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From Columbus: Peace in Israel/Palestine is focus of committee hearing

By Matthew Davies
6/15/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  A public hearing on resolutions A011, A012 and A013 addressed the stance of the Church on the Palestine/Israel peace process and investment in Palestine during a June 15 morning session in the National and International Concerns committee.

During the last triennium, the Episcopal Church has been involved in issues relating to Israel and Palestine through its Social Responsibility in Investments (SRI) committee, the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN), and the Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns (AIPJC), the standing commission which proposed the resolutions.

Episcopal Church support of the "rightful existence" of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine as two nations is reaffirmed in Resolution A011. The legislation also calls for an end to all violence and its "crippling impact on Israeli and Palestinian societies," and the withdrawal by Israel from its settlements in the West Bank.

A five-point resolution, A012 advocates for: an end to the isolation of East Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the West Bank; removal of the Wall; assurance of human rights for Palestinians; support for the return of sovereign control of Gaza to the Palestinian people; and assurance that no U.S. tax dollars will be used to finance the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian territories.

"The needs of Israel only are being addressed in many of the policies being laid out at this moment," said Mary Miller, an AIPJC member who spoke in favor of the resolutions. "When the settlements were given up last year in the Gaza strip, Israel still maintained control. It is hard to see Gaza as free."

Speaking of resolution A013, which asks for the consideration of investments that would support an economically viable Palestine, Miller said: "I know that you're aware of the turmoil concerning divestment in Israel. We felt that the big push ought to be investment that would make an economically viable Palestine, particularly since the flow of aid [has] slowed and stopped."

Targeting investment is vital to helping Palestinians create a viable state "which allows them to work with dignity as children as God," she added. "This is not happening right now."

Kim Byham, Executive Council member from the Diocese of Newark, commended the report from the SRI committee which calls for recommending "corporate engagement" and "positive investment" practices when dealing with companies in which the Episcopal Church owns assets and/or shares, particularly those who profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The Executive Council affirmed the SRI report on October 8, 2005, in a resolution that fits into the Episcopal Church's long-standing policy of supporting a two-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Sister Ruth Lautt, OP, Saint Dominic of Amityville, New York, national director for Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, said that the resolutions "are unbalanced and reflective of an unwholesome obsession with the alleged misdeeds of the State of Israel."

She noted that Palestinian terrorism and suicide bombing are not mentioned in the resolutions, which also "fail to recognize the right of the State of Israel."

Resolution A012 makes demands on Israel, but not Palestine, said Miller, who offered alternative wording to the committee.

The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, director of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral, acknowledged that the Episcopal Church has taken the lead on Israel/Palestine issues, but raised concern about language used in the resolutions. "Simply referring to the Wall and the Occupation without further clarification is not helpful," he said. "I think the Wall needs to be defined in its absolute tragedy."

The Wall, built by the Israelis to heighten security but believed by Palestinians to be a human rights violation and an intentional appropriation of land, stands more than 25 feet high.

Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem, one of the more than 60 international guests attending Convention, expressed gratitude for the ways in which the Episcopal Church has addressed the conflict in Israel/Palestine throughout the years.

Reiterating Peterson's concerns about clarity of language, El-Assal said, "We sometimes use vague terms but we need to be more clear when we speak of the Occupation - we need to say it is an illegal Occupation,"

The Rev. Canon Naim Ateek, director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem explained that most Palestinians are "definitely not" against the security of the state of Israel. "All as we want is to live in peace and be secure in our borders," he said. "We are against the injustice and today the focus is about ending the Occupation."

Ateek also underscored the need to use the correct language in the resolutions. "It is possible for Israel to withdraw from the settlements and continue the Occupation," he said, suggesting wording that calls for the withdrawal of Israel from all the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.

Dennis Hale, professor of political science at Boston College and a lay minister at Grace Church, Medford, Massachusetts, said that when Americans give advice to people on the other side of the world "we acquire a responsibility to understand -- there is no reference in A011 or A012 that there could have been a Palestinian state 60 years ago if it hadn't been for the Arab rejectionists."

Resolution A11 talks about the Occupation as "the cause of Palestinian suffering," he added, "but Arab leaders were trying to destroy Israel long before the Occupation began."

"Listening to the speakers, one sees very starkly how this conflict is seen through two very different lenses," explained the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of the Church Center's Peace and Justice Ministries (PJM), after the hearing.

Existing Church policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, developed over many years, have been carried forward by PJM and the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations.

"Advocacy work has included not only sharing the experiences of Palestinian sisters and brothers living under Occupation with our government, but also building bridges of understanding with the American Jewish community," Grieves continued. "A just peace means working with people of good will on both sides of the conflict, peacemakers in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities. There's no other effective way to do this work."

Given the large number of speakers, resolution B12, submitted by Bishop Edward Little of Northern Indiana, which suggests apologizing to the Jewish community "for our consistently unbalanced approach to the conflict in the Middle East," was postponed until the next committee session, the morning of June 17.