Kirk pledges "we are with you" in response to Israel and Palestine review

The Church of Scotland has pledged to continue to maintain a presence in Israel and Palestine following a review of Kirk activities in the region.

Very Rev Dr John Chalmers delivering the report to the General Assembly
Very Rev Dr John Chalmers delivering the report to the General Assembly

Speaking after the report to the General Assembly, Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, who is convener of the World Mission Council, highlighted the Church's support for the "dwindling Christian community".

He also reaffirmed the vital role the Kirk can play in supporting peace in Israel and Palestine.

Dr Chalmers said: "We're committed to non-violent means of bringing about peace with justice for the Palestinian people and peace with security for the Jewish people and these are very complex things to handle.

"We want to say to our partners who are people on the ground, who are at the coalface, we are with you and we support you and I think we did that today," he added.

All the recommended deliverances were passed according to the report, with an addition from Rev Dr John McCulloch, minister of St Andrew's Memorial Church of Scotland in Jerusalem.

Dr McCulloch raised the issue of 300 olive trees which are under a demolition order at the Tent of Nations, an educational and environmental farm near Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The site has been owned by a family of Palestinian Christians for more than 100 years, and as part of the deliverance Dr McCulloch urged the two Kirk congregations in Israel to "develop this natural sanctuary as a place of worship, including the regular celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion."

Following the report, the Church of Scotland will continue with activities in Israel and Palestine, which includes a congregation in Jerusalem and Tiberias respectively, and Tabeetha School in Jaffa.

Speaking of the school, Dr Chalmers said that it is "one of the few schools in Israel where Christians, Jews and Muslims work and learn together."

A call encouraging those embarking on pilgrimages to "support Church of Scotland institutions" by staying at the St Andrew's Guesthouse in Jerusalem and the Scots Hotel in Tiberias, was also backed.

While both sites are commercial ventures, Dr Chalmers highlighted their positive impact on the community by employing staff from a range of ethnic backgrounds, paying the equivalent of a living wage and using ethically sourced products.

One change that has been agreed following the report is the sale of surplus land at Safed.

In the closing remarks of the speech, Dr Chalmers said: "It was to excluded groups that Jesus devoted most of his ministry, so perhaps this accident of history, which has left us with a unique legacy of property, presence and personnel in the land of Jesus is more than anything else to be used to enable those who feel excluded to become a part of the conversation about the future."