Israel and Palestine: Let Us Question Our Caution

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The 79th General Convention is considering at least twelve separate resolutions on Israel and Palestine: C035, C038, B003, D019, D018, D027, D028, D038, D039, D041, B018, B021, C017 The topics range from ending the imprisonment of Palestinian children to the protection of the diversity in Jerusalem. General Convention regularly considers the Episcopal Church’s role in the resolution of the conflict in Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine. There are some new facts on the ground in 2018. We come to this convention having witnessed the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the resistance in Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza are understood by the United Nations as independent Palestinian territories but access in and out is only through Israel and is controlled by Israel, creating a human rights nightmare. The one square mile that is Gaza has been called an open-air prison, a permanent refugee camp whose borders, like the West Bank, are completely controlled by the government of Israel. We have witnessed Palestinian children being detained in Israeli jails that their parents cannot access, with eerie parallels to the detentions on the U.S. border with Mexico.

In 2016, the United States government provided $38 billion in military aid over ten years to the Israeli government. Americans are complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Episcopal Church has been slow to call out the human rights violations of the occupation, even as other mainline Christian denominations have spoken out in support of the international community of nations’ demand that the Palestinian people deserve a homeland free from occupation.

For Episcopalians with European heritage, the historic, anti-Semitism of western Christianity can be a heavy weight to carry. It is understandable that we wish to proceed with caution so that there is no appearance of anti-Semitism. For those of us with other backgrounds, this is not a part of our history, and we might be more direct in seeing the conflict within the framework of basic human rights and the dignity of Palestinian people. My Jewish friends say it is important to distinguish Jews and Israelis, many of whom are themselves working for justice for Palestinians, from the nation of Israel and its policies, in the same way that we might not agree with the policies of our elected leaders.

In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. calls us to be careful of our caution. King actually calls a caution in the work of justice is a sin when it is a caution through which we are deciding the timeline for the freedom of another person or community.

Our caution today is the same as in other movements of civil disobedience to effect social transformation. We will be attacked for our position, so it is important to prepare your heart if you are going to stand up in this way to speak the truth of the reality on the ground in the Holy Land. We will be told that we are causing more harm than good, that we are not capable of understanding the conflict. We will be told that doing nothing is the best we can do. Our faith tells us something different. Please read the brief description of the conflict below as though Palestinians are human beings with rights and loyalties like yours, because they are, and when we do that, we have a responsibility to work for a just solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

The Episcopal Church has supported a two-state resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since 1991, in resolution 1991-A147, and reaffirmed that commitment since the Oslo Accords I and II and the Gaza-Jericho Agreement were signed between 1993-1995, most recently in resolution 2012-B019.

Since then, facts on the ground have changed through the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nearly 600,000 people now live in Israeli settlements in the West Bank (383,000) and East Jerusalem (205,000), – more than double the number of settlers living in those areas (263,000 total) in 1993 when the first Oslo Accord was signed. Today Israel controls over 42 percent of land in the West Bank and 80 percent of the water, and has demolished 15,000 Palestinian homes, water systems, and other facilities in the Occupied

Alarmingly, the Israeli parliament passed the “Settlement Regulation Law” in February 2017, which provides Israel with new legal means to seize privately-owned Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories in order to legalize settlement construction—effectively allowing land ownership rights in the occupied territories to be determined by Israeli domestic law.

The Settlement Regulation Law is being challenged in the Israeli High Court of Justice, and parts of it may be struck down, but this law was created in concert with the statements of governing coalition leaders, including cabinet members, that they intend to make the occupied West Bank and all of the illegal settlements within it “part of the State of Israel” (Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, June 2018) and that “the time has come to express our biblical right to the land” (Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan, December 2017).

In the wake of these developments, along with the Trump Administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem—since the status of Jerusalem was considered part of the peace negotiations under Oslo—Palestinian leaders have begun debating other options, including the possibility of a single state. Saeb Erekat, the experienced lead peace negotiator for Palestine, has publicly stated this year that the Palestinians should focus on achieving “one state with equal rights.”

Our work is to discern the public voice of the Episcopal Church in light of these new realities. In particular, D019, D027, C017, D039, D038, offer some concrete ways forward for The Episcopal Church to stand for human rights in the Holy Land.

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