“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
Thus Dickens begins ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The cities he had in mind were London and Paris, and yet his words form a fitting introduction to the story of Jerusalem and Ramallah in 2014.
It is the worst of times!
As I write, the IDF is tightening its military grip on the West Bank and enacting raids and arrests on a scale not seen since the Second Intifada! Meanwhile settlements continue to flourish, Gazans struggle to find fresh water, Australia abandons all pretence of concern, and the negotiating table is empty.
In the corridors of power – in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Washington and Canberra – it is the worst of times for our Palestinian sisters and brothers. But this is not the whole story! Tectonic shifts have been taking place at the grass-roots, and what’s more the church is at the very heart of the shift!
The accomplishment of Pope Francis in bringing Abbas and Peres together for prayer in Vatican City was nothing short of miraculous! Who would have thought that such a thing could happen?!
The tangible effects of the Pope’s initiative might not yet be obvious but what Francis has done is to help accelerate a paradigm shift in the way the world is dealing with the Palestinian Occupation. Israeli and Palestinian peace is no longer simply a political issue. It is also a spiritual issue and a human issue, and as such it is something for which we all need to take responsibility!
The quest for justice and peace in Palestinian is becoming a truly democratic struggle, as seen in the ever-growing ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign’ (BDS). The BDS again moves the struggle for justice beyond the realm of professional politicians to a place where every business, every household and every individual can play a role in defunding the Palestinian Occupation!
And so it should not surprise us to see these two forces converge – spiritual leadership and BDS – with the United Methodists of America last week divesting from companies fuelling the Palestinian Occupation and with the Presbyterian Church of the USA about to follow in their wake!
It is the worst of times for political settlements being established from the top down, and yet the death of the American-led ‘peace process’ has opened up the way for ordinary people, and for the church in particular, to take the cause of Palestinian peace into their own hands!
In Biblical Greek the word ‘kairos’ means ‘time’ but not in the sense of clock-time. It means an opportune time – a God-given moment that needs to be taken hold of and taken full advantage of. Now is such a kairos in the struggle for Palestinian justice. Now is the time to act, now is the time to pray, now is the time for us to organise our churches to act and pray and to shout out to the world that our Palestinian sisters and brothers have suffered long enough!
If we – the Church of Jesus Christ – take hold of this time and work hand-in-hand with other grass-roots groups of concerned people around the world, I do believe this could turn out to be the best of times for Palestine, and a decisive turning point in the global struggle for justice and peace.
The former Archbishop of Capetown is now 82 years old and he’s been doing his best for some time now to slip into a quiet retirement. The problem is that the man has the heart of a prophet and he simply can’t contain himself and remain silent in the face of injustice and oppression!
The testimony of the prophet Jeremiah comes to mind:
“But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)
Tutu and Jeremiah, it seems to me, were cut from the same prophetic cloth. While the Palestinian Occupation continues in all its brutality, and indeed becomes even more brutal as more and more land is gobbled up by ‘settlers’, how can a man who has given his life to fighting oppression not speak out!
As articulate as ever, Tutu makes a point that I hadn’t considered before – that the comparison that is sometimes made between supporters of the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” campaign and the Nazi’s of World War II is not only horribly insulting to the upholders of BDS but also trivialises the horrors of the Holocaust!
Statement by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on 2 April 2014
I am writing today to express grave concern about a wave of legislative measures in the United States aimed at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people. In legislatures in Maryland, New York, Illinois, Florida, and even the United States Congress, bills have been proposed that would either bar funding to academic associations or seek to malign those who have taken a stand against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
These legislative efforts are in response to a growing international initiative, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, of which I have long been a supporter. The BDS movement emanates from a call for justice put out by the Palestinian people themselves. It is a Palestinian-led, international non-violent movement that seeks to force theIsraeli government to comply with international law in respect to its treatment of the Palestinian people.
I have supported this movement because it exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave. I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans.
In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli Occupation.
The legislations being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult.
I am also deeply troubled by the rhetoric associated with the promulgation of these bills which I understand, in the instance of Maryland, included testimony comparing the boycott to the actions of the Nazis in Germany. The Nazi Holocaust which resulted in the extermination of millions of Jews is a crime of monstrous proportions. To imply that it is in any way comparable to a nonviolent initiative diminishes the horrific nature of that genocidal and tragic era in our world history.
Whether used in South Africa, the US South, or India, boycotts have resulted in a transformative change that not only brought freedom and justice to the victims but also peace and reconciliation for the oppressors. I strongly oppose any piece of legislation meant to punish or deter individuals from pursuing this transformative aspiration. And I remain forever hopeful that, like the nonviolent efforts that have preceded it, the BDS movement will ultimately become a catalyst for honest peace and reconciliation for all our brothers and sisters, both Palestinian and Israeli, in the Holy Land.
This boy’s story is truly gut-wrenching, and yet to the occupiers it seems that young Atta is just another relatively trivial casualty. This in itself is a damning testimony to the inhumanity of the Palestinian Occupation.
Atta is young in years but he is wise enough to recognise that there will be no justice for him – no investigation, no punishment, no accountability.
His mother recognises that he is burying his anger, for the moment.
Lord, have mercy!
if you can’t view this video, click here.
There’s a lot of excitement in the air right now about the apparent resuscitation of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, with new talks scheduled to begin at any moment!
Former US President, Jimmy Carter, and ‘The Elders’ praised John Kerry for his “tireless commitment to bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after five years of stalemate” while Christian Zionists blasted the US President for actions that they see as compromising the safety of the state of Israel!
It seems to me that Amira Hass is one of the few who really grasps the situation, even if hers is a truth that nobody wants to hear. The ‘peace talks’ haven’t got a chance! If they serve any purpose at all it will only be to enhance Netanyahu’s political career by portraying him as a willing negotiator.
After the peace talks fail
A Palestinian generation has come of age that is in no hurry to reach an agreement with the Israelis, because the Israelis aren’t ready for a fair agreement.
By Amira Hass
Don’t worry, in this round of talks with the Palestinians, Israel will again miss the opportunity to change and be changed – just as the Rabin-Peres government and the Barak government missed their opportunities. Discussions over a referendum ignore the essence: Any future worth living for the Jewish community in this part of the Middle East depends on the ability and will of that community to free itself from the ethnocracy (“democracy for Jews only”) that it has built here for nearly seven decades. For this we desperately need the Palestinians.
But military and economic superiority is blinding us. We are sure that they need us and that we have pushed them into such a weak position that we can extricate a yes from them regarding what they have been saying no to for 20 years; that is, much less than the 1967 borders.
The negotiations expected now, with the very non-neutral American participation (if we even get to that after the pre-negotiation phase), will not produce independence for the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition problems can’t be blamed for that. It’s the Israelis who are not yet ready to demand that their leaders work toward a peace agreement, because they’re still enjoying the occupation too much.
It’s not for nothing that we have been blessed with 6,800 weapons exporters, the title of the sixth largest weapons exporter in the world, and first or second place among countries selling unmanned aircraft, which were upgraded by trying them out on the Lebanese and mainly the Gazans. Even if few of our people are involved in the manufacture and export of weapons and in the defense industry in general, that’s a minority with an extensive influence and a great deal of economic power that shapes politics and produces messianic and technocratic rationalizations.
The European Union’s directives on noncooperation with the settlements and companies linked to them have come at least 15 years late. As early as the 1990s it was clear to Europe that the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza contradicted its interpretation of the Oslo Accords, but that didn’t prevent it from spoiling Israel with favorable trade agreements. Neither these agreements nor massive support for the Palestinian Authority (that is, compensation for damage done by Israeli rule and its restrictions on movement), gave Europe real political clout in Israel’s eyes and in the corridors of the negotiations. And then a determined first step by Europe rehabilitated its political standing.
The Palestinians have made clear that if the Europeans back down on these directives, as Israel has demanded and the United States wants, they will stop the talks (when they start). But the directives’ main psychological impact will dissipate without quick implementation. When and if implemented, the results will not be felt immediately in Israel, and even then, they will be felt only gradually. That is, it will take time before more and more Israelis realize that the occupation isn’t worth it. That will be enough time for us to continue feeling that we’re stronger than the Palestinians.
But depending on the Palestinians’ weakness is an optical illusion of the arrogant. True, the PLO’s leadership is fossilized and controlled by one individual who rarely consults and rarely takes his people’s opinions into consideration. But even he can’t accept what the Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid government plans to offer. True, Palestinian society is more fractured geographically and politically than it was 20 years ago, but it has great stamina, which the Israelis lack.
The PA and the Hamas government are groaning under the financial burdens of economies under siege. The social and economic rifts have deepened and an atmosphere of depoliticization has taken over. But beneath the surface there are new developments. Initiatives are afoot to turn the Palestinian people – in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the diaspora – into one deciding body. Ideas are being seriously discussed for methods of struggle outside negotiations. A generation has come of age that is in no hurry to reach an agreement with the Israelis, because the Israelis aren’t ready for a fair agreement. And when we, the Israelis, wake up and beg for an agreement, it might be too late.
It is horrible to see the ‘anti-Semetism card’ being played again in an attempt to silence theological discussion within the church. This is not to say that theological debate doesn’t sometimes mask blatant racism. Indeed Martin Luther was notorious for it. Even so, the debate going on in the Church of Scotland (as in so many churches around the world) is one that has to take place, as it strikes at the heart of the church’s commitment to both the Bible and to social justice!
It seems that the Zionist lobby has long been able to rely on church councils to add their blessing to the Palestinian occupation, but church bodies are systematically withdrawing their support, one by one, and it is evidently making some of the political power-players nervous.
The great danger is that if bodies claiming to represent the Jewish people continue to equate criticism of the state of Israel with an attack upon their race, this could lead to a resurgence of genuine anti-Semitism! That church needs to guard against this. In the meantime, these Jewish advocacy groups need to reconnect with the struggle for human rights for all people and not just territorial rights for the state of Israel!
Church of Scotland accepts controversial report on Israel/Palestine
by Ira Glunts and Adam Horowitz
Today the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland accepted the controversial Church and Society Council report on Israel/Palestine titled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land,'”which has been widely and angrily condemned by Jewish groups and the Israeli government as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
There was a lively debate about the theology and politics in the document, as well as about the friction the report caused between the Church of Scotland and the Jewish community. It became apparent that an overwhelming majority of the delegates favored the report when a counter-motion, which recommended rewriting the document for next year’s assembly, was almost unanimously defeated in a stand-up vote. A Church press release says:
The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly today, May 23, debated a revised version of its report, ‘The Inheritance of Abraham?’
Presenting the report Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council said: “This is primarily a report highlighting the continued occupation by the state of Israel and the injustices faced by the Palestinian people as a consequence. It is not a report criticising the Jewish people. Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to anti-Semitism. “
The revised report was overwhelmingly accepted by the General Assembly., Mrs Foster-Fulton said: “The on-going conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been an issue close to the heart of the Church of Scotland – we have a long relationship with the region and have many friends there.
“The Church has kept on thinking about ways we can contribute to a just and peaceful solution. The report we bring to this year’s Assembly has already caused no small amount of controversy. The Church and Society Council has learned a great deal from dialogue with Jewish community which followed the initial release of the report.
“We would like to thank members of the Jewish community who sat down with us and were gracious in their concern. We present a revised version today with a preface that sets the report more in context. While acknowledging that some of the original language, on reflection, was misguided, I want to affirm that the report remains robust. It offers new insights – ones that have come through the experience of those suffering the continuing injustices of occupation. I look forward to the debate and, I hope, to continuing discussion after today exploring the issues and ideas brought forward in the report.”
The recommendations for action are mild compared to the resolutions passed by the Presbyterian and Methodist conventions in the U.S. this year. There is no mention of even limited boycotts of settlement products. Neither is church divestment from companies like Caterpillar and Motorola an issue here, as it was at the church meetings in the U.S.
The controversy is mostly about the theological views expressed in the “Inheritance of Abraham” which justify the conclusion that God did not promise any land to the Jewish people. Specifically, what offended some Jews was the argument that the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament somehow supersede or invalidate the apparent bequest of the land of Israel to the Jewish people found in the Hebrew bible or Old Testament. The report concludes:
… that Christians should not be supporting any claims by [Editor’s note: “Jewish or” was here in the original version] any people to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. We believe that is a misuse of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land.
After a hastily convened meeting with representatives of British Jewish organizations, the church said it had recognized that “some language in the report caused controversy in some parts of the Jewish community,” but the views expressed were “consistent with views held by the Church of Scotland over many years.”
Still the church agreed to revise the document which it had suddenly removed from its website. The new version, which was accepted today, was less critical of the government of Israel and of certain aspects of the Jewish religion, but maintained the conclusion and most of the theological argumentation which was so vociferously objected to by Jewish critics.
The new report is unlikely to mollify those who railed against the original, but most critics have been suddenly silent, choosing not to respond publicly to the revisions. However, Ben Cohen, a Jewish-American, writing in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, (paywall, 10 free articles with registration) made it clear that he is still offended:
Influenced by Sabeel’s theology, the Church of Scotland elevates the situation of the Palestinians, reinvented as Jesus’s own people, far above the grotesque plight of Christians elsewhere in the region. It’s a stance that is bound to ensure that the Church’s Jewish interlocutors remain fearful of its true intentions. The bluntly anti-Semitic phrasing of the original report may have been removed, but the delegitimization of Judaism – not simply political Zionism – remains very much intact.
Cohen also slams Mondoweiss:
Just as the original version relied heavily on the work of marginal Jewish anti-Zionist figures in staking its moral and theological orientation, so does the new one. Within the Jewish community, the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss is regarded with a mixture of derision and contempt; nonetheless, the Church of Scotland want [sic] to persuade us that it’s an authoritative source on both the political and religious aspects of Judaism. Readers will search in vain for a quote from a mainstream Jewish thinker, whether that’s the Rambam, Rashi, or U.K. Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks
The reference to this site relates to the fact that the current version of the “Inheritance of Abraham” includes a long quote from a 2012 post written by Marc Ellis, which is part of his ongoing “Exile and the Prophetic” series. (see p.8 of revised report and original post.)
The Ellis addition appears to substitute for the ideas of the Jewish writer and activist Mark Braverman, whose thoughts have been largely excised from the current version of the church document. The deleted excerpts of Braverman’s ideas include a critique of Jewish “exclusivism” and “exceptionalism,” in addition to an admonition to Jews to “repent for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949.” Also, the necessity of Christians to acknowledge “wrongs done to the Jewish people” does not appear in the present document. (See pps. 6,7 in original)
Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY.