The Middle East and the United Church of Canada

I have been involved in a movement for peace in the Middle East with Israeli and Palestinian colleagues since 1979.  I was a Canadian representative to the Middle East Council of Church in its program for Palestinian refugees.  I went there every year and once lived in the West Bank in 2003 during the height of Palestinian suicide-bombing.  I was a part of the World Council of Churches’ program called “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel” as a member of the human right watch team.  How many times have I been called an Anti-Semitist?  Countless.  Which is nonsense.  My two grand-daughters are half Jewish.

I feel that the end has come for my church to take a public stand when I heard that a proposal to term Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories “Apartheid” at the United Church’s triennial General Council held in Kelowna in August, 2009.  The recent proposal was the third attempt in the General Council in nine years  only to be quashed again.  Granted the resolution passed did make it quite clear that the United Church believed the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories illegal and that the construction of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the separation barriers  must cease immediately.  However, the church does not make any suggestion about how it should go about to implement the resolution.  I think it’s time to change the course.  The United Church should stop wasting time trying to make a public statement.  It should concentrate in supporting and working with peace activists on both sides.  

There are many Israeli peace activists:  Daniel Barenboim, a famous Israeli symphony orchestra  conductor, who regularly goes to Ramallah to teach at a Palestinian Conservatory, and Justice Richard Goldstone, a respected South African-Jewish jurist, the author of the recent U.N. report on Gaza, and Prof. Ilan Pappe, a respected academic in Haifa, to name a few.  They are all Zionists and love Israel. But they are denounced as self-loathing anti-Israel Jews by Israeli right-wingers.  

I know personally many others like them in the groups like Women in Black, Bat Shalom (Daughters for Peace), Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Gvul (Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza thus ended up in prison), and B’Tselem, Hamoked (two Israeli Human Rights groups).  And they all have Palestinian counterparts such as “Sabeel” in Jerusalem and Palestinian Christian groups.  Canada has our own too: Naomi Klein and Judy Rebic to name a couple.

My thirty years of work on this issue tell me that trying to make a point  in public statements is futile.   It’s time to start working without publicity in solidarity with both Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

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