Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
As 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 ”. 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?
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?
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.
In 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.
With 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.
Yet 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?
JD (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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
I needed a special pass to access the space in the Capitol Visitors’ Center, buried in the guts of The Hill. At first, I was munching on catered sandwiches with a dozen familiar faces from groups like Churches for Middle-East Peace (CMEP) and US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation but, less than ten minutes before the beginning of the program, the briefing-room flooded with congressional staff. We ran out of chairs. People were eating on their feet, ready to listen to four gentlemen speak on behalf of Wadi Fouqin village: Ahmad, Fahmi, Da’ed, and a Hebrew University professor named Yahuda (Dudy, for short).
Attendees learned that Wadi Fouqin’s springs made it famous for high quality vegetables until the Nakba – great tragedy – displaced the farmers from most of their lands in 1948. The community spent more than a decade in Al-Daheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem but, incredibly, farmers walked hours every day to tend the storied fields despite the threat of violence from Israeli soldiers. When they rebuilt their village only a stone’s throw from the ‘seamline’ or ‘greenline’ – the internationally recognized border – they discovered an Israeli community called Tzur Hadassa had appeared on the other side during the 1950s.
Dudy recalled vacationing there during his childhood and how impressed he was with the harmony between the two towns. “I thought that Arabs hated us but in Wadi Fouqin I met the most hospitable farmers!” Now, he and his family often walk across the boundary to buy vegetables. His children like to ride donkeys with their Palestinian friends…
…this is the point at which Washington stops listening. Congress typically doesn’t want to hear what happened in the years following the assassination of Yitzik Rabin, when “the right-wing machine took power” (said Dudy). US diplomats want to lift Wadi Fouqin and Tzur Hadassa up into the light as an example of why and how Israelis and Palestinians can work together while ignoring the blight to Wadi Fouqin’s East: Bitar Illit Settlement. The current regime in Israel creates incentives for the residents of such Jewish-only settlements, not for caring neighbors like Tzur Hadassa. The construction of this illegal settlement pinned Wadi Fouqin against the boundary line, a short decade ago, swallowing more land and disrupting the flow of more water sources. Furthermore, intermittent sewage dumping contaminates the remaining fields and springs. Their agricultural reputation is ruined. Elements in our governments and churches want to absolve themselves of culpability for unqualified support of Israeli policy.
Ahmad, Fahmi, & Da’ed – the mayor, the community-center director, the regional council chair – know they are the bearers of unwanted news. They are gracious and even-tempered; they know they could lose what little audience they have. UMC minister, Michael Yoshii, helped start a non-profit called “Friends of Wadi Fouqin”, which went to great lengths to bring these three Palestinians to the United States for a briefing. We feared they would feel ‘jilted’ – stood-up, shut-out, stone-walled. I expected a family-reunion dynamic: a briefing populated with faces from the solidarity movement. Instead, the room filled with staffers! Though the gears of military-industrial exploitation had not jammed, every inquiry during the Q & A was genuine. They came to listen.
Wadi Fouqin is unique only for its near-perfect generalizability: the typical occupation elements are all present. Staffers wondered how many other Palestinian communities were similarly afflicted; literally dozens are. In Yanoun village, for example, a World Council of Churches team stays 24/7 to ensure someone can report any aggression. Wadi Fouqin’s vulnerable position by the boundary created the opportunity for a partnership that villages deeper in the West Bank don’t have. My former supervisor (Zoughbi Zoughbi) once told me there were three pieces to accomplishing Justice in Palestine: The Palestinian non-violence movement, the solidarity community, and the peace-camp in Israel. Tzur Hadassa is the final piece but the ‘right wing machine’ makes it impossible for those relationships to form elsewhere in the region. Dudi and company were able to defeat plans to build a separation barrier between the two towns, a project that would have ended all agriculture there. If more of the second ‘piece’ were in place—a strong solidarity community in the United States—our guests would be better positioned to subvert the drivers of this conflict.
Unfortunately, mainstream US News Media is an extension of the entertainment industry (and its vices) and our schools are dismally funded. In a climate of general ignorance about global human rights and movements for self-determination, United Methodists could heed Christ’s beatitude and become blessed peace-makers: children of God. As our guests thanked the UMC for facilitating the trip, I wondered if they knew what a small fragment is helpful or knowledgeable, really. Could they know how much of our capacity is spent elsewhere, in matters of self-made-law with little missional substance— even working against that substance for fleeting stability? Is it not time to look at the price of our internal struggles and ask “how have we parasitized a witness of compassion and illumination?” Are we listening to what is happening elsewhere in the world and responding with due momentum?
Meanwhile, Israel’s leading coalition will show its true nature: terrible friend. Not a mortal enemy but something more fatal—an ally with decaying ethics. Dudy knows that but he believes his country could and should change; I so admire that. I want to be like that, for my country. I want the UMC to be like that and cry for a cultural shift. Young leaders are ready to at least HEAR that cry.
JD (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 aspires to work for a culture of acceptance and collective responsibility through better dialogue, both in higher education and the general public.
WASHINGTON, DC – July 1, 2013 – The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) has released a document intended to provide tips for responsible tourism for pilgrims to holy sites in Israel and Palestine. Recognizing that what many people call the Holy Land is a living context where people are struggling amidst conflict for human dignity and civil rights, MFSA developed a two-page guide to stimulate discussion and ethical action for groups planning pilgrimages to the Middle East. The guidelines can be found at www.mfsaweb.org or by clicking here.
Created by MFSA’s Associate for Movement Building, John Daniel (JD) Gore, the guide is meant to recognize that meaningful contact with all people living in the region is a necessity for understanding the context of Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the Church in this region today. “Sometimes tour companies only give one perspective of the contemporary experience of living in this region,” stated Gore. “These tips give pilgrims an opportunity to think about how their tourism can affect a broader discussion of economic impact and peacebuilding.” Gore serves MFSA through the Mission Intern program of the General Board of Global Ministries. Prior to MFSA, Gore served at Wi’am, a Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, in Bethlehem. “Key to engaging in responsible tourism is working with the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem,” stated Gore.
In 2012, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church decided not to support divestment of church funds from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Instead, General Conference supported positive investment in Palestine. While MFSA continues to support divestment, as called for by Palestinian Christians in the Kairos document, responsible tourism will help pilgrims develop a deeper understanding of the contemporary context and assist United Methodists in living out the mandate of General Conference to engage in positive investment.
“It is our hope that congregations and annual (regional) conferences seeking to walk in the footsteps of Christ, or engage in Volunteer in Mission work, might use this document as a reference for planning their trips and bringing the work of General Conference to fruition,” stated Chett Pritchett, MFSA’s Interim Executive Director.
Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.