Sunday, November 20, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part Three

“Are you not being hard on the Presbyterians? ” Someone challenged.

“Well, yes, I am.” I said. “You see, that my crowd. I have been a part of the Presbyterian family my whole life. I know the great works in which we are engaged and I know the benevolent and caring heart of the Presbyterian Church. That is why I am so baffled by this ‘blind spot’ when it comes to justice for the Palestinians. The issue is too serious to be side-stepped.”

When it came time to vote to support the Christian leaders of Israel/Palestine during the Presbytery meeting I attended, someone asked, “How can we vote for a people whose government, Hamas, trains kids to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into a crowd to kill people?” He was grossly concerned about the deaths caused by rockets and suicide bombers. After all, eleven Israelis were killed during the three years prior to Israel’s “deployment” from Gaza. However, he expressed no concern for the one thousand, two hundred-fifty Gazans, including two hundred twenty-two children, killed by the Israeli army during that same time.[1] Norman Finkelstein reports:

Hamas agreed to accept any peace agreement negotiated between the leaders of the PLO and Israel … Israel officials knew full well before they attacked Gaza that despite the charter a diplomatic settlement could have been reached with Hamas.”[2]

I agree with the speaker, suicide bombers and rockets are bad. They kill innocent people and that is always bad. Not only that, I don’t believe they work. For there to be peace between Israel and Palestine, both sides are going to have to compromise and reach across the table with forgiveness and respect. Suicide bombers are not going to bring down the IDF. Israel’s military is the fourth largest in the world. Suicide bombers and rockets will only make the average Israeli feel insecure. We don’t reach out with trust and respect as long as we feel insecure. Threaten me and I will trench in and come out swinging. I wish there were no bombs and rockets.

However, having said that, I can understand the frustration which drives a defenseless people, being mistreated and misrepresented for decades to strike out in any way they can. Why are we not asking, what is so bad that it would cause a young boy or girl to take their own life just to make a statement? We have one life to live. What drives these kids to sacrifice themselves?

Last week I quoted Philip Slater, as saying, “The Gaza Strip is little more than a large Israeli concentration camp, in which Palestinians are attacked at will, starved of food, fuel, energy – even deprived of hospital supplies.” He goes on to say, “It would be difficult to have any respect for them if they didn’t fire a few rockets back.”

I don’t think it is a matter of respect. It’s a matter of pain. Imagine yourself living in a refugee camp with no hope of ever gaining a better life, no matter what you do. After all, your parents have lived their entire life in these camps. They have never committed a crime, never been charged with a crime, never been to any court. They just happened to live in a village that was given to European Jews to be the State of Israel by the United Nations sixty two years ago. Bear in mind that the first suicide bombing was in 1994. That was 46 years after Israel destroyed 418 villages and drove 750,000 of your people into exile and 27 years after Israel again occupied your land and began treating you like an animal, and six weeks after Baruch Goldstein walked into a Mosque in Hebron and shot to death 29 of your neighbors as they prayed. During all this time, the world, including the church, said nothing. You are invisible and forgotten. How long before you would strike back?

Gideon Levy, award winning Israeli journalist, writes:

Nobody would have given any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they had not behaved violently. That is a bitter truth, but the first twenty years of the occupation passed quietly and we did not lift a finger to end it.[3]

Then when the Christian leaders of Palestine begged the church in the United States to at least become informed as to what is happening to them, our Presbytery voted 37 to 65 to ignore their plea. So, yes, I will try to continue to be “hard on us.” If we are to be the church, we must do better. It’s as much for our sake as for the Palestinians.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his magazine Tikkun, writes about “The Violence of Not Seeing.” Think about it.

Thomas Are
November 21, 2011

[1] Norman Finkelstein, This Tine We Went Too Far, (OR Books, 2011) p.26
[2] Ibid., p. 45
[3] Gideon Levy, The Punishment of Gaza, (Verso, New York, 2010) p.21.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part Two

Historian Normal Finkelstein writes:

European Jews for a Just Peace issued a statement headlined, “German Jews Say NO to Israeli Army Killings.” In Canada eight Jewish women occupying the Israeli consulate called on “all Jews to speak out against this “massacre,” and celebrated Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti declared, “The unbelievable war crimes that Israel is committing in Gaza … make me ashamed to be a Jew.” In Australia two award winning novelists and a former federal cabinet minister signed a statement by Jews condemning Israel’s “grossly disproportionate assault.”[1]

In Georgia, the Presbytery voted to raise no objection to Israel’s abuse of Palestinians. About the same time that the Presbytery was voting to say “nothing,” NEWSWEEK Magazine quoted Ruth Dayan, the widow of Israeli military “hero” Moshe Dayan, criticizing Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians:[2]

What’s going on today is awful. They’re ruining this country. .. I am a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course.

Today, we use foreign labor to work in Israel because Palestinians are not allowed. And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere – I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deterioration in the territories and the road blocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right.

For Netanyahu, peace is just a word, and that (current Foreign Minister Avigdor) Leiberman … he is the most terrible man in this country. … I reject Netanyahu’s policy; it is a recipe for disaster…. The number of settlements has increased from 60 to 200, the military checkpoints are everywhere, and freedom of movement is virtually non existent. Violence is still the only spoken word.

Avindav Begin, grandson of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who refuses to stand during the Israeli national anthem and participates in protests against the apartheid wall, speaks with even harsher words: “Murderous blood flows in Israeli arteries.”[3]

While a 2003 poll of the European Union named Israel the biggest threat to world peace, a 2008 survey of global opinion named Israel the biggest obstacle to achieving peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the late Tony Judt asserted that “Israel today is bad news for the Jews.” Philip Slater, author of the classic sociological study The Pursuit of Loneliness declared, “The Gaza strip is little more than a large Israeli concentration camp, in which Palestinians are attacked at will, starved of food, fuel, energy – even deprived of hospital supplies." American Jews for a Just Peace, circulated a partition calling on “Israeli soldiers to Stop War Crimes” [4]

Students of Cornell University, the University of Rochester, University of Massachusetts, New York University, Columbia University, Haverford University, Bryn Mawr College and Hampton College among others have demonstrated to “divest from American corporations that directly profit from the occupation.” When historians, journalists, artists, numerous human rights organizations and even students are speaking out, where is the voice of the church?

Our Presbytery had nothing to say, 37 to 65.

Thomas Are
November 17, 2011

[1] Norman G, Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far, (OR Books, New York, 2011) p 120
[2] Newsweek, November 7, 2011. p. 58-63.
[3] Interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, February 13, 2010,
[4] Finkelstein, p. 111 - 124

Monday, November 14, 2011

Presbytery Vote - Part One

I went to bed sad. I woke up angry. Where is the church? I am not talking about the building on the corner, but the church envisioned by Jesus. The church which seeks to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

His very first sermon was; The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed…. to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. His last sermon was; I was hungry and you fed me…when you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me. His parables almost always included the marginalized; Invite the poor to your banquet… Sell what you have and give to the poor… Whatever it cost to restore him to health, I will pay it. On and on; when you give a banquet, invite the poor and the lame. During his ministry, Jesus hung around the poor, the sick, and a large group whom he simply referred to as sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.” There is no doubt about the focus of his heart.

Last week, I attended the meeting of a Presbytery, (a representative gathering of leaders from all the Presbyterian churches in a district). I joined the rhetoric of their worship literature. Almost every prayer, litany and song included such words as “justice” and “peace.” Those words rolled from our lips with ease. Yet, when it came time for a vote to seek “justice and peace” for the oppressed people of Palestine, there was a major disconnect.

I have never known a Presbytery to do a better job of offering its members an opportunity to be informed as to why a ‘justice for the oppressed’ motion was coming up for a vote. At its previous meeting, the JUSTPEACE Committee had arranged for the Presbytery to meet and hear Mark Braverman, a Jewish activist who is seeking to apply his Jewish faith to the policies and conduct of the State of Israel. In addition to Braverman, the Presbytery heard Dr. Fahed abu Akel, past moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly, and a Palestinian, tell his story of being separated when 4 years old, from his mother during the bitter displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians by the Israelis in 1948. In addition to having these eyewitnesses address the Presbytery, the JUSTPEACE committee sponsored three workshops within the Presbytery to address the motions which would support justice and peace for the Palestinians.[i]

The Presbytery had been asked to respond to THE KAIROS DOTRINE, a plea by Christian leaders in Israel and the occupied territories to the church in Americas to know what is happening to them. In the midst of pledging peace and love for their Jewish oppressors they acknowledged that they were rapidly coming to the end of their rope, saying:.

We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and exchange of opinions, cry out from within the suffering of our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land.

Why Now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people.

The Presbytery voted to kill both motions. The Palestinians were left to be forgotten and on their own. I listened to the debate in astonishment:

--- The first speaker said that she was going to vote against the motion because she knew so little about the situation there. (I sat silently thinking that if she announced the first part, that she was going to vote against the motion, she did not have to confess to the second part. It would be obvious that she knew very little about the situation.
--- Several speakers described Hamas as a terrorist government that sponsored suicide bombers and had pledged to wipe Israel off the map.
--- Another said that he could not vote “against Israel” because the people there were happy and their faces were full of smiles and laughter, that we should not take anything away from the Jews who are the “Children of God.”

---Several people supporting the motions spoke from their experience of actually having seen the conditions in Israel/Palestine. They were rebutted by a pious plea that, before we do anything, we must hear “the Jewish side.” (As if we ever hear anything else on the news or from our pulpits.)

I was a “visitor” at this meeting of Presbytery and did not have the privilege of the floor or the right to speak, therefore, I sat there feeling a great disappointment for those who had worked so hard to inform the voting members of the urgency of these motions and feeling a personal frustration that ignorance so easily prevailed. Mainly, I felt deep concern for the men, women and children living in deplorable conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. Had those voting members known what is happening in the Occupied Territories, they would have been totally on the side of the oppressed.

So I will take out my frustration on you. I will address those points of debate in my next several blogs. In the meantime, I will feel frustration remembering the words of Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” That is exactly what the Presbytery did; 37 to 65.

Thomas Are
November 14, 2011

[i] JUSTPEACE made two motions

First motion:

JUSTPEACE, the Justice and Peacemaking Action Team, with the support of the Spiritual Formation and Discernment Ministry Team, requests the Presbytery to approve the following statements and actions:

We hear the cry of you, our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, and we acknowledge the realities of why the Christian population is dwindling that you communicate to us in Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth recommended for study by the 2010 General Assembly. In response:
-- we will continue to study Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth carefully and prayerfully,
-- we repent of our own silence, indifference, and lack of communion,
-- we affirm the need of the Church to ―speak the Word of God courageously,
-- we pledge to resist evil in all its forms with methods that enter into the logic of love,
-- we will come, as we are able, to visit you, our brothers and sisters, to see for ourselves what
injustices you face,
-- we endorse JUSTPEACE‘s decision to pledge $1,000 of our Presbytery‘s portion of the
Peacemaking Offering to help underwrite the November 10-12, 2011, Friends of Sabeel--North
America (FOSNA) Regional Conference at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, to spread
your story,
-- we will pray and work that the Kingdom of God come, ―a kingdom of justice, peace and
-- we will explore other ways in which we as a Presbytery can act on behalf of justice for you,
our Palestinian brothers and sisters in order to secure a lasting peace for you, the Israelis and all
the people of the Middle East, and
-- we will communicate these commitments to you so that your hope may be strengthened.
Vote: 37 YES, 65 NO, 1 UNDECIDED

Second motion:

JUSTPEACE also requests the Presbytery to approve the following statements
and actions:

-- we will join in the boycott of products produced in the West Bank as recommended by and
updated by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA), and
-- we support the recommendation of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of the PC(USA) to divest all PC(USA) funds from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard, all of whom sell products which support in significant ways the occupation of the West Bank and the oppression of Gaza and will communicate this support to the 220th General Assembly.
Vote: 40 YES, 58 NO

[ii] Kairos Palestine Doctrine