Israel and Palestine

July 10, 2012 § 4 Comments

You might have seen reports of another debate at Synod yesterday. We talked about Israel and Palestine, using a motion which asked us to affirm the work of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel– EAPPI (and said other things too – the motion is at the end of this post).

Synod members received a lot of pressure from Jews in this country to remove the reference to EAPPI, which was regarded by many as anti-Israel. I received the first such email an hour after returning to Jerusalem from a visit to Hebron, where we had been shown round by EAPPI. EAPPI monitors and observes the treatment of Palestinians by the State of Israel, and Hebron is a key flashpoint.

Israeli Graffiti in Hebron

Because of the lobby the Bishop of Manchester asked us to remove the specific reference to EAPPI – he chairs the Council of Christians and Jews, and was concerned about Christian Jewish relations in this country. The Bishop of Durham and, after a fashion, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the same, but Synod voted to keep the motion as it was.

I spent June inIsrael. The wisest advice I received was not to blog, or give great pronouncements about things, because life is indeed complicated, so I kept quiet to allow thoughts to emerge. It seemed right to speak in the debate though, mainly because the Irsaeli Jews we met were desperate for their State to act justly, and because the Palestinians we met (Christian and Muslim) all asked for their story to be told.

In my speech I looked for balance – so I referred to the increased security which the separation barrier has offered, as well as the fractured land it contributes to. But in the end I was convinced that the naming of an organisation trained by Quakers and part of the World Council of Churches was no threat to relations between Christians and Jews, and no threat to the State of Israel. Where conduct is right, scrutiny is welcome. Here’s the speech:

 Mr Chairman, I hope that you, and members of the Synod, will have the chance one day to visit the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur, inJerusalem. If you do so in June, and sit at the time of the evening breeze, as the sun goes down from a cloudless sky, your thoughts might turn, as did ours, to the subject of Gin and Tonic.

 This is indeed available. Mr Awwad’s store has it, and from Tantur is about the same distance as is Tescos from my Vicarage in Beverley. The difference is that to get to Awwad’s you must go through the Separation Barrier. Three weeks ago I wondered whether it was  worth the bother of finding which turnstile was working, the experience of the caged walkway, whether it was worth the humiliation of waving my passport at an armed soldier just to get the Bombay Sapphire.

I confess now to how flippant and stupid a thought this was. For the people in theWest Bank life  is difficult, demeaning, and occasionally life threatening. We heard about and understood the Wall’s effectiveness in increasing security and reducing the killing and wounding of the innocent. But we were also affected by the treatment of those who have to use the checkpoints each day – some of them in front of us in the queue. And we looked each day at olive groves whose owners could not tend them because the Wall divided them. Security? – may be. Land grabbing? Well, it’s perceived that way too.

In our month in Israel we heard from many people. Here are three observations, one from a Palestinian, two from Israelis committed to their State. Machsom Watch is made up of Israeli women  many of grandmotherly age. ‘Machsom’ means checkpoint, and there they observe the conduct of the Israeli army and border forces. Many soldiers are in their late teens, and you’d be careful if  you knew your granny was watching. Our lady said that she says to the soldiers  ‘you should be pleased I’m here. It’s a sign that I know you will do your job right.’ She reminds them of the boast that the Israeli Defence Force is the most humane army in the world, and holds them to it. Scrutiny should be welcome where conduct is right.

 An academic who advises the Israeli military told us that the fact that the Palestinian Question seems to be off the world’s agenda is regarded as a foreign policy win byIsrael. That this motion has generated the response it has is perhaps a success in itself. There is manifest unfairness and injustice – maybe on both sides, though I think the Palestinians get off worse – and our concentration on it may lead to justice being done.

Father Ibrahim Mairouz is the Anglican priest in Nablus. As the holder of a Jordanian Passport and a Palestinian ID he is regularly prevented from travelling to Jerusalem to Diocesan meetings. It is he who convenes the monthly gathering of Nablus’s Imams. There is a mosque on land given by the church. He said to us: ‘we must build bridges, not walls’.

I support any motion which will keep the situation inIsrael and Palestine at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers. It may well be that we will do this best by using the Bishop of Manchester’s amendment, since undue attention to one organisation might deflect us from the wider goal.

But let me testify that the five hours we spent with the EAPPI team in Hebron were unforgettable. Of course the EAs are not impartial: their reason for being there is a request from one side, not both. But they simply record, and they do speak to settlers and soldiers as well as Palestinians. Their introduction of the situation in Hebronwas clear, calm and as far away from propaganda as you could imagine. I will invite returned EA’s to my church, and I will invite faithful Israelis to do the same. The situation demands bridges, not walls.

On the day I left Israel 2 Israeli solders were filmed hitting a nine year old boy on the streets in Hebronwhere we had been ten days before. You can see it on the B’Tselem website. And on the very same day an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post said this: “there should be a common awareness that [each nationality has] been destined to coexist side by side in the same country. And since that is the reality, there should be a concerted attempt by everyone involved or affected to transform this situation into one that is truly beneficial to both peoples – Jews and Arabs”

I’ll go with the Jerusalem Post, and I will vote with all my heart for a motion that encourages us, and the wider world, to ensure that in the land we call Holy there is justice, security, honour, and, for all Shalom/Salaam. 22. ‘That this Synod affirm its support for:

(a) the vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme inPalestine and Israel(EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants;

(b) mission and other aid agencies working amongst Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region;

(c) Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area, such as the Parents Circle– Families Forum;

and

(d) Palestinian Christians and organisations that work to ensure their continuing presence in the Holy Land.’

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§ 4 Responses to Israel and Palestine

  • Dr Laura Holt says:

    Thank you for this evocative description of what life feels like there and for your faithful affirmation of the important work that IS happening there. And having been fortunate to have visited Tantur twice, I vouch for your encouragement to others to go, too.

  • Doug Chaplin says:

    I’m still inclined to think its a bad mistake to include EAPPI by name. They are too narrowly focused and turn the experience of a scared teenager in uniform making a mistake into a universal truth about Israeli bigotry. That’s the real problem with the programme.

  • Thanks Doug. I think there’s more to EAPPI than that (eg settlers are far more dangerous than the IDF, and you’ll be hard pressed to find many people who think the settlements are a good thing), but I was ambivalent about specifically naming them, as I said in my speech. The debate convinced me that it was OK to do so – as long as we do everything else the motion said, and ensure that we work with all those in Israel and Palestine who want justice and peaceful coexistence.

  • Did anyone in the debate mention that Canon Andrew White had said the following:
    “The motion is unjust and has caused deep pain in the Jewish Community. It neglects the wars against Israel’s very right to exist. It overlooks the persecution of Jews in the Middle East that preceded the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Israel-like all countries-is not perfect, but she sincerely wishes to find peace.
    It is not clear why Synod is being asked to adopt a one sided “NAKBA” narrative against Israel while our fellow Christians are dying in Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and Syria. There are many wonderful peace-loving people in the Palestinian territories who are entangled in a conflict they do not endorse, but the culture of incitement against Jews and Christians as well as the continuing rocket bombardments on Sderot are factors that Synod is being asked to ignore or at best discount.”

    I would have thought his view would have been highly valued, given his experience in the area.

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