“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all commanded by God to love God and our neighbor with our whole lives. Yet in the cradle of all three of these faiths, The death toll continues to rise.  Palestinian and Israeli fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children weep for those dear to them. This particular chain of events, another tragic evidence of the impact of the illegal Israeli occupation, began with the unjustifiable murder of three Israeli youth by Palestinians, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel.  The Israeli Military unjustifiably killed five Palestinians in pursuit of their murderers, Mustafa Hosni Aslan, Mahmoud Jihad Muhammad Dudeen, Ahmad Famawi, Ahmad Said Suod Khalid, and Mahmoud Ismail Atallah Tarifi.  Then Mohammad Abu Khedair was abducted and murdered by Jewish citizens of Israel.  In the wake of these terrible events, Hamas rockets have been indiscriminately fired, and Israeli Defense Forces have used overwhelming force.

Now another 174 Palestinians* must be named as victims of this violence: Haitham Ashraf Zaboub, Ramzyeh Abed el-Alem, Ezzeddin Bolbol, Laila al-Ewedat, Deir el-Balah. Musap Daher, Abu-Shanab, Moua’yad al-Araj, Hijaziyya al-Hilo, Huwaida abu Harb, Husam Ibrahim Najjar, Samir Hamdan, Hussein Abdul-Qader Mheisin, Maher Thabit Abu Mar, Mohammed Salim Abu Bureis, Ibrahim Nabil Hamadah, Hasan Ahmad Abu Ghush, Ahmad Mazen al-Bal’awy, Nabil Basal, Mohammad al-Halaby, Rifat Siyouti, Ola Wishahi, Suha Abu Saade, Yousef Mohammad Qandil, Mohammad Edrees Abu Sneina, Abdul-Rahman Saleh al-Khatib, Husam Thieb ar-Razayna, Anas Yousef Qandil, Mohammad Sweity, Rateb Subhi al-Saifi, Azmi Mahmoud Obeid, Nidal Muhammad Abu al-Malsh, Suleiman Said Obeid,  Mustafa Muhammad Inaya, Ghassan Ahmad al-Masri, Ghazi Arif, Khawla al-Hawajri, Rif’at Youssef Amer, Nahedh Na’im al-Batsh, Baha’ Majed al-Batsh, Qusai Issam al-Batsh, Aziza Yousef al-Batsh, Ahmad No’man al-Batsh, Mohammad Issam al-Batsh, Yahia ‘Ala’ Al-Batsh, Jalal Majed al-Batsh, Mahmoud Majed al-Batsh, Majed Sobhi al-Batsh, Marwa Majed al-Batsh, Khaled Majed al-Batsh, Ibrahim Majed al-Batsh, Manar Majed al-Batsh, Amal Hussein al-Batsh, Anas Ala’ al-Batsh, Qusai Ala’ al-Batsh, Zakariyya Ala’ al-Batsh, Mohannad Yousef Dheir, Mohammad Zo’rob, Imad Bassam Zo’rob, Mustafa ‘Arif, Mohammad Ghazi ‘Arif, Amir ‘Arif, Ahmad Yousef Dalloul, Fadi Ya’coub Sukkar, Qassem Jaber Odah, Mohammad Abdullah Sharatha, Anas Rizk Abu el-Kas, 33, Nour Marwan al-Najdi, Mohammed Mounir Ashour, Ghalia Deeb Jabr al-Ghanam, Wisam Abd al-Rizk Hassan al-Ghanam, Mahmoud Abd al-Rizk Hassan al-Ghanam, Kifah Shahada Deeb al-Ghanam, Ra’ed Hani Abu Hani, Shahraman Ismail Abu el-Kas, Mazen Mustafa Aslan,  Shahd Helmi al-Qrynawi, Adnan al-Ashhab, Mohammad Rabea Abu-Hmeedan, Saher Abu Namous, Hussein al-Mamlok, Saber Sukkar, Nasser Rabah Sammama, Abdul-Halim Abdul-Mo’ty Ashra, Mohammad Samiri, Rami Abu Mosa’ed, Salem Qandil, Amer al-Fayyoumi, Baha’ Abu al-Leil, Asma’ Mahmoud al-Hajj, Sa’ad Mahmoud al-Hajj, Najla’ Mahmoud al-Hajj, Tareq Sa’ad al-Hajj, Omar al-Hajj, Amna al-Hajj, Amna al-Hajj, Basimah al-Hajj, Ra’ed Shalat, Wife of Ra'ed Shalat, Unidentified child of Ra'ed Shalat, Unidentified child of Ra'ed Shalat, Ibrahim Khalil Qanan, Mohammad Khalil Qanan, Hamdi Kamil Sawali, Suleiman al-Astal, Ahmad al-Astal, Mousa al-Astal, Mohammad al-‘Aqqad, Abdullah Ramadan, Ismail Abu-Jaame, Khalid Abu-Jaame, Mahmoud Waloud, Hazen Balousheh, Alaa Abdelnabi, Ahmad Zaher Hamdan,Yasmin Mohammed al-Mutawwaq, Mohammed Kamal al-Kahlout, Abdul Rahman Khattab, Abdullah Abu Majrouq, Hamed Shihab, Salmiyya al-‘Arja, Nariman Abdul-Ghafour, Rafiq al-Kafarna, Nayfa Farajallah, Abdul-Nasser Abu Kweik, Khaled Abu Kweik, Ameer Arif, Mohammad Malika, Amna Malika (Mohammad’s Mother), Hatem Abu Salem. Mohammad Khaled an-Nimra, Sahar Hamdan (al-Masry), Ibrahim al-Masry, Amjad Hamdan, Hani Saleh Hamad, Ibrahim Hani Saleh Hamad, Mohammad Khalaf Nawasra, Nidal Khalaf Nawasra, Salah Awad Nawasra, Somoud Nawasra, Mahmoud Nahedh Nawasra, Aisha Najm. Amal Yousef. Ranim Jouda, Ibrahim Daoud al-Bal’aawy, Abdul-Rahman Jamal az-Zamely, Ibrahim Ahmad ‘Abdin. Mustafa Abu Murr. Khaled Abu Murr. Mazin Al-Jarba. Marwan Eslayyem. Sami al-Arja, Mohammad Sha’ban, Amjad Sha’ban, Khader al-Basheeleqety, Rashad Yassin, Mohammad Ayman ‘Ashour, Riyadh Mohammad Kaware’, Bakr Mohammad Joudeh, Ammar Mohammad Joudeh, Hussein Yousef Kaware’, Bassem Salem Kaware’, Mohammad Ibrahim Kaware’, Mohammad Habib, Mousa Habib, Saqr ‘Aayesh al-‘Ajjoury, Ahmad Nael Mahdi, Hafeth Mohammad Hamad, Ibrahim Mohammad Hamad, Mahdi Mohammad Hamad, Fawziyya Khalil Hamad, Donia Mahdi Hamad, Soha Hamad, Suleiman Salam Abu Sawaween, Siraj Eyad Abdul-‘Aal, Abdul-Hadi Soufi.

Not one more name, Israeli or Palestinian, should be added to this list.  The violence must stop.  While those on all sides may provide justification for the violence, we know from years of conflict in the region that the resort to violence inevitably leaves behind death, injury, fear, and deepened feelings of hostility.

As the death toll and the numbers of those injured in Gaza continue to mount from the Israeli air assault we call upon all parties involved to stop the violence and agree to an immediate cease-fire, under which the borders of Gaza can be opened to humanitarian aid and desperately needed medical assistance for the sick and wounded. To this end, it is imperative that the leaders of the international community, including the leaders of our own nation, step up and use their good offices to press the warring parties to bring an end to the killing.

The rockets that have long been fired from Gaza at Israeli communities must cease. They are not simply provocations, but undiscriminating instruments of fear and death. Suicide bombings also must be unconditionally condemned. Members of Hamas and other groups who continue to call for Israeli’s demise must stop their rhetoric of death.

By the same token, the massive destruction of an already crippled Gazan infrastructure by aerial bombardments must end. The economic isolation of Gaza has paralyzed economic development and left public institutions unable to cope with the humanitarian emergencies they now face. Moreover, the growing deaths of non-combatants must end. Any new cease-fire agreement must be honored, if necessary with the help of international monitors, so that there is neither the firing of rockets into Israel nor Israeli assassination raids into Gaza, both of which have brought fear and death.

Most importantly, while every effort must be made to bring an end to the immediate hostilities, we must recognize that this violence is only one symptom of the decades-long failure of the international community, the Israeli government, and the leaders of the divided Palestinian community in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem to make the wrenching commitments necessary to reach a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is imperative that our own government, current and future, move beyond rhetoric to forceful and active participation as an honest and impartial broker of a just and meaningful peace.

Finally, we recognize that no lasting peace is possible without the adherence of all parties to the rule of law, especially those laws upon which the international community has agreed. These include resolutions adopted by the United Nations that provide a basis for the future recognition of two states in the region, one Israeli and one Palestinian, in which the respective parties can live in peace, security, and freedom. They also include the Geneva Conventions. Our grief over the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis in the current conflict is exacerbated by the knowledge of how many non-combatants have died in recent days. It is a reminder that all nations are called to abide by the body of basic humanitarian law that requires the protection of non-combatants in any military conflict.

The 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meeting in June 2008, reiterated long-standing benchmarks for a two-state solution in which both parties can live in peace and security. Most of those are reflected in “The Amman Call,” a declaration issued by the World Council of Churches International Peace Conference on the Middle East, June 19-20, 2007, and endorsed by the 218th General Assembly. They include the following:

5.1.That UN resolutions are the basis for peace and the Geneva conventions are applicable to the rights and responsibilities of the affected people.

5.2. That Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return.

5.3. That a two-state solution must be viable politically, geographically, economically, and socially.

5.4 That Jerusalem must be an open, accessible, inclusive, and shared city for the two peoples and three religions.

5.5 That both Palestine and Israel have legitimate security needs.

5.6. That the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal and constitute an obstacle to peace.

5.7. That the “Separation Barrier” constructed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories is a grave breach of international law and must be removed from the occupied territory.

5.8. That there is no military solution for this conflict. Violence in all its forms cannot be justified whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians.

5.9. That comprehensive regional peace is indivisible from a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

5.10 That the life and witness of local churches is at the center of worldwide church advocacy for a just peace.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, who has shown us that true victory comes only through non-violent reconciliation, we yearn for an end to sixty-five years of conflict, violence, and oppression, all of which have left scars on all parties regardless of ethnic, religious, or political identification and have contributed to wider uncertainty about global peace. It will require not only our fervent prayers, but a renewed commitment to action so that when a cease-fire is achieved, it is followed by a new commitment by all parties to the rule of law as the only path to justice, security, and freedom for all.

*As of July 16, 2014. The list of names has been growing daily—perhaps over 200 already.  These names come from multiple sources, but because of the chaos of the situation, the names cannot be verified with certainty.