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ELCA Bishop Denounces Gaza Blockade, Calls For Investigation of Rescue Incident

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The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson,  released this statement in the aftermath of Israel’s military actions against the flotilla bringing aid to the people in Gaza:

“On behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Lutheran World Federation, organizations that are deeply engaged with and committed to the Lutheran Christians and all persons living in Palestine and Israel, I express my deep sadness regarding events surrounding the flotilla seeking to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza. We deeply regret the deaths and injuries that resulted when Israeli forces intercepted the boats. Our thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and the families of those killed or otherwise harmed during this incident. We note that this tragic incident occurred on the first day of the World Council of Churches’ World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel.

This incident raises many questions that must be answered. We therefore call for a full, international, and independent investigation into this matter.

While we condemn all violence in the resolution of political disputes, this incident raises a number of questions related to the just use of force. It is not clear that, in this incident, all alternatives were explored prior to the use of military force. One tenet of the just use of force is proportionality, a principle I raised during my meeting with the chief rabbis of the State of Israel during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into Gaza which lasted from December 2008 to January 2009. This incident provides an example of how proportionality is an ongoing concern related to Israeli military action against civilians, both Palestinians and internationals.

The attempt to deliver humanitarian materials to Gaza via the flotilla highlights the ongoing blockade of Gaza with all its consequences for the 1.5 million people living there. Israel’s blockade must be fully lifted, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1860. While some humanitarian aid has been allowed to reach the people of Gaza, the economy, particularly the agricultural and fishing sectors, has been devastated. Basic goods including seeds and seedlings, plastic piping, irrigation supplies, fishing nets, engine spare parts, veterinary drugs and cement are restricted.

The World Health Organization has documented the serious deterioration in Gaza’s health system due to restrictions for patients and medical personnel attempting to travel into or out of Gaza. The welfare of the people of Gaza and the safety of Israelis will be served by opening the monitored border crossings in a secure manner for aid, trade and commerce.

This tragic event demonstrates the urgency of achieving a just peace. One role of religious leaders, including the churches, is to strengthen those voices working for peace, rather than yielding to the clamor of extremism, as we seek a just peace beneficial for all persons in the region.

We urge that this incident not interrupt the proximity talks now being conducted through the Obama administration. Instead, we expect that this incident will intensify on all sides the commitment to serious negotiations that will lead to a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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