The General Board of Church and Society condemns act of 'high-seas piracy'; calls for end of Gaza blockade; urges all efforts to achieve two-state peaceful Israel-Palestine solution.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) is condemning the deadly interception Monday (May 31) in international waters by Israeli troops that led to the deaths of nine persons on a humanitarian aid mission to Gaza. The nine persons were part of an international "Freedom Flotilla" of six vessels carrying nearly 10,000 tons of food and medicine to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for three years.
"We grieve the loss of life and injuries sustained in what became a tragic confrontation between the forces of peace and those of armed aggression," said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist social justice agency.
According to the Associated Press and San Francisco Chronicle, five pro-Palestinian activists from the Bay Area were aboard flotilla vessels and were detained afterward: 44-year-old San Francisco resident Iara Lee; 63-year-old Gene St. Onge and 67-year-old Janet Kobren, both of Oakland, and Paul Larudee, 64, of El Cerrito, who were together on the Greek ship Sfendoni; and 63-year-old Kathy Sheetz of Marin, who was on the small passenger boat Challenger 1.
Dr. Larudee, a former linguistics professor and co-founder of the Free Palestine Movement, was the guest speaker at a dinner sponsored by the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and the Board of Church and Society during last year's California-Nevada Annual Conference Session in Sacramento.
Winkler called the Israeli troops' boarding of the "Freedom Flotilla" in international waters more than just an act of high-seas piracy. "It is symptomatic of a broader, hopelessly flawed policy by Israel to subjugate the Palestinian people, allegedly to protect its own security," he said, adding that the United States has been "complicit in this flawed policy."
According to Winkler Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, which has created a humanitarian crisis affecting 1.4 million Palestinians. He pointed out that The United Methodist Church has long advocated for a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. "The violence must stop on both sides," he said. "The time for decisive action to impose a just, peaceful resolution has never been more evident that in this tragic assault on persons whose sole purpose was to achieve peace and bring aid to an oppressed populace."
The General Board of Church and Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board's primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education and Leadership Formation, United Nations and International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations.