Editor's note: The following is an open letter to Christians in Palestine.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
As I write this letter, dear friends, the military and humanitarian crisis intensifies around you. We watch with horror and outrage as Israel punishes the entire Lebanese population for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and as belligerence escalates with Hezbollah's attacks on Israeli military personnel.
While we pray for the Israeli soldiers' release and safe return to family, we also know that these incidents have become an occasion for the further oppression of the Palestinian community, for the massive destruction of economic infrastructure and for the loss of much innocent life.
Meanwhile, the separation barrier continues to restrict travel, even for the purpose of meeting desperate human need, and sanctions against the Palestinian Authority have caused a financial strangulation of vital political, educational and humanitarian institutions. The complicity of our own government in these sanctions is cause for particular grief.
Making this situation even more burdensome is the recognition that there are many in the United States, including many Christians, who see only Israel's need for security, who focus only on a few terrorist acts that you yourselves condemn. In doing so, they largely ignore the systemic oppression of an entire people in what increasingly amounts to a virtual prison where almost every aspect of Palestinian life is controlled by Israel.
Many in our own churches are subject to intense lobbying by Jewish groups demonizing the Palestinian community in general and many of you in particular. Even some of our denominational gatherings of ecumenical partners here in the United States sound what may seem to you to be an uncertain voice.
In the face of such suffering and the temptation for despair, I write to assure you of the prayers and solidarity of the United Church of Christ. Know that we continue to be guided by our commitment to peace with justice, to negotiations leading toward a future in which Israel and Palestine mutually co-exist within secure and internationally recognized borders, to a shared Jerusalem and to full protection and access to holy sites.
Centuries ago, in the midst of equally urgent times, our forebears asked, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" They answered, "that we belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to ourselves but to our faithful savior Jesus Christ."
May this comfort sustain you, and may the knowledge that we belong together in bonds of mutual affection and shared commitment be encouraging in these desperately challenging days.
The Rev. John H. Thomas is general minister and president of the United Church of Christ.