Baptist Peacemakers on Middle East
This statement was drafted July 14, 2006, by a caucus of BPFNA members meeting at the annual Summer Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, meeting for its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this week calls upon the parties involved in the current escalation of tensions in the Middle East to step back from the brink of outright warfare, and to engage in negotiations to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. We also call upon the leadership of the United States to assist in the negotiating process by refraining from placing blame on one party over another.
We are especially concerned because the weapons being used by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon are supplied by the U.S. Such usage of U.S. tax dollars to finance military operations against a civilian population is a specific violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the Geneva Conventions. It has been reported that Israel has employed Lockheed Martin F-161 Fighting Falcons, as well as Boeing F-151s firing U.S.-manufactured AMRAAM, Sidewinder, and Sparrow missiles. Thus far, more than 57 Lebanese have died in these attacks, all of them civilians, a figure that includes at least 15 children.
At the same time, we specifically condemn the taking of hostages, whether civilian or military, by any governmental or non-governmental entity. We recognize that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has launched its current military operations in Lebanon as retaliation for the capture of two IDF soldiers and the killing of eight others, as well as the wounding of two. However, this event has been claimed by Hezbollah as being of their doing, and it is never acceptable to punish an entire population for the actions of a few. Such collective punishment is a violation of international law, and it only perpetuates a cycle of violence. Blaming the government of Lebanon for the actions of Hezbollah is counter-productive, as well.
Although we condemn the actions of Hezbollah, the principle of proportionality has been violated by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon, which constitute the heaviest bombing of that country in 24 years, since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The targeting of a civilian population is not in keeping with the values of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, and must not be accepted. It is not defensive behavior, but is an offense against the high principles of all of these religions.
At the same time, July 12 also marked the highest single-day death toll in Israel’s current incursion into the Gaza Strip, resulting in the death of 23 people. That figure includes the deaths of at least 18 people in one home, including a mother and five of her children. We are very troubled about this action, since the entire population of Gaza has been suffering from the ongoing attacks by Israel, which have destroyed homes, bridges, businesses, and the entire electric supply for more than a million people.
In Lebanon, more than 20 bridges have been targeted, the television station has come under attack, and an air and sea blockade is under way. All three runways of the international airport have been destroyed, with the result that those wishing to escape the fighting by travel to Cyprus or elsewhere are prevented from doing so, while Lebanon’s economy is also suffering because this is the height of tourist season and tourists are now also being diverted due to the closures.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has responded with additional rocket volleys into northern Israel, killing additional civilians. Hezbollah has called for negotiations and prisoner exchanges, although Israel’s response has been a refusal to negotiate.
Believing that peace is the highest value in all three monotheistic faiths, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America expresses its condolences to all of the families involved, and urges the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the government of Lebanon, as well as any and all parties of non-governmental status, to exercise restraint, to step back from the brink, and to begin to negotiate wholeheartedly for an end to all regional hostilities.
We reiterate that statements implying that one or another party is correct in its aggressive action against another are not helpful. No nation or group that takes out its anger on innocent civilians should ever be praised. We call on the U.S., and the United Nations, to use their good offices to intervene and prevent the escalation of this conflict into full-scale war.
Baptist Peace Fellowship of North AmericaMembers Caucus at Summer ConferenceAtlanta, Georgia USAJuly 14, 2006
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