United Church Conferences actions on Palestine/Israel

Across the United Church of Canada in the months of May and June Conference Annual meetings are occurring.  At these meetings, proposals that lift up concerns about Palestine and Israel are being debated.  The recently formed United network for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI) drafted a sample proposal which some conferences modified for presentation in their own contexts.  Here is a copy of that proposal:

PROPOSAL TO ACCEPT THE KAIROS PALESTINE 2009 DOCUMENT AND TO ACT ON ITS CALL TO THE CHURCHES OF THE WORLD

Title: Accepting the Kairos Palestine 2009 document and acting on its call to the churches of the world.
 
Submitted by: From the floor of the 2012 Conference of Manitoba and Northwest Ontario
Presbytery Action:
Conference Action:
Original Source:
Financial Implications: Unknown cost of Theology and Interfaith Committee work.
Source of Funding: General Council
Staffing Implications: Utilizes existing staff.
   
   
WHEREAS The General Council of The United Church of Canada has previously recognized (2003, 2006, 2009) that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land conquered in the 1967 War is illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention; and
 
WHEREAS Section 1 of the Kairos Palestine 2009 document describes the Palestinian reality as one of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and of deprivation of Palestinians’ freedoms, including the separation wall, the ravishing of the land by Israeli settlements, and the restriction of movement for Palestinians; and
 
WHEREAS Our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine have called on us, through the Palestine Kairos 2009 document, to respond to their situation; and
 
WHEREAS The leaders of all Christian denominations in Palestine have endorsed the approach of the Palestine Kairos 2009document to a just and peaceful settlement to the Israel/Palestine dispute; and
 
WHEREAS It is the established policy of The United Church of Canada to be guided by our Christian partners as we carry out our mission in their homelands,
 
THEREFORE we propose to the 2012 Annual Rise of The Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario that the 41st General Council (2012) accept the Kairos Palestine 2009 document with gratitude for its affirmation of Christian faith, hope, and love; and with respect for the theological foundation of its presentation; and on the basis of its acceptance of the document, adopt these policies:
   
  The United Church of Canada:
   
 
  • Repents of its past indifference to the continued plight of Palestinians living in land occupied by Israel, and of its complicity in accepting the continued occupation of Palestinian land;
  • Calls on all Christians to set aside theological positions that support unjust political positions in regard to the Palestinian people;
  • Tasks the Theology and Interfaith Committee to engage with the rest of the Church to develop theological positions in which “justice with love” is the standard by which we measure and determine our relationships with those involved in conflict over territory and the actions we take within those relationships;
  • Encourages and enables Church members to visit Palestine to see for themselves the situation in which Christian Palestinians and all Palestinians live;
  • Condemns and opposes all forms of racism – religious or ethnic – including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia;
  • Reaffirms that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is illegal under the 4th Geneva Convention;
  • Responds to the call by our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine to engage in nonviolent actions toward ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian land through divestment and economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation; and
  • Requires all General Council units, and encourages conferences, presbyteries, congregations, and United Church members to follow this call.

The debate was respectful, and many, many people came to my display table to see maps of the region, and took copies of some Primer material on the history of conflict between Palestine and Israel, and also to get prayer suggestions and other material for the ‘Week of Prayer for Peace in Israel and Palestine”.

The Conference was very gracious and made me a corresponding member of the court so that I could offer clarification of the proposal and answer questions about The Kairos Palestine document that may have arisen during the debate.

Here is the statement I offered in speaking to the motion just prior to the discussion before the question:

Rabbi Hillel, in the first Century BCE said:  “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows.  that is the law and the prophets: All the rest is commentary.”


Madame Chair, Sisters and Brothers, I think it would be most helpful to you, the court, to talk  about the intention of The Kairos Palestine Document and the nature of the call to us in the world Christian community.  To try to encapsulate the entire historical context is challenging at best, and in the time I have available would grossly oversimplify the situation to a disrespectful degree.

The primary stance to be upheld is a call to stand with those who are oppressed, and to uphold universal standards of human rights and International Humanitarian Law. There is a clear need for the Israeli occupation of The West Bank and The Gaza Strip to be ended.  Military occupation is never to be viewed as a permanent situation.  It is to be temporary and there are international standards and obligation that fall to the occupying force.  United Nations reports, observers from both Israeli and Palestinian and international Human Rights organizations  (such as EAPPI) document Israeli army abuses of Palestinians’ human rights, and these abuses are increasing and intensifying in recent months.  Checkpoints, roadblocks, home destructions, control of access to water, lack of access to  medical services, crop destruction, prevention of family reunification, destruction of electrical infrastructure and water sources, are all daily occurrences for Palestinians. Violence and intimidation by Israeli settlers occurs frequently to Palestinians, and the army does little to offer protection to them.

While the Geneva Conventions uphold the right of a people under occupation to resist the occupying forces, the Kairos Palestine document denounces the use of any violent means and instead advocates for non-violent protest and resistance “with the logic of love”.  The writers of the Kairos Palestine document state that the military occupation distorts the image of God in both peoples , by creating hatred, and anger, and preventing the peoples from being able to know one another.  Other voices from the region would echo this claim, such as Rabbis for Human Rights. Former Israeli soldiers who comprise ‘Breaking the Silence’, say that enforcing this inhumane occupation is costly to Israelis themselves in terms of exposure to trauma and the inhumanity of  controlling and humiliating Palestinians.


Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, that when one remains neutral in the face of injustice, one is choosing the side of the oppressor.  Our Christian Brothers and Sisters are telling us that inaction is no longer an option.  If the Israeli government, in the face of widespread international condemnation continues to build illegal settlements, transferring their population onto occupied land, creating nature preserves and industrial zones in former Palestinian villages, there soon will be no  viability of a Palestinian state at all.


Yesterday, we heard Cheri Di Novo state, “if we stand with the marginalized, we can trust that what is meant to happen will happen”.  I encourage you today to ‘Stand in hope’! Do not be afraid.  To oppose Israeli Government policy is not being anti-Semitic.  The call of the Kairos Palestine document is to create the conditions of dignity and safety so that true, good faith negotiations for self-determination and security can be established for both peoples.

Please vote in favor of this proposal which is before you today. 

I am delighted to say that this motion passed, with a significant majority. There were a sizable number of abstentions.

I understand that Montreal-Ottawa Conference passed a proposal similar to this one; Hamilton conference had healthy debate and passed three proposals on Israel Palestine, all from Halton Presbytery.  First calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions for ALL settlement products (not products produced in Israel).  Passed with concurrence.

Second one, removing the word “Jewish State” from our 2003 word.  Debated.  Had to have scrutineers count, passed without concurrence. (This goes to the discussion of the nature of a democracy with respect for all citizens equally, regardless of religious orientation, as there are Christians, Druse, Muslim and others who are citizens of Israel.)  Third one, affirming and adopting the Kairos Palestine  document, passed without concurrence.  Not sure why (wasn’t clear).

Overall, not bad, a good debate.

Kairos Palestine Document  was written in 2009 as a call to the world community to hear the voices of Palestinian Christians, and was written by representatives of the Christian churches and endorsed by The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem

This weekend as well, BC Conference debated similar matters and came to the following decisions:

BC passed the resolution about modifying our recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.  Defeated a general boycott resolution.  And passed a boycott resolution focussed on items from the settlements.  And passed the proposal about expanding dialogue with other Jewish groups and Muslim groups.  Three of these motions are on the BC Conference website – the fourth was written at Conference.  Good respectul debate.  The wording of these motions can be found at the BC Conference Website.

The Middle East Working Group which was commission by General Council 40 released its report for previewing on the United Church Website on May 1st. http://www.gc41.ca/sites/default/files/israel-palestine-report.pdf

It has not yet been debated as it is to be presented to General Council 41 in Ottawa in August, and is not policy of the Church until this occurs and is debated and adopted.  It is gratifying that so many of the conclusions and the recommendations parallel the content of the UNJPPI Proposals.   As Commissioners discuss the report, they will also be aware of the mood of the church as input from each of the conferences will also be reaching the floor of the council meeting.

I a scan of Haaretz, Ma’an and a press release from Operation Dove (An Italian religious NGO in The South Hebron Hills) the past few days have seen crop destruction, home demolition and continuing harrassment of Palestinians in the areas nearby the Suseya settlement in South Hebron Hills, where I served as an EA nearly nine months ago.  Harvested barley for sheep fodder was burned where it lay overnight.

Israeli peace activists for The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition are calling for additional support for their work as they are so overstretched in their advocacy work.  Peace Now continues their educational campaigns to stop settlement expansion, while supporting the clear need for security and safety of the State of Israel.  Women in Black hold their weekly vigils in West Jerusalem; Ta’ayush visits Palestinian communities facing hardships in the West Bank.  ‘New Profile’ works to support young conscientious objectors in Israel, Jewish youth who, on grounds of conscience, refuse to serve in the military due to the occupation (or other moral reasons).

There is a strong presence in Israel of an activist community of Jews who support the establishment of a Palestinian State, and who work for an end to the military occupation of The West Bank and Gaza by Israel.  Their voices also need to be supported and uplifted.  They face hostility and alienation (and in some cases death threats) in their own country for holding views that encourage dialogue and peaceful encounter with their Palestinian neighbours.  I pray for their courage and their sustained strength and vision.

The United Church of Canada because of its support for The Kairos Palestine Document, its engagement with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel, and by accepting the recommendations of the Middle East Working Group will surely be on the receiving end of criticism and will be labelled ‘anti-Semitic’.  This has indeed already begun (National Post, etc.).  To criticize Israeli state policy and military practice is not the same as to hate ‘Jews’; just as to critique Canada’s policies around purchasing fighter jets is not the same as to hate ‘Christians’; we ought not to allow these things to be conflated out of a fear of labelling.

It is my prayer that we stand firm, that we, with the ‘logic of love’ spoken so eloquently by the writers of The Kairos Palestine Document, uphold a vision of the peace of Christ, and the inclusive, loving, accepting community of justice that is called for through the Living Word.

May the God of Hope and Peace be honoured by the way God’s children celebrate one another, and protect the diversity of the human family and the beauty of creation.

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About canadianne

Recently returned from 3 months of Human Rights and Peace accompaniment in Israel and Palestine with the WCC program EAPPI. Married for 30 ys. to Jim; mother of three daughters; therapist; gardener; singer, activist.
This entry was posted in EAPPI, peace in Israel, peace in the West Bank, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to United Church Conferences actions on Palestine/Israel

  1. Chris Love says:

    I commend your courageous stand, Dianne, and I applaud the outcome you have helped create. I share the belief that the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation is too often ignored. Supporting the basic rights and humanity of all people, not just our historical allies and favored causes, is not only just but a moral obligation, to be advocated through non-violent means as you have done.

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