Religious groups have voiced deep concerns about the escalating violence between Israel and Palestine.

Yesterday morning, the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, its pastor’s home and the church’s International Center in Bethlehem were hit by shelling from Israeli tanks and soldiers, according to an urgent release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan.

The Rev. Mitri Raheb, the church’s pastor, said the tanks entered the Old City of Bethlehem in the early morning hours, and that the heaviest gunfire and fighting stretched from Manger Square to the Christmas Church compound.

Raheb’s parsonage was damaged and remains flanked by tanks. He said the extent of the damage to the church is unknown, but some of the 110-year-old stained-glass windows were destroyed.

The stories are the same all over the Holy Land, and some religious leaders have called on the United States to help stop the terrorism.

“Neither the present unconscionable round of suicide bombings, borne of years of occupation, nor the wholly disproportionate military response of Israel is leading to any peaceful solution,” Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, USA, wrote in an April 1 press release.

“Clearly the two parties in this tragic conflict no longer have the means or the will to control events,” Griswold wrote. “Therefore, it is imperative that the international community intervenes to restore order and stability.”

National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar urged President Bush in a press release yesterday to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region “to press for an immediate cessation of the violence and for commencement of face-to-face negotiations.”

“Retaliation cannot compensate for loss,” Edgar wrote. “Violence solves nothing, it just creates more victims.”

The Islamic Circle of North America also called on the United States to intervene to bring an end to the cycle of violence in the region. In a press release yesterday, it asked the United States to “send a UN peacekeeping force to keep Israeli armed forces away from the civilian population.”

ICNA wrote that the blame for the recent unrest and violence lies with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and that Sharon’s “policies of ‘heavy handedness'” will lead to further attacks on Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League praised the Bush administration “for its strong stance against Palestinian violence and its unwavering support of the Israeli government’s efforts to combat terrorism.”

ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman sent a statement to Bush and Powell in which he wrote that “Israel, who has extended its hand again and again in peace, has no choice but to take whatever actions it deems necessary to protect its population and destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.”

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, affirmed Bush’s loyalty toward Israel.

“I urge you to encourage the members of your congregation to tell President Bush that we appreciate the American government’s support for Israel and the Jewish people,” Yoffie wrote in an April 1 release.

No matter where religious lines are drawn, the solution is not clear.

“The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a march of folly for both parties and the entire global community,” said Robert Parham, executive director for the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Suicide-bombers and armed soldiers will kill and disfigure combatants and noncombatants with both randomness and precision. But neither will till the soil of justice and plant seeds for peace.”

Parham called on Baptists to “pray that our elected leaders will act with wisdom born of a commitment to justice.”

“And we should watch out for the political arguments that falsely frame this situation,” Parham said. “This is not a conflict where one is either for Israelis or for Palestinians. Both sides have escalated violence, and both sides must stop it.”

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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