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Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking central in Anglican network report

By Matthew Davies
ENS 062405-3
6/24/2005
[Episcopal News Service, Nottingham]  Recognizing the suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a report from the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN) was received June 24 by the 13th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) assembled at England's University of Nottingham.

The presentation also addressed care for refugees in Africa and conflict resolution, as well as offering recommendations on theological education, interfaith relations and environmental issues in the Anglican Communion. [A portion of the resolution is cited online at www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/39/75/acns3996.cfm.]

The network has been a "vitally important forum for raising concerns of political justice," said Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, "ahorangi" or dean of Te Rau Kahikatea, an indigenous constituent of the College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland, New Zealand. She has been the APJN convener since 1997.

After much debate and several amendments, a resolution presented by the APJN, arising from its deliberations in Jerusalem September 14-22, 2004, was passed unanimously by the ACC.

Requiring an additional session "to facilitate maximum participation from the floor," the presentation included personal experiences and passionate debate about issues concerning peace, justice and co-existence in the Holy Land, and outlined concerns about provinces investing in any company that "supports the occupation" of Palestinian lands.

Extending gratitude to the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, for his contributions to the work of the network and his Palestinian hospitality, Te Paa insisted that the extent of suffering in the Holy Land can only be fully appreciated after a visit the region.

Reading from the 35-page report, Te Paa explained how a group of 31 people, that included network members representing 23 of the 38 Anglican provinces, were "exposed to the draconian conditions of the continuing occupation under which so many Palestinians live."

"We heard from Israel Jewish voices, and from Palestinians, both those who reside in Israel and those who live under occupation," she said, noting the continuing policies of illegal home demolitions, detentions, check-points, identity card systems and the presence of Israeli military "that make any kind of normal life impossible."

El-Assal told the ACC that many people are ignorant of the facts on the ground and indifferent to the plight of those who suffer in the Holy Land. "Ignorance breeds indifference," he said. "This ongoing conflict can be stopped."

Optimistic that peace will one day arrive in the Middle East, El-Assal said, "The day will come when Palestine will have its independent state side by side with Israel," urging the council to adopt the resolution that was being presented. "It’s time for the church to follow in the footsteps of the prophets, in the footsteps of Elijah. Stand for action."

Te Paa concluded the network presentation dispelling claims that the delegation did not speak with any Jewish or Israeli persons. "Our report recognizes the suffering of all," she said. "It recognizes that all -- Israelis and Palestinians -- have to live in dignity."

Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion Office, acknowledged that a significant amount of correspondence had been received in response to the report that included a conversation with Britain’s chief rabbi Jonathan Sachs, who urged that both sides be heard.

Clare Amos, coordinator for Anglican Communion’s Network for Interfaith Converns (NIFCON) raised some concerns about the resolution saying that it drifts into areas that are not being properly addressed in other areas of the ACC’s work.

Sylvia Scarf, ACC delegate from the Church of Wales spoke passionately about the issues offering her strong support to the resolution. "Having stood in the remains of a Palestinian house in which two days before a family lived in peace and harmony with its neighbors ... I’ve got no option to support this motion," she said.

Concerned about the call for disinvestment, the Very Rev. John Moses, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London said that adopting the resolution as it stands would be such a major statement of policy that he would have to be absolutely sure of the credentials of all the participants. "I hesitate because of my own lack of confidence," he said. "I do not know the whole truth and the little I do know leads me to believe that ignorance does not breed difference ... but it does breed diffidence.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams voiced his concern about using the language "receives and adopts" when voting to endorse a statement that is nearly nine months old. "We have to be careful adopting a statement that was written last year," he said, recommending that the term "welcomes" be used instead.

Archbishop Bernard Malango, primate of Central Africa, added to the discussion acknowledging that the Anglican Communion has been debating this issue for a long time and that it’s now time for action.

"What happens in one part of the body of Christ happens in all parts," Bishop Winston Halapua of the Diocese of Polynesia in Aotearoa, New Zealand, said. "Our interconnectedness throughout the church provides me with the warmth to say that I am happy to be here in witness. Bishop Riah you are the voice of that context. When I heard you, that was the dimension I was looking for. When it comes to violence, I will draw the line. I belong to peace."

In a statement issued by the Anglican Communion News Service, Bishop John Paterson of Auckland, New Zealand, said that "the discussion of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN) was thorough" and that "local provinces are now to respond to the ACC resolution."