Palestine

Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update!

Monday, March 20th, 2017
Watch a video update from the Co-Chairs of our Board of Directors: Spring 2017 Board of Directors Update
 
Dear Justice Seeking People of Faith,
 
This weekend the MFSA Board of Directors met and we want to share with you a little bit about what we’ve been up to!
 
MFSA adopted an Intersectional Organizing Principle in 2015. As Audre Lorde says, “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single issue lives.” We understand intersectionality to mean we recognize that all forms of oppression are interconnected, and we have to work for liberation for everyone simultaneously.
 
So we committed to intersectionality in 2015, and in 2016 at General Conference, in response to incidents of racism, we released a statement confessing and condemning the sin of systemic racism within our church and progressive movement. 
 
That day, we committed to increase racial diversity among our leadership and to educate ourselves about anti-racism, bias, and white privilege.
 
Since then, recent events in our nation have reminded us that white dominant institutions (like the United Methodist Church and the progressive movement!) have consistently chosen to ignore the continued reality and consequences of white supremacy in our society.
 
All of that brings us to this snowy weekend outside of Philadelphia, where our board met with facilitators from Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training to explore together the history of systemic racism in the United States and how, if we’re not intentional about living differently, we will continue to perpetuate the white supremacy that builds the foundation of our nation.
 
We started out our weekend together grounding ourselves in scripture—stories of Jesus the rebel, tearing apart structures of domination, and stories of Jesus the revolutionary, building communities grounded in revolutionary values of radical hospitality, fierce love, and enduring hope. 
 
Then we did the hard work of self reflection and analysis about where white supremacy and racism show up in our own organization and that it’s not enough to just value diversity. The only way to be faithful followers of Jesus, the rebel and revolutionary, is to resist and dismantle white supremacy by building anti-racist communities. And that’s what we’ve begun to do.
 
This commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization requires us to be really intentional about how we understand leadership. Last year, we made a strategic decision to hire Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck as a full-time intentional interim executive director to partner with us on this journey. And we look forward to taking this year to discern what kind of staffing model will allow us to take this transformative step. 
 
So stay tuned. Follow us on Facebook. We’ll be sharing resources and opportunities to learn and be a part of this work.
 
Seeking Justice Together,
Co-Presidents, MFSA Board of Directors

In This Moment…

Monday, January 30th, 2017
Beloved Justice Seekers,
        
In this moment, it is hard to not let darkness of despair and fear overcome Epiphany's light. There are days when it seems that we are in a perpetual state of lent – lamenting the realities we are facing with the new presidential administration. I think back to hearing the news of our presidential election. I spent the days following that news at Facing Race, the largest conference focused in racial justice, surrounded by thousands of folks dedicated to seeking justice. Over the past few days I've surrounded myself with thousands of queer and trans people organizing, dreaming, and resisting together. I can't think of a better place to be in light of what was happening and is continuing to happen in our nation. 

As I prepare for what lies ahead and the paths of resistance we will each walk, I'm grounded in the thought that our priority must be to care for our bodies and each other. We do not have to lean into platitudes of unity at the sake of our own sacred worth. Our fundamental desire to thrive and the vows we take at our baptism call us to look inward, resist injustice, and serve all! We commit to our own personal rejection of the evil powers of this world, accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist, and finally put our trust in Christ promising to serve a church for all people. As we step into this new season our welcome must be intended for those pushed from the center – the source of privilege – in our communities. We must resist the ways we are complacent in maintaining privilege. We must bring others along with us in this struggle. 

From our earliest days, the Methodist Federation for Social Action identified as a movement energizing people to be agents of sacred change in the church and the world. We believe that the root of justice lies within people of faith in grassroots communities called to engage in collective liberation. It requires storied relationships, resilience in the midst of oppression, and resistance to all that stands in the way of love. Our intersectional lens reminds us of the words of Methodist and civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer, who said: “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Our lived experience tells us sacred change is only possible in a movement that is boundary breaking and refuses to be silenced by the powers and principalities of our day. 

Your partnership in this movement has made and continues to make sacred change possible each and every day. We have faced difficult days in the history of our movement. We stood up and resisted when the church refused to integrate, we stood up and resisted when the government used fear to attempt to silence us in the McCarthy era, we stood up and resisted when the church said no to women’s ordination, we stood up and resisted when the government said no to women's suffrage, we stood up and resisted dangerous child labor practices. Our legacy of resistance is faithfully long. We will continue our legacy of standing up and resisting. No matter whom the powers and principalities are we will accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. 

In order to do so we need your help. In the coming year we need to increase our staff to increase our capacity to resist. Please consider making a donation to the Methodist Federation for Social Action today to help us continue our legacy of resistance.

It is our commitment to faithfully look within ourselves, our movement, and our world to renounce the wickedness we perpetuate, to resist the injustice in our world, to trust in God’s grace and to serve Christ through a church open to ALL people. Will you join me in making sacred change possible with a gift to MFSA!

Seeking justice,
Joseph Lopez
He, Him, His
Nominations and Governance Co-Chair
Board of Directors
 

 

MFSA Statement on Recent US Election

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Dear Justice Seekers,

For 109 years, MFSA has been a prophetic voice for justice-seeking people of faith in The United Methodist Church, in our nation and the world. We will continue to be that voice. We are a voice for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. We are a voice working against racism and white privilege. We are a voice for reproductive health and justice. We are a voice for a healthy planet. We are a voice against colonialism, militarism, and misuse of power. We are a voice of inclusion for all God’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are a voice that welcomes our migrant neighbor. But most importantly, we are a voice at the crossroads where these concerns for justice intersect.

We believe the recent decisions made by President-elect Trump with respect to leadership in his administration speak against the very foundation of our justice seeking faith. We are alarmed. We believe these individuals have not shown the necessary skills for leadership and whose past words and actions have not represented the values of civilized society. As justice-seeking people of faith, we stand opposed to not only one individual, but the emerging pattern that President-elect Trump is building a cabinet founded on white supremacy, fear, and bigotry.

MFSA calls our church to expand its understanding of the radical call of the Gospel to be an inclusive, justice-seeking, risk-taking Body of Christ. We live out our belief that to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be involved in the transformation of the social order. Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops, congregations, and its members to join us in taking active steps to publicly “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”

Experiences of injustice do not happen in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative to: develop the most effective strategies to create space for understanding privilege; organize in an intersectional framework led by marginalized communities; and build effective systems of resistance and cooperation to take action for justice. We invite you to join us in this work.

We invite United Methodist leadership including our bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to join us in signing the “Faith Leaders Call on Republican officials to reject Mr. Trump’s Cabinet of Bigotry” letter distributed by Faith in Public Life. You can find the link here: https://goo.gl/J9zXSx

We call on all Justice-Seeking People of Faith to join us by:

  • Contacting your legislators to express as a justice seeking person of faith your concern that the leadership of our nation must reflect justice for all people.
  • Speaking and working against the narrative that privileged communities are being oppressed when they are asked to acknowledge the ways their privilege perpetuates bias and injustice.
  • Committing to create opportunities for education and advocacy to publicly and actively resist white supremacy, white privilege, and implicit bias in your communities.

If you are so moved, we invite you to support the work of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, so we can continue to be a voice for justice for all people.

Seeking Justice Together,

The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action

What’s at stake in this election?

Monday, November 7th, 2016

What’s at stake in this election?

Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck

Interim Executive Director

 

Families. Families are at stake in this election. Families that look like my quirky, non-traditional, Jewish-Christian interfaith family and families that look quite a bit different than we do.


Families with a member living with a serious medical diagnosis that depend on the elimination of the pre-existing diagnosis clause in the Affordable Care Act to ensure the continuation of life sustaining health care coverage.


Muslim and interfaith families who fear for their safety with a rise in Islamphobia in this nation.


Working class families who fear for the loss of jobs that pay a fair and living wage with benefits that protect their futures. Families struggling to make ends meet even when working full time.


Families that fear the loss of income when a child is born without access to paid family leave.


Families with Dreamers that fear the loss of the only home they have ever known without access to just immigration reform.


Families that fear for the lives of their black and brown children each and every time they leave the house in the face of police related violence. Families who fear going to church on Sunday morning and bible study on a weeknight for fear gun wielding hate fueled racism will walk through the door.


Families that fear a rise in gun violence and question their children’s safety at school, in movie theaters and at the local shopping mall.


Families that fear the poisoning of their water from lead, oil and fracking.


Families that depend on the legal right to marry the person they love. This legal right protects them, their children and their spouses and extends health care coverage, health proxy and adoption. Families who serve this country with honor and distinction in the armed forces and were extended the same protections of law following the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Transfamilies who fear their safety as there is an increased attack on the lived equality of LGBTQ people by state governments throughout the U.S. These laws create a culture that has contributed to the death of more than 20 transgender people of color this year alone.


Have you asked your local, state and federal candidates what they believe on economic justice, racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, reproductive justice, peace in Israel/Palestine, immigration reform, LGBTQIA justice? If not, you still have time. #mfsavoices #votesmatter #christiansvote




A Visit to the House of “Representatives”

Friday, February 6th, 2015

When your boss tells you that as part of your job you get to attend your first House of Representatives hearing, I, of course, pumped my fists and began to plan my outfit and daydream about what an adventure this was going to be. This particular hearing was referencing aid to Palestine and Palestine’s authority in the International Criminal Court  (ICC), held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Walking into the room on Wednesday, I was overwhelmed by the opulence and grandeur. Once we took our seats I was finally able to take a look around the room. There were members of Congress along with tons of staffers in all their fine suits and attire. Along the back wall were seated what I recognized to be the general public. They were sitting peacefully, some of them silently holding up signs, and being a beautiful witness to end the occupation of Palestine.  The room began to fill quickly with people in support of Palestine. There were a sea of pro-Palestinian t-shirts, signs and keffiyahs. After about five minutes the small room was completely packed.  While cataloging the room, I notice, to my alarm, there are quite a few police officers. I began to wonder if something was going to happen.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see more than 4 officers in a small room I don’t feel safe. I begin to feel intimidated.

As the hearing begins, I settle in and listen to the committee as Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began to outline the reason and procedure for today’s hearing.

The Chairwoman took her time in introducing herself, those in the committee, and those she had invited to participate in the panel. I, for one, was excited about this part. The United States government has always fascinated me. I love reading and watching about bi-partisanship and seeing how our government functions to bring about law and order. However, I was to be disappointed. Almost immediately it was evident that every single member of the committee who spoke was extremely pro-Israel. I heard Congressmembers speak about Palestine as if they were terrorists fighting against Israel, who had done nothing wrong. I began to wonder “if everyone on the committee is on the same page then why in the world were we even here?”

During these introductions and speeches a woman with her three children silently came in from the back. Since there were not enough seats the woman and her children stood in the back against the wall with pro-Palestinian signs. These signs were hand written and had quotes like, “#ICC4Israel – Genocide is not ok.”  Another read, “ I’m here for the children who will never grow up in Palestine.” Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen paused the proceedings to remind everyone to sit down and that signs were considered a disruption. I will admit to being puzzled by this considering the chairwomen took the time to also state that graphic designed t-shirts were perfectly okay during proceedings. The woman and her children began looking for seats. The people behind me were nice enough to scoot together so that they could all sit down.

Now it was time for the panelists to give their testimony. I hoped once again that now I was going to see both sides presented and debated like I had seen on TV time and time again. Sadly, this was not the case. One by one as the panelists began speaking, all were clearly stating a pro-Israel position. I could tell the mood in the room was shifting as one by one all of the other observers began to realize, just as I had, that these proceedings were biased and that nothing, not even our presence, would actually help a positive position for Palestine be achieved.

While for the most part the observers, like myself, had remained calm and quiet with only a few huffs and loud sighs. That was until Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich compared Palestinians to terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. As one can imagine, this caused quiet an outrage among not only the protestors but myself as well. I knew that politics could be dirty but I was disappointed in such blatant exaggerations. After this the audience erupted in cries of outrage. It was at this point that Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen put the proceedings in recess until the courtroom could be cleared of those who were disrupting the proceedings. Now, I thought this meant that only those who had spoken were going to be asked to leave. How I was wrong!  The capitol police began to clear out the room. A woman sitting in the center section among those who had signs and t-shirts, tried to clarify if she was to leave when she didn’t say anything. The police tell her “everyone has to go.” This is when I begin to notice that my row is not being cleared. I again checked to make sure my colleague and I were not sitting in the staffers section. We were not.

I started to pay attention to who exactly was being made to leave. The police were clearing out anyone with signs or wearing t-shirts and keffiyahs. While not everyone who was asked to leave was Palestinian, if you were not white and in a suit or a dress, you were being made to leave. It was after clearly ignoring our row that my colleague, MFSA executive director Chett Pritchett, calmly asked an officer whether or not “everyone” meant all of the public? I believe at this point the officer realized that he had been leaving out a chunk of the audience. The officer then escorted my row of white, well-dressed participants out into the hallway through a crowd of clearly upset protestors, who crying “Shame” at the Congressmembers.  After Chett and I left the proceedings, I began to think about my experience while on the Metro ride back to campus.

I will admit I have never felt, before these proceedings, that I really had any right to have an opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict, since I am neither Israeli or Palestinian, nor am I an authority on eithers history and living situations. However, on my Metro ride home, I continued to think about I would feel if I was demonized in an official proceeding like that? How would I, if I was that woman, explain to my children why they were being kicked out of a room by police officers for not doing anything? The only answer I could come up with is that it doesn’t matter what side anyone is on. As citizens of this country, or just people who live and work in the United States, it is our duty to hold our government officials accountable for their words, deeds, and actions. We must hold them to a higher standard. We must reach these members of Congress that no matter their personal opinions, that allowing our legislative system to become narrow minded and to allow hearings like this again are a slippery slope that lead us away from democracy and toward the authoritarianism and tyranny that we constantly call other countries to account for everyday. As for me, I will continue to pray, vote, and witness at other hearings for a more honest and equal representation in our legislative system and for all the violence and war to cease.

On that Metro train, I reflected on why I was there and what would make me go back to another hearing like that. I continued to think about the one woman’s sign. Whenever I am asked why I am present in the struggle I will say. “I am here for ALL of the children who will not be able to grow up or have had to grow up too fast because of violence all over the world.” They need a voice, too.

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Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

Returning to Jerusalem

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

I went to sleep last night with honking horns from a traffic jam outside our hotel. The traffic here is worse than Washington, DC at rush hour. The new highways in, around, through and under Jerusalem are so inadequate that one little incident paralyzes the city.

Fatigue finally resulted in a full eight hours of sleep last night. We have been touring and learning at a furious pace. Yesterday was spent in Bethlehem; it is no longer a little town that it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Every visit here, I have seen growth and this time I didn't know where I was until we reached Manger Square. The lines at the Church of the Nativity were modest. The "exact place" marked with a star was just inside the exit door and another priest cleared the way for me to kneel down and take a picture with the other camera. He seemed unhappy as I left and I'm not sure if it was because I didn't kiss the star or because I failed to tip him.

Our tour with Interfaith Peace Builders provides us opportunities to engage with those working for peace and justice. The speaker from BADIL said Palestinians are the largest population of refugees in the world and have been refugees the longest of any refugee group in the world.

Nora Carmi from Kairos Palestine said we were in the “Holey Land” not the Holy Land not only from the bombs and bulldozers, but also the holes in human lives.

The evening got windy and very cold as we visited the Tent of Nations outside Bethlehem. One family has owned a large olive grove there for several generations. The Israeli government has tried to take it for twenty-three years asking for more proof of ownership. The family even went to Turkey to copy old deeds from the Ottoman Empire to show in court. At the hearing an Israeli settler said their deed was no good, as he had the land from God. The Nassar family lawyer asked the settler to see the signature from God. The case is still pending.

So when I awoke from my sound sleep yesterday morning, my roommate said she couldn't believe I slept through the fireworks and all the commotion an hour after I went to sleep. I learned a little later it was gun shots she heard from the Dome of the Rock, a couple of blocks from here. You can see from  the attached map the Holy Land Hotel, where we are, and the Dome of the Rock, where the shooting took place. The area was closed yesterday and tensions are high.

I covet your prayers for our group and the people of this land.

(Photos by Ginny Lapham)

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Ginny Lapham is a former board member of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and a volunteer in our Washington, DC office. From 1959 to 1969, Ginny and her family lived in the Middle East, specifically working with Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Ginny's professional work upon return to the United States focused on social work and education. Prior to her retirement, Ginny served as the director of the Human Genome Education Model Project at Georgetown University.

PCUSA Divests: is the UMC listening?

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

On Friday the 221st General Assembly (GA221) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310 to 303 in favor of divesting from three companies known to be profiting from occupation infrastructure in occupied Palestine: Hewlett-Packard, Motorola-Solutions, and Caterpillar Inc. This assembly was also historic for changing their definition of marriage to “between two people”. Youth, seminarians, and mission personnel had the privilege of voice and were polled prior to each vote; I liked that. Now, I am tasked with explaining why United Methodists of all stripes should be paying attention.

The main reason is to show support to our Presbyterian neighbors: they may experience a temporary, undeserved drop in popularity. Yet I should state that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of MFSA or the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church; they do reflect my commitment to truth-telling.

Support our PCUSA neighborsAs I wrote and rewrote this analysis I returned in my memories to a pizza-restaurant in a valley neighborhood best known as “al-balled” in Amman. Two years ago I was serving in the Levant (Palestine, Israel, waiting for a visa in Jordan), so I met a Presbyterian counterpart and mentor for lunch and to discuss GA220 (and UM General Conference 2012). At that time, the PCUSA missed divesting by merely two votes. He and I already knew it was time to divest, knew from the oppression and impunity we witnessed. Three years earlier, the Christian leadership of Palestine called for divestment in “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth [2009]”. Five years prior to that, Israel ignored a 14-1 ruling by the International Court of Justice (a United Nations judicial body) calling for the destruction of the West Bank separation barrier. Knowing the enormity of the contracts at stake for these companies and the investment of political will by the Likud Party and its ethnocentric coalition, missionaries already understood that “shareholder engagement” would be fruitless. To whom should the UMC listen?

GBPHB struggles to understand "success"If the UMC and PCUSA are listening to one another it is because they are determined to remain peers, which causes me mixed-feelings. Dissenters to the overture parroted our General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits. A gentleman stated that his Methodist contacts reported “success” in shareholder engagement, aptly demonstrating that GBPHB struggles to understand success outside of monetary terms. Saccharine company policies do not constitute "success" if companies still profit from systemic oppression. The Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of PCUSA testified at GA221 to the continual evasiveness of all three corporations, who were glad to dialogue about anything other than their illicit activity in the West Bank. That was taboo: to whom should the UMC listen?

Before 2012 was over, Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) divested first from Caterpillar Inc and then from Hewlett-Packard and Veolia. Roughly six months later the board of directors of the Mennonite Central Committee US, in consultation with their sponsoring denominations, eschewed all companies on AFSC’s (American Friends’ Service Committee’s) screen-list. These so-called ‘Peace-churches’ are not structured similarly to the UMC and PCUSA, it’s true. They might be called peers to one another in that both have longer, deeper, wider connections to the region – the MCC Jerusalem office predates the state of Israel and the Friends School in Ramallah is respected by both Christians and Muslims throughout the West Bank. Two bodies with deep roots in the Levant and well-known commitments to nonviolence and humility both divested. To whom should the UMC listen?

FFC & MCC divested ~ to whom will the UMC listen?Mark Tooley, of the (in)famous Institute on Religion & Democracy, said Friends’ divestment “reflects a long continuum of unwise political advocacy”. It takes a strong search-engine to find a deep, discolored cesspool of regression like the “Juicy Ecumenism” blog (cited with the help of donotlink.com to prevent traffic to their page). FFC representatives declined to comment to Tooley’s IRD, which libeled that Quakers have no interest in curbing violence against Israelis, but consider this: modern mainline denominations appear later on the justice adopters’ bell-curve. The “silly, little” peace-churches put principle before popularity and, thus, do not attract the bulk of the societies to which they witness yet in hindsight these very acts are often celebrated as quintessentially progressive.

Friend and Mennonite disengagement is hardly impetuous, more than ten years after the Oslo accords expired. There is a sort of spiritual “white-noise” that accompanies money; resources are not inherently evil but too much of them makes discernment difficult, sluggish. It is no wonder that Jesus challenged the rich young man to sell all his possessions and follow The Way with total abandon.

Yet the principle stumbling block of mainline denominations is self-aggrandizement, not greed. A wise Presbyterian wisely noted at GA221 that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not interested in PCUSA’s attempts to aid reconciliation and that churches were over-estimating their influence in the world. Rather than following Palestinian Christian leadership (via Kairos Palestine) or joining forces with deep-rooted peace-partners (the MCC or AFSC, for example), mainstream churches doubled-down on one-anothers' misconceptions, as well as delusions about “share-holder engagement”. Western institutions struggle to recognize that values alone do not make them appropriate partners: the Savior-Industrial-Complex, in essence.

A Savior-Industrial-Complex, in essenceIn order to sustain this fantasy, they stage performances for an Israel that is not real – either because it’s an idea of Israel preserved from the Labor-Party-led government that died with PM Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in the mid-nineties or a fantasy taken from collective beliefs about what ‘Jews’ deserve. Not incidentally, Jewish groups of conscience like Jewish Voice for Peace recognize Israel’s drift away from democratic ideals and constantly call for divestment to ‘right the ship’ in Israel. To whom should the UMC listen?

Contrary to popular myths, the 21st Century Israel is a neo-colonial enterprise cloaked in religious over-tones with a manifest-destiny regime at the helm via the Likud-led coalition government. The words “Likud Party” never even entered the discussion at GA221. Neither the UMC nor the PCUSA, as collected bodies, possess the knowledge to be effective intermediaries but their investments are a powerful witness, indeed. Ultimately, I discourage Methodists from looking too deeply into PCUSA divestment because of BDS-phobic rhetoric in the overture. Some Presbyterians were spooked by the idea of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement; again, this showed a lack of familiarity, not a moderate stance. At this point, BDS is THE moderate stance.

UMC/PCUSA should join BDS, not eschew itWith the Palestinian Authority government hobbled by double-standards, disgraced, the BDS campaign creates a well-known movement offering a nonviolent hope for all Palestinians and an alternative to militant groups. Jewish Voice for Peace explicitly affirmed their place in the larger BDS movement, which speaks volumes. The UMC and PCUSA should join and percolate into Global BDS to achieve a high-level of engagement. As it stands, mainline churches are all generic “Evangelicals” in the mid-East. This is a case where two big denominations could do something right: explicitly join Global BDS and tip its mass Christ-ward, understanding BDS will tip Christians into ‘political advocacy’—a healthy challenge.

Bishop Tutu, smiling; purple shirtYet if you want to keep pace with society, UMC, feel free to be just one step behind the PCUSA ~ especially concerning marriage equality but soon with divestment as well. Tip-toe slowly until the moment the Earth shifts beneath your feet then dash ahead and extol justice. When it is popular enough you will divest, UMC – just like South Africa. Famed South African religious leader Desmond Tutu has already condemned the infrastructure in Israel and joined the call for BDS on Palestine’s behalf. To whom will the UMC listen?

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JD Gore; Cherry BlossomsJD (John Daniel) Gore is a young adult missionary working through the General Board of Global ministries. JD serves Methodist Federation for Social Action as the 'Associate for Movement Building' and worked previously in Bethlehem for The Wi'am Center. He begins an MA in International Training & Education at American University this Autumn.

 

Tear Down the Walls

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Graffiti on the West Bank annexation barrier shows a rhinocerous smashing through concrete...As a student at Wesley Theological Seminary (WTS) I have the added advantage of being able to register for some courses at the adjacent American University (AU).  At our class in Peace Paradigms we had the pleasure of having Israeli activists Rana and Avner talk to us about joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts for peace. Rana is an educator while Avner is an archeologist.  Rana runs an alternative school in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley teaching mainly Palestinians, though young Israelis also periodically come to learn from their situation. 

The school trains students how, among other things, to take care of the environment.  Of particular concern is the use of a vital resource – water.  Much of the aquifers being harnessed for use in Israel are found under Palestinian land, yet all Palestinians' access to water depends on the Israeli authorities.  As an archeologist, Avner is aware of the underground resources in Palestine and one of his tasks is to make everyone aware of this and to bring to the Israeli public’s attention the need for them to share, rather than dominate, such resources.

Rana’s and Avner’s activities are of course something that is not pleasing to the Israeli authorities and the more politically conservative sector of Israeli society.  However, an increasing number of Israelis, particularly young people, find their way into Palestinian territories to express their solidarity with Palestinians.   More and more micro-level collaboration on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians is being established all over the West Bank and even Gaza.  It is when people, long nurtured on negative portrayals of each other, meet face to face that they begin to realize they are just as human as the other.  But what is one reason they cannot see each other face to face?

Walls.

Graffiti on barrier reads "love and kisses, nothing lasts forever"I find it a little funny that every time I go to attend my class at AU, even though I have a key to allow me to get in through the wall that separates the AU and WTS campuses, I still feel, somehow, the barrier.  It’s like saying ‘hey we are different from you.’  What more the walls (higher than the Berlin Wall) that enclose the various Palestinians, not just separating them from the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank but also from each other?  Part of it of course is to make life hard for them as to compel them to leave the place altogether.   But probably just as intentional is to also discourage Israelis from interacting with them. 

Graffiti on the separation barrier reads "Rest in Pieces" and "Divine Justice"But as Rana and Avner say, they are slowly but surely, both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as international sympathizers, breaking down those walls.  That reminds me.  At the height of the movement for German reunification, one world leader urged his rival to “tear down this wall,” referring to the wall dividing what was then West and East Germany.  When are we going to hear the same call as regards the walls in Palestine?

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Haniel R. Garibay, Haniel is a home missioner and Cross Culture Common Witness Coordinator for MFSA. Born and raised in the Philippines, Haniel earned a BA from Philippine Christian University and an MA in international development from the University of Sussex, UK. His other involvements in the church include memberships in the boards of the Virginia Conference Board of Church and Society, the National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists (NAFAUM), and the General Board of Church and Society.

Music & Peace

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Part of human nature is a love of music.  Some, like me, take it to greater lengths, not content on simply listening to music, but performing it as well: singing and playing the guitar, albeit not professionally.  But while we enjoy music as integral to our daily lives, it is not often that we consider our encounter with it as life changing.  But that is precisely what happened to Tal Harris.  Now, who is Tal Harris?

Tal Harris is an Israeli; that’s right: born and raised in Israel.  He spoke at our class on Peace Paradigms at American University, where I am a cross-enrollee from Wesley Theological Seminary, doing the Master of Theological Studies program.  Now, what did he talk about? 

Peace.

Yes, peace in what we call the Holy Land — Palestine and Israel.  

Tal said that he grew up assuming that the conflict was some kind of a fixture that they just had to deal with as part of the natural order of things, like natural disasters.  He hardly had any contact with Palestinians who, ironically, were just an hour’s drive away from his home near Tel Aviv.  He grew up absorbing uncritically all the negative stereotypes of Palestinians that both local and international media peddled, until he met some Palestinians himself in, yes, a music camp.  The experience was so life changing that he did not even bother to say who organized the music camp that gathered together music lovers from Israel and Palestine, with the latter made up of Christians and Muslims.

A piece of abstract graffiti on an apartheid barrier in BethlehemThe participants enjoyed and made music together, realizing that they really had more in common with each other than they thought.  Like most of the participants, Tal was never the same after that.  When it was time for military duty, which is compulsory for all Israelis, he volunteered to be a medic, hoping that he would avoid combat duty.  He did not but grace smiled on him, as he finished his tour of duty unscathed.  When he came face-to-face with Palestinians, both as a soldier and as a civilian, he realized what was wrong with the situation.  While he is still afraid of the possibility that the buses he would ride on would be bombed by militants among the Palestinians, he also is aware of the overly disproportionate violence from his own kind that is perpetrated against Palestinians, victimizing mostly civilians.  He has also seen Palestinians evicted, forcibly and illegally, from their homes and farms in the West Bank.  Whatever violence committed by Palestinians, he believes it is ultimately a symptom of the oppression of Palestinians arising from Israel’s illegal occupation of UN-mandated Palestinian territories. 

Tal is now the executive director of One Voice Israel, which is part of the bigger organization, One Voice International, which has branches in Palestine, Europe and the US.  One Voice supports the two-state solution and the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  Though I personally prefer the original notion of one state in which Israelis and Palestinians live together and enjoy the same rights, I also believe that the two-state solution is the most doable at this time.  Moreover, it is supported by majorities in both Israel and Palestine.   How to translate this majority sentiment into the actual will of their leaders is the big challenge that lies ahead.  To achieve this, there have to be more ways in which Palestinians and Israelis can work together, maybe not as magical as music, but just as effective.  What are those other ways? 

Stay tuned.

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Haniel R. Garibay, Haniel is a home missioner and Cross Culture Common Witness Coordinator for MFSA. Born and raised in the Philippines, Haniel earned a BA from Philippine Christian University and an MA in international development from the University of Sussex, UK. His other involvements in the church include memberships in the boards of the Virginia Conference Board of Church and Society, the National Association of Filipino-American United Methodists (NAFAUM), and the General Board of Church and Society.

Living Out Scripture: Who is my Neighbor?

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Who is my neighbor?  Not a question that hasn’t been asked before! 

Earlier this month,  Munther Isaac’s presentation at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem focused on this same question.  Dr. Munther is a professor at the Bethlehem Bible College and is one of the leading young Palestinian Christian voices. 

What was interesting for me as I listened to Munther’s talk is that I was experiencing the very thing about which he was speaking.  I have an apartment on the Jerusalem side of the Wall, just outside of Bethlehem.  The house where I live is owned by a Muslim family, and the apartment is located on the bottom floor.  It’s completely self-contained and very private.  I’ve been here now for 6 years and it’s definitely home.  Because of my schedule I rarely see anyone who lives here, and have often felt guilty for keeping so much to myself.

Two weeks ago, though, something happened to my knee and I wasn’t able to walk.  A volunteer from the Bible College had to help me home, and as I tried to maneuver around my apartment on one leg I got a sense of how alone I was, so far away from family and familiar surroundings.  The next morning there was a knock at my door and the son of my landlord came to ask how I was.  His father had seen me the night before being helped down the stairs to my apartment and wanted to make sure I was OK.  My landlord had suffered a stroke a year or so after I moved here and isn’t able to walk so I rarely see him, but he’d been looking out his window when I arrived.  His son, Ramzi, has been living here for the past 5 months, and otherwise lives in Sweden where he is working on a Master’s degree.  We talked a bit and I felt much better knowing that my condition was now known and I wasn’t alone.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the care that followed.  Less than an hour after Ramzi left, he reappeared with a plate of olives, cheese and bread.  An hour after that, my upstairs neighbor Arij, Ramzi’s sister-in-law, brought me a plate of chicken and salad.  I was overwhelmed and very grateful.  The next day, and the day after that, more food appeared along with offers of going to the grocery store and taking me to the local clinic.

A week later, I had an appointment to see an orthopedic doctor.  When I suggested to Arij that I ask a friend to take me, she responded emphatically that I shouldn’t do this, that I should “keep it in the family” and that she or her husband or Ramzi would take me.  I thought I was being thoughtful by not relying on them so heavily, but I realized that I was actually offending them by going outside the family for help.  I learned that taking care of family and neighbors is central to living the Muslim faith.  So, as it turned out, Ramzi took me to the doctor and stayed with me for 2 hours until I finished with my appointment.

It’s interesting how we, as Western Christians, hear the question:  Who is my neighbor?  If you’re like me, you put yourself in the position of the “helper” and wonder how you would respond to the other, the person who is in need, whoever they are.  This week, however, I realized that I was the neighbor.  I was the one who needed help and it was a Muslim family and friends who came to my aid.  Munther, at the end of his talk, speaks about the story of the Good Samaritan and asked, “what if we replaced the Samaritan in the story with a Muslim?”  I didn’t have to answer the question: I lived it.

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Tina Whitehead is a missionary from the Western Pennsylvania Conference who has worked at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem

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