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The Presbyterian Church USA at its General Assembly (GA), July 1-10, 2010 held in Minneapolis, MN passed the recommendations of its Middle East Study Committee (MESC) after negotiations among the leadership of the MESC and the GA committee for Middle East Affairs. Among the recommendations of the Church are
The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and diversion of water resources; An immediate freeze both on the establishment or expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem; The relocation by Israel of the Separation Barrier to the 1967 border; The withholding of U.S. government aid to the state of Israel as long as Israel persists in creating new West Bank settlements; Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel; The cessation of systematic violation of human rights by any party, specifically, practices of administrative detention, collective punishment, the torture of prisoners and suspects, home demolitions and evictions, and the deportation of dissidents; Bethlehem to be a free and open city accessible to all people. Calls on the U.S. government to exercise strategically its international influence, including making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”
There is much that is good in these and other recommendations; however there is much that is not said.
All settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. An immediate freeze both on the establishment or expansion of settlements is not sufficient. Military aid to Israel should be contingent on not only Israel’s creation of new West Bank settlements but also on its continuation of the occupation, its ignoring of United Nations Security Council resolution including resolution 194 calling on the right of return or compensation of Palestinian refugees.
The recommendations do not use the word ‘apartheid’ with respect to Israel even though clearly the laws and practices of the government of Israel constitute apartheid as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid as a crime against humanity. Further, the Presbyterian Church (USA) document refers to the wall/fence as a separation barrier which is presumably more palatable than wall/fence; however ironically separation barrier implies apartheid, which is the Afrikaans word for ‘separateness’ or ‘apartness’.
Furthermore, the GA Middle East Committee added the recommendation:
Reaffirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders.
This addition reassures the friends of Israel who had feared a rupture in the Christian-Jewish dialogue without this addition, and is another example of yielding to the wishes of these friends of Israel even though the ramifications of this statement are offensive to Palestinians who see the use of the word ‘right’ as approval of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the formation of the state of Israel. Furthermore, to insist on security for Israel, which has the most powerful army in the Middle East, is a reflection of the indoctrination of Presbyterians, as true for all Americans, by decades of hearing and reading only the Israeli narrative. In this narrative Palestinians are referred to as terrorists seeking the destruction of the people of Israel. However, facts and past behavior indicate that it is the government of Israel which has sought to destroy the Palestinian people. That the amendment contains the qualification of internationally recognized borders is constructive considering that Israel’s borders are ever expanding and have yet to be defined.
Finally, this added amendment does not contain the affirmation of the previous Presbyterian position which is “the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, including the right to the establishment of a neighboring independent, sovereign state toward the end of establishing a just and durable peace”. It appears that the friends of Palestine do not have a sufficiently important voice to be heard.
Presbyterians also commend for study the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) written by Palestinian Christians and published in December, 2009. They refer to the often-neglected voice of Palestinian Christians and direct the Church’s to be formed monitoring group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document. While this is good, the recommendation does not accept the Kairos document’s call for boycott and divestment from companies that profit from the occupation. While the Church endorses non-violence, boycott and divestment as a tool of non-violent resistance is rejected.
The committee also added the recommendation that calls on the Israeli and Egyptian governments to limit their blockade of Gaza to military equipment and devices and to guarantee adequate levels of food, medicine, building supplies and other humanitarian supplies and to allow free commercial exchange in and out of Gaza. This amendment falls far short of existing humanitarian and international laws which declare the blockade of Gaza as an illegal punishment of 1.5 million people. The blockade must be dropped with no qualifications except for the importation of weapons. However, for the sake of balance, importation of weapons to Israel must also cease!
Finally, Part Three of the MESC report contained two sections one by a rabbi from Jerusalem and a longer section titled ‘A Plea for Justice’, written by two members of the MESC, both professors one a biblical scholar and the other a Palestinian-American. The ‘Plea for Justice’ was a document that attempted to address the seldom heard facts regarding the Palestine/Israel conflict. It drew heavily on Israeli sources: human rights groups, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various Israeli authors. The document decried the human rights violations perpetrated by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, citing only US government sources and Israeli human rights groups. Part III along with its maps drawn by the United Nations, the World Food Program, B’Tselem and PASSIA were rejected as one sided.
The decision to remove “A Plea for Justice“ from the report may be viewed as Presbyterians yielding to the wishes of the friends of Israel who see Palestinians as unworthy of justice and Jewish Israelis as righteous victims. When will Presbyterians as a whole come to see the equality of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis before the bar of justice and in the “eyes” of God? “If God could shed tears, he must have wept.”
N H Gordon is a professor of statistics and member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Middle East Study Committee. Professor Gordon, a life-long Presbyterian and currently a church Elder, is a Palestinian-American who experienced, first hand, the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.