On Feb. 13, Tracie Bartholomew, bishop of the New Jersey Synod, joined ELCA advocacy staff to meet with federal legislators on Capitol Hill to express deep concern in accompaniment and advocacy with the church’s partners in the Holy Land and the United States.

Following the Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel in which Hamas killed approximately 1,200 Israelis and took 253 people hostage, Israel has overseen a military campaign in Gaza that is reported to have killed more than 30,000 Palestinian civilians, including tens of thousands of women and children.

Against this backdrop, U.S. officials announced in late January that, along with 15 other countries, the United States had suspended its funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) due to allegations that 12 of the agency’s staff had participated in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israelis. Though scant details or direct evidence has been shared with U.S. intelligence officials or UNRWA investigators examining the accusations of the staff’s involvement, the United Nations has preemptively fired several employees over these allegations while investigations proceed.

UNRWA provides humanitarian assistance, health and educational services for some 3 million of the nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In Gaza, where infrastructure has been devastated and essential supplies are dangerously reduced, 2 million Palestinians in Gaza rely on UNRWA for humanitarian assistance.

“I am heartened that there are members of Congress who are interested in finding a way toward just peace in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.”

“The human cost of this war is unbearable, and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate,” the Lutheran World Federation declared in a Jan. 15 statement. “The impact of the fighting on people and infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, schools, roads, places of worship and other public facilities is staggering.”

Having met with senior policy staff from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Rep. Anna Eshoo. D-Calif.; and Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., as well as directly with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Bartolomew said: “I am glad to have made these visits, and leave Washington, D.C., heartened that there are members of Congress who care about the voice of the faith community and are interested in finding a way toward just peace in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.”

Dennis Frado, former director of the Lutheran Office for World Community, also took part in the visits and remarked, “Our faith perspectives on this crucial issue are vital.”

Bartholomew said one legislative staffer cited receiving over 300 calls on UNRWA funding, which indicated the issue’s importance to constituents. She challenges ELCA members to go further: “Surely we can use our voices to amplify the need for a cease-fire and restoration of UNRWA funding beyond 300 calls.”

One way for ELCA members to contact their representatives about the issue is the action item “Peace Not Walls – February 2024” at the ELCA Advocacy Action Center.

Read more about: