eaton pledged to make appeals “to our elected officials, in the use of social media and in other ways, to amplify your message that the U.S.-Israeli plan for annexation is not the way to peace based on justice. Annexation is not the way to reconciliation and living together for the people of this land, who all deserve the chance for a liberated future: Israeli and Palestinian; Jew, Christian, and Muslim.’”

A week earlier Eaton joined 26 other U.S. Christian leaders in a letter to Congress asking it “to wield its power of the purse and not allow any United States funds provided to Israel to be used for the recognition, facilitation or support of annexation, or for denial of Palestinian rights and violation of international law, including continuing occupation.” The letter to Congress was initiated by Churches for Middle East Peace in connection with their #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation campaign.

The Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director of ELCA Global Mission, said that one should be aware of the connection between the Israeli government’s repressive tactics against Palestinians and those taking place against people of color in a number of localities around the United States.

“As it has been reported, the kind of police tactics used to kill George Floyd are among those taught to a number of police departments that have taken part in training by Israeli police and military forces,” Malpica Padilla said. “For example, 100 Minneapolis police officers received counterterrorism training from Israelis at a conference held in 2012.”

Malpica Padilla also emphasized how the detention of migrant families and children seeking shelter in the United States is comparable to the plight of many Palestinian children. “We have continued to for children not to be detained and separated from their parents as is happening on our southern border, and we are concerned that the Israeli government continues to detain Palestinian children in a similar way,” he said.

Consistent with its “Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine” and “Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community,” the ELCA draws a clear distinction between critiquing unjust government policies and its commitment to defend against anti-Semitism.

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