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.A CALL FOR THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO TAKE ACTIONS TOWARD A JUST P
A Theological Statement in Support of
a Resolution Submitted to the 30th General Synod
of the United Church of Christ
A CALL FOR THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
TO TAKE ACTIONS TOWARD A JUST PEACE
IN THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network
Centuries ago Isaiah exposed the crimes of those who “join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land” (Isaiah 5.8). This text reminds us that possession alone does not exhaust the responsibilities of divine promise, that along with the pledge of land in the Hebrew Bible comes the responsibility for establishing justice for all who dwell in houses and cultivate fields.
The modern State of Israel is, of course, a political rather than a theological entity, birthed through the imposition of partition by international structures and enforced by unsanctioned violence. As such, Israel’s responsibilities toward its citizens and neighbors are duties defined by international law and its own claims to democratic principles. During nearly twenty years of partition and an ensuing half a century of occupation, those duties have been ignored and those principles mocked by a pattern of behavior designed to privilege Israel at the expense of its Arab and Palestinian citizens and neighbors. While this has been defended as a response to violent aggression, often it has reflected little more than the brazen exercise of power to extend control over the land and its people for the sake of possession. The warning
of Isaiah has eerie resonance with the relentless expansion of settlements, the appropriation of resources, and the removal of Palestinian populations and homes.
While the modern State of Israel is not a theological construct, it has been justified by many on the basis of theological claims grounded in an ancient narrative of
promise, by others in a contemporary interpretation of an apocalyptic narrative of the end times, and by still others as a moral response to the centuries’ long narrative of persecution of Jews that found its most devastating expression in the Holocaust. As
a result, Israel has taken on for many a quasi-religious and moral character that often distorts history, corrupts the meaning of ancient texts, and legitimizes oppression and suffering in ways that bear little or no relationship to the ethical principles of either Judaism or Christianity.
Christians in the United States are not of one mind on how to respond to the chronic violence, insecurity, and injustice present in Israel and Palestine or to the various theological and moral claims that compete. The United Church of Christ General Synod has consistently called for all in the region to respect the norms and principles of international law. It has challenged interpretations of biblical texts supporting so-called Christian Zionism that deny Palestinians any claim to self-determination and statehood. It has decried the use of violence by all in the region. It has urgently called upon the government of the United States to equally serve the legitimate interests of both Israel and Palestine in any negotiations. It has provided spiritual and material support to Israelis and Palestinians who are taking risks for peace, for justice, and for the defense of human rights.
Above all, the United Church of Christ, along with many ecumenical partners throughout the world and an increasing number of Evangelical Christians, has sought to be attentive to the cries of Palestinian Christians and to their Muslim neighbors in Israel and the Occupied Territories. This has taken the form of numerous personal visits to express solidarity along with the provision of financial support to churches and institutions in Palestine doing justice and responding to humanitarian needs. It has included reporting on the realities facing Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, in an American context where those realities are often distorted or rendered invisible. And, it has meant supporting the enduring Gospel witness of faith communities tracing their roots to the very origins of Christianity.
In recent years this attentiveness has heard the cry of Palestinian Christians through Kairos Palestine: “A Moment of Truth, A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering" issued in 2009 by Christian Palestinian leaders. By granting Kairos Palestine a privileged voice in the church’s reflection, the United Church of Christ acknowledges a preferential option for those who live under military occupation, who face daily discrimination and oppression, and who experience in their bodies a suffering only they can know. In its recognition of Kairos Palestine the United Church of Christ seeks to demonstrate its respect for and its commitment to Christian partners who have sought our accompaniment as well as our witness to justice on their behalf in a nation that currently provides overwhelming support for a continued occupation and for the relentless extension of settlements. This acknowledgment and recognition expresses critical presence, defined by Global Ministries as “where we meet God's people and creation at the point of deepest need: spiritually, physically, emotionally, and/or economically.”
Kairos Palestine calls upon churches both to support divestment from companies whose products or services enable them to profit from the Occupation and to boycott products from illegal settlements. Boycotts and divestment are non-violent acts conceived in both instrumental and symbolic terms. They address the extreme imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine that currently requires Palestinians
to entrust their future to the benevolence of a highly militarized occupying power. Boycotts and divestment present US economic interests with our conviction that business practices should be subject to moral values as well as profit seeking. They join us to a growing movement of churches and secular institutions around the world providing a profound and necessary source of hope to partners who are daily confronted with signs of discouragement. Boycotts and divestment are a witness to
a costly obedience to bear one another’s burdens.
Some are troubled by the boycott and divestment strategy. But we must ask, “If not this, what?” Violence is not an option for the church, whether in the United States or Palestine. Nurturing healthy and healing relationships with the Jewish community in the United States, while terribly important for many reasons, does not address a conflict that is fundamentally between Israel and Palestine, not between Jews and Christians. Nor does it speak to the gross imbalance of power that exists between the two parties who must negotiate a just peace. Building Palestinian economic capacity alone only ameliorates an intolerable situation without ending it. Assuming we know better than our Palestinian Christian partners what is best for their situation is arrogance in the extreme.
Fifty years after the voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama the church is well served to remember that justice came through concrete acts of solidarity, responding to the call of those who lived every day under the heat of violent oppression. Justice came from claiming a moral center founded on the Biblical values at the heart of the church’s faith, confronting corrupt power, and bearing the cost of ridicule and abuse. Today it asks us to press for the engagement of political and economic powers that have the capacity to press Israel toward justice and peacemaking. Like Isaiah, the church across the nation responded to the pleas of the movement in Selma, “Here I am, send me.” In light of those historic events, Martin Luther King’s words resound today: “Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right?”