Religious leaders from USA and South Africa issue pilgrimage statement on Israel and Palestine

After a visit to Israel and Palestine on 21 February through 1 March, a delegation of South African and African-American church leaders, released a Group Pilgrimage Statement on Israel and Palestine.

The group was a joint delegation of leaders from historic black denominations of the National Council of Churches in the United States of America, and heads of South African church denominations of the South African Council of Churches.

“We came to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the hope of meeting Israeli and Palestinian citizens,” reads the statement. “We came seeking to better understand the realities on the ground, particularly related to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (East Jerusalem, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip).”

The delegation visited the Yad Vashem the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, heard the Jewish perspective that proposes a continuum from the biblical lands of Israel taken from the Canaanites, and shared a Bible study with a Jewish rabbi.

“We visited Palestinian communities and homes where people are not allowed to have freedom of movement or self-determination,” reads the statement. “We visited a refugee camp of displaced persons who still hold the keys to their homes that were confiscated over 70 years ago.”

The delegation also met with families fighting to keep their homes from being taken for Jewish settlements and developments.

“We heard the stories of how Palestinians within the occupied territory of the Gaza Strip must contend with a perpetual blockade, the excessive use of force by Israel to subjugate the people in collective punishment of whole population and the debilitating confinement that renders Gaza as one big densely populated prison,” the statement reads. “We heard and appreciated how the leaders of the Palestinian Authority had made a conscious decision to forgo armed solutions to the conflict and pray that this will be responded to in kind.”

The delegation supports a two-state solution. “We call for the return of refugees and exiles,” the statement reads. “We are saddened by the increasing hardening of the hearts of the Israeli powers that be, to the prospect of a just peace with security and dignity for all.”

The delegation appealed for tour groups to the Holy Land to make a conscious point of touring both Israel and Palestine.

“We appeal for partnerships of congregations around the world with the congregations of Palestine and Israel, to promote linkages and intensify the ministry of presence,” the statement reads. “We commit to continuing on this journey together, to work alongside the oppressed Palestinian people, to advocating in our own countries among our governments for actions and policies that will help lead to a resolution of the conflict.”

World Council of Churches,