Presbyterians Must Not Turn Their Attention from Palestine
May 28, 2021 — Last week’s ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is a welcome development after an eleven day barrage of Israeli missiles killed 248 Palestinians and injured nearly two thousand others in Gaza while unguided Hamas missiles killed 14 Israelis and wounded over one hundred others. IPMN is relieved by the cessation of rocket fire—however long it may hold—as bombs can only result in death, injury, and destruction.
At the same time, we know that a ceasefire is no substitute for a “just peace” that respects and safeguards the livelihood and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis alike. The ceasefire does not alter the fundamentally violent reality of life in Gaza, wherein Palestinians live under perpetual siege, without adequate access to food, water, medicine, or electricity. It does not address the threat of forced displacement that continues to hang over the heads of Palestinian families and residents in and beyond the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
Nor is the situation in Gaza simply “as it was” before the exchange of missiles. Damage to the Central Laboratory of the Gaza Ministry of Health—which has handled COVID-testing in Gaza since the start of the pandemic—puts Gaza’s 1.9 million residents (of whom fewer than forty thousand are vaccinated) at heightened risk of and with fewer resources to track and address the virus.
The ceasefire makes it so that we are less likely to encounter images of Associated Press and Al Jazeera office buildings reduced to rubble by Israeli rockets on the evening news, and yet it fails to confront the slow violence of occupation and colonialism. There remain two sets of laws in Israel/Palestine, one for Jewish Israeli citizens and another for everyone else—particularly indigenous Palestinians.
The blockade of Gaza and the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes is nothing new. The Palestinian uprising on both sides of the Green Line that we witnessed this month coincided with the 73rd annual commemoration of the Nakba—which in Arabic means “catastrophe” and refers to the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages at the 1948 declaration of the State of Israel. The protests of May 2021 remind us that for Palestinians, the catastrophe continues. Not only are Palestinian refugees denied the “right of return” to the country of their birth, but the threat of displacement persists for those who remain.
As the news cycle moves on from its momentary attention to Palestine, we exhort Presbyterians to have a longer attention span than the media. For every headline we read, there are countless unreported incidents of everyday violence against Palestinians in checkpoints, in prisons, and in Palestinian villages. The violence that Palestinian people endure is ongoing, funded by American tax dollars and ideologically bolstered by theologies of Christian Zionism that were rejected by the General Assembly of the PC(USA) in 2004 yet which continue to thrive around the world.
IPMN is committed to a just peace that transcends the ceasefire. Peace is not the mere absence of armed, active conflict, but is an environment free from the everyday violences of the occupation. For years, IPMN has worked to “change the conditions that erode the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians” through General Assembly overtures, educational work, and material support of our mission partners on the ground in Israel/Palestine, and we will continue to do so after the media has moved on. At next year’s General Assembly, Presbyterians will discuss and vote on overtures that recognize Israeli “laws, practices, and polices” as constituting “apartheid against the Palestinian people” and that call for an end to collective punishment and the “siege of Gaza.” We invite Presbyterians and all people of conscience to join us in refusing to turn away from the cries for justice and liberation of our Palestinian neighbors. Moreover, we ask that our members turn toward the cry of the oppressed by taking the aforementioned overtures to their Presbyteries and by writing their members of Congress.