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A condensed look at advocacy for justice in Palestine at Presbyterian General Assembly

For over a decade Presbyterians have been responding to the Palestinian cry for justice through IPMN. Here is a review of our own history as a mission network in the PC(USA) regarding seeking justice for Palestine.

216th General Assembly, (2004): The General Assembly mandated  “the formation of a Worldwide Ministries Division-related Palestine Mission Network move forward as soon as possible, for the purpose of creating currents of wider and deeper Presbyterian involvement with Palestinian partners, aimed at demonstrating solidarity and changing the conditions that erode the humanity of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.”

Beginning in 2004, key Presbyterian leaders from throughout our denomination met and began dreaming of what this network might become.  In 2006, they called the organizational meeting in Chicago, Illinois that gave birth to what became the Israel Palestine Mission Network.  Although the General Assembly directive was to form a “Palestine Mission Network,” the organizing body determined that because of the significant Palestinian presence in Israel that the title must include both Israel and Palestine.

218th General Assembly, (2008): The General Assembly endorsed The Amman Call from Churches in the Holy Land, which after sixty years, spoke with one voice about Arab-Israeli peace. Their call to us, their brothers and sisters in Christ, was an urgent plea: "Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action."

219th General Assembly, (2010): The General Assembly approved the Middle East Study Committee report, Breaking Down the Walls, “Commend[ing] for study the Kairos Palestine document (‘A Moment of Truth’), and endors[ing] the document’s emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation. [The Assembly] lift[ed] up for study the often neglected voice of Palestinian Christians.” Here is the report as approved.

The Assembly also denounced Caterpillar, Inc.’s profit-making from non-peaceful pursuits. Further, The Assembly “called for the allocation of U.S. military aid funds to be contingent on compliance with international law, human rights protections, and U.S. foreign policy,” and expressed its “extreme disappointment with the U.S. government that while the State of Israel has been found not to comply with the above statutes, it continues to be the recipient of U.S. military aid.”

220th General Assembly, (2012): The General Assembly approved a blanket boycott of all Israeli settlement products, a first in our history, as the Plenary had never approved a boycott of anything on the first appearance at our Assembly.

221st General Assembly, (2014):  After a decade of corporate engagement to change company practices, The General Assembly instructed the Presbyterian Foundation and The Board of Pensions to divest our holdings from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions for profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in Palestine.

222nd General Assembly, (2016): The General Assembly voted to advocate for the safety and well-being of Palestinian children, commissioned a prayerful study of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, approved the study report entitled: For Human Values in the Absence of Just Peace, and affirmed nonviolent means of resistance against oppression, including economic measures used throughout Presbyterian history,

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THE PROBLEM OF BLAMING PRESBYTERIANS (or anyone else for that matter) WHEN THE MORAL BLINDSPOT IS YOUR OWN

Jesus once said: “Take the log out of your own eye then you can remove the splinter in your neighbor’s.”

By 1822 Presbyterian minister, the Rev. John Rankin, was known throughout his native Ohio to be a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, helping slaves find freedom. Harriet Beecher Stowe once said of him: “Who abolished slavery? Reverend John Rankin and his sons did.”

The late Rev. Dr. Neal Kuyper, Presbyterian minister, and founder and director of the Presbyterian Counseling Service for 35 years in Seattle, Washington died at the age of 91 on Veteran’s Day two years ago. During World War II he was an Army medic and chaplain’s assistant, and by virtue of those roles, was permitted to go inside the concentration camp at Buchenwald immediately following its liberation, where he did his best to help holocaust prisoners as they lay dying of malnutrition and disease all around him.   In his retirement, he spoke in Minnesota high school history classes and told the students what he saw with his own eyes. It was his commitment, in so doing, to make sure the next generation would never forget.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Plowshares, the student peace and justice organization at Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution, had raised enough concern in calling for the seminary to disinvest from companies doing business in South Africa that the President of the seminary and members of its Board of Trustees finally gave in and granted an audience to the group. Although it made for a lively discussion, Princeton Seminary never did divest from such holdings, but many of those students soon became ordained Presbyterian ministers. In a movement that was, for its day, as controversial as is the BDS movement of today, they became instrumental in getting the Presbyterian Church to divest from companies doing business in South Africa, and thus supporting the underpinnings of apartheid.

Upon their return from a typical church tour to Israel in 2003, the Rev. Dr. Glenn Dickson and members of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, Florida where he served as pastor were so shocked at the demolition of Palestinian homes they witnessed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they went right to work to submit an overture calling for divestment from Caterpillar, Inc. to the 216th General Assembly meeting of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This overture blew the lid off American Christian ignorance about occupation and made the denomination one of the global leaders in calling attention to the injustices committed against Palestinians by the Israeli government.

When Giulio Meotti accuses the Presbyterian Church (USA) of ugly slander (“US Church versus Israel” in Israel's Ynet News), he either knowingly or unknowingly mouths the propaganda of greater political powers than himself.   As can be seen from the everyday, real-life witness of rank and file Presbyterians throughout the decades and even centuries, the Presbyterian witness for justice has been long and indisputable in the march of history. The fact that his (among that of others) sacred cow is being gored now suddenly, for him, makes the Presbyterian legacy of striving for human justice at all times and in all places as being something suspect.

Meotti cannot bring himself to speak truthfully about the present facts on the ground in Palestine while criticizing the Presbyterians for holding a symposium on land theology. His hysterical language regarding the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD) borders on incoherence. KPD deals with a harsh reality and does so with the voice of the leadership of the whole Body of Christ in Palestine. The document calls for non-violent resistance to occupation. Meotti ignores the fact that the alternative to non-violent resistance towards illegal occupation would be violent resistance, and yet this Christian document rejects violence in all its forms. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are time-honored tools for overcoming oppression in many places and situations throughout the world. Although, tragically, there was a time in history when the Nazis in Germany engaged in the racism of requiring wholesale boycott of the Jewish people, BDS is not that, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it serves to accomplish the very opposite of that.   Kairos Palestine’s call for BDS today is as if the Jews in 1930’s Germany had been able to rise up and boycott everything German in an effort to wake the world up regarding Nazi oppression and genocide. BDS is about resisting the oppressor, not the oppressed.   Meotti’s argument essentially tells Palestinians that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t because Israel will not stop occupying the land and oppressing its people; that it will continue its illegal non-stop building of settlements on Palestinian land and there is nothing they can do about it.

The “security fence” to which Meotti refers is not a fence like neighbors have in their backyards. It is a system of concrete walls (with guard towers) and razor-wire fences hundreds of miles in length that run deep into Palestinian territory for the purpose of separating illegal Israeli settlements in apartheid manner, cutting off natural resources for Palestinian use, and dividing Palestinian communities in half. As Israeli Jeff Halper, Executive Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions points out: “You can’t explain security with the wall.” That’s because the wall is all about dividing the occupied territories into a system of isolated cantons or bantustans that make it impossible to ever say Palestine is or could be a nation unto itself.

One of the great slanders committed against Christians, in Palestine and those in the west committed to working towards a just peace in Israel Palestine, is the ongoing charge that by engaging in the very justice reflected in the words of the Hebrew Prophets, that they are engaged in anti-Jewish, and even anti-Semitic behavior.   It needs to be stated clearly again and again and again that opposition to the oppressive policies of the Israeli government is just that: opposition to the behavior of a national entity and not racial hatred or the persecution of a religious people. This rhetoric is nothing more than a smoke screen to divert attention away from the blatant violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As the real truth of anti-Semitism in the world became the excuse for bringing Nakba to Palestinian homes and villages in 1948, the charge of anti-Semitism leveled at those who oppose unjust policies in Palestine today continues to fuel and justify Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the land. Christians throughout the world who work for justice in Palestine have, working with them shoulder to shoulder, many Jewish peacemakers who are good friends and colleagues committed to this struggle.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) understands that security for Israel can only be accomplished by achieving a just peace in Palestine.   Meotti’s charge that “Presbyterians have left behind the commitment ‘never again’ to ‘participate in, contribute to, or allow the persecution or the denigration of Jews’” is a calculated and disingenuous falsehood. What Presbyterians have and always will stand for is justice for all of God’s people wherever injustice reigns supreme. The fact that Meotti, the Israeli government and supporters of Israeli policy don’t see that means that who they call “friends” are only those who willingly turn a blind eye to the very kinds of oppression of which the Jewish people were once victims themselves. To not stand for the occupied in favor of the occupiers is indeed to be in league with Pharaoh and his henchman in any era of human history.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Tactics Are Shameless

Once again, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has waged another shameless attack on concerned Christians who work ceaselessly towards peace and justice in Israel Palestine.   This time it comes in response to the release of the Kairos Palestine Document Study Guide that was recently published by a special committee of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

The document known as Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth is the cry of Palestinian Christians who live and worship in a land in which the official state theology of Israel delegitimizes their rights as children of God in the land of their ancestors.   The irony of the stance by the Simon Wiesenthal Center is that by rejecting the Kairos Palestine Document, it has now placed itself in the untenable position of rejecting both violent and nonviolent responses to oppression.   Kairos Palestine embraces the nonviolent approach towards oppression that has been modeled by such important historical and global figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.   The leaders of virtually all Christian communions in Palestine, in sharing “a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,” have made it clear once and for all that the violence they have always rejected on the basis of their faith will continue to be rejected as an answer to their struggle. It is shameless that the Simon Wiesenthal Center now equates Christian nonviolent response to oppression with fanatical, extremist violence. This is no surprise given the organization’s own tolerance of the same in regard to extremist Jewish groups that have settled illegally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Center’s refusal to back down on building their “Museum of Tolerance” on top of an 800 year old Muslim cemetery.

Let there be no mistake: this is a struggle of monumental proportions as Israel continues to impose collective punishment on all Palestinians.   The Palestinian people live within 30-foot concrete walls with barbed wire and watch towers, functioning as the largest open-air prison in the world. Palestinians who seek to pass through checkpoints in this wall in order to simply go to work, visit family or receive medical care are subject to long delays and many times are not permitted to pass through no matter how dire the emergency. Since Palestinian farmers are often prevented from getting to their fields for harvest, the Israeli government eventually declares the land “unattended” and under an old Ottoman law, takes the land to build new illegal settlements, create buffer and separation zones, and steal natural resources.   Bulldozers routinely demolish Palestinian homes, putting entire Palestinian families on the street without notice, as part of the Israeli government’s campaign to disenfranchise them from their ancestral land and homes. These home demolitions have nothing to do with security and Israeli has never claimed that they do.

More and more the rank and file of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is coming to understand the injustice of occupation and how that makes the use of words like “peace” by the Israeli government and such Zionist organizations as the Simon Wiesenthal Center a cruel and cynical joke being perpetrated on all peace seeking Palestinians and Israelis. The Center’s credibility in regard to its claims about the actions of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been undermined by the fact that prior to the convening of the G.A., it condemned a Middle East Study Committee report that it could not possibly have read because it had not been published or released.   It is now using the same tactics in regard to the work of the PC(USA) Middle East Monitoring Group and its just-released Kairos Palestine Study Guide.

The Study Guide gives all Presbyterians the opportunity to honestly reflect on the reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and how Christian believers maintain their faith and respond to their calling by Jesus Christ in the face of oppression. As stated in the introduction to the document itself, the authors of Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth have been “inspired by the mystery of God’s love for all, the mystery of God’s divine presence in history of all peoples and, in a particular way, in the history of our country, we proclaim our word based on our Christian faith and our sense of Palestinian belonging—a word of faith, hope and love.”   In light of this confession of faith, the Study Guide responsibly places the important emphases of “hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation” from the document in the context of the Biblical values of faith, hope and love.  

The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) stands behind every effort to foster healthy and open debate about the conflict in Israel and Palestine in a way that sheds light on truth rather than perpetuate the darkness of falsehoods and propaganda.   In this way, the new study document of the PC(USA) Middle East Monitoring Group continues the historic Presbyterian tradition of honest dialogue regarding faith and the most difficult issues with which the people of God contend. As the 219th General Assembly did, the IPMN also commends for study, the Kairos Palestine document. If not now, when will it be time to hear the cry of the Christians from the cradle of our faith?

Israel to Palestine: “You are Damned if You Do, and Damned if You Don’t”

NEW YORK - Nov. 3, 2011 - The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA)* (IPMN) condemns the announcement by the Israeli government to accelerate expansion of settlement construction and financially sanction the Palestinian Authority as a response to the successful bid by its leadership to join UNESCO this week. The IPMN calls upon President Obama to take a clear, public stand against this decision because it threatens any hope that peace negotiations can occur between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the foreseeable future.

By this action, Israel’s intentions have become quite clear: It will expand settlements when the Palestinians are at the negotiating table; and, it will expand settlements when they are not at the table. With this move, Israel is taking away the legitimate choice all peoples have of seeking relief within the appropriate international structures dedicated towards global community and peace building.   In addition, in light of reports by Israel’s own generals that the Palestinian Authority has played a major role in reducing extremist violence, it is absurd to cut off funds to an official Palestinian entity that is helping to achieve nonviolence inside the pressure cooker of Israeli apartheid.

Historically, in regard to settlement building, the facts cannot be disputed: Israel has been expanding them at break neck speed under the leadership of every one of its prime ministers since the Six-Day War in June 1967. The pace has even accelerated following the breakdown of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Israeli historian, Gershom Gorenberg has pointed out why settlement expansion, and not peace negotiations, is the top priority for Israeli leadership: “What we’re seeing is a classic example where a diplomatic initiative has the effect of accelerating settlement construction. When there is a fear or suspicion that a diplomatic process might actually take place…there is a tendency among settlement supporters within the government to try to speed things up.”

Complicating matters is the recent announcement by the United States State Department to withhold $60M from UNESCO, as dictated by U.S. law (1990 & 1994) requiring the withdrawal of financial support from any U.N. entity that admits Palestine into its membership.   Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) described what is at stake as a result of this decision: “The United States is on the brink of abandoning its decades-long leadership in several international organizations—a process that will fundamentally undermine American national security and economic interests… UNESCO leads global efforts to bring clean water to the poor, promotes educational and curriculum building in the developing world, and manages a tsunami early warning system in the Pacific, among other important tasks.”

The Palestinians will be applying for membership in all 16 U.N. agencies in the coming months. These include the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If these U.N. agencies vote to admit Palestine as UNESCO did so overwhelmingly, will the United States continue to withdraw its support in a time when its leadership in such areas is so greatly needed? Will the United States actually find itself in the position of sabotaging efforts towards global stability and well-being because of its indefensible, parochial view that Palestine can only seek terms of a just peace through the methods or channels the U.S. has approved? Will the U.S. stand against Palestinian membership in U.N. agencies just to satisfy Israel even at the cost of U.S. interests elsewhere in the world?

The Israel Palestine Mission Network regrets that an effort by Palestinian leadership to work within the structures of the greatest international peacekeeping and peacemaking body in the world can lead to even more isolation of Israel and the U.S. and further undermine peace, security and justice not only in the Middle East but globally. The network calls upon all Christian, as well as interfaith bodies to contact our national leadership at every level to make our financial and military aid to Israel contingent upon an immediate halt to the building and expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

 

*Established by action of the 2004 General Assembly, the IPMN seeks to demonstrate solidarity, educate about the facts on the ground, and change the conditions that erode the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians, especially those who are living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. The network speaks TO the Church not FOR the Church.

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