This posting has these items:
1) NCCOP: From Palestinian Christians to World Council of Churches, letter to the WCC;
2) WCC: Christian organizations in Palestine release open letter, a mild suggestion people might like to read the letter from NCCOP;
3) BoD: Reject bigotry and invest in peace, Ms.van der Zyl on bounteous Balfour and Britain and pathetic Palestinians;
4) Methodist Recorder: First batch of letters, starting with Rev. Warren Bardsley, posted by Kairos Britain;
5) Marie van der Zyl: Should have done her homework,is this the best the BoD can do?;
6) Rev. Bruce Thompson: calling Balfour a “twisted theological premise” is ‘a denial of the right of Israel to exist’. The Rev is ‘Chair of Methodist Friends of Judaism’.
7) Dr Stephen Leah: Some facts about the NCCOP’s letter;
8 – Methodist Recorder: Rev. Warren Bardsley leads off in an extended space for letters;
9) Rev. Peter Barber: Her letter, its tone, its inaccuracy, its false presentation of the Methodist Conference and the disparaging….;
10) Diana Neslen: Ms Van Zyl’s attempts to mislead;
11) John Summerwill: Facts about Israel, a secular state with a Jewish majority;
12) Deborah Maccoby: On behalf of the Executive, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, back to Balfour ;
Open letter from The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement
June 21, 2017
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. (Isa. 1:17)
As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration, intensified through the Nakba and the influx of refugees, followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation of land, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall.
We are still suffering because of one political declaration from a Western Empire, based on a twisted theological premise. Even some churches and few Christian leaders supported the establishment of the colonial state in our land, and totally ignored – even dehumanized – the nation, our people that had already existed here for centuries and paid the price for atrocities committed in Europe.
Hundred years later with thousands of lives lost, towns and villages razed from the face of the earth – though not our memory –, millions of refugees, thousands of homes demolished and continued incarceration of prisoners, our Nakba goes on.
Hundred years later and there is still no justice in our land! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule. Today, we stand in front of an impasse and we have reached a deadlock. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality. Humanly speaking – we have reached the “moment of impossible”, as Emeritus Latin Patriarch Sabbah said recently.
Could it be that we have reached this “impossible moment” because things were built from the very beginning – a hundred years ago – on an unjust premise? Should we expect that such an unjust declaration will create anything but strife and destruction?
Today is also an opportunity to remember the Amman Call* which was proclaimed ten years ago. We are thankful to those who stood with us back then in costly solidarity; those who stood for truth and justice. We are also concerned that ten years later the situation has been worsening on on the ground and still deteriorating. Like other initiatives advocating end of occupation, the Amman Call did not achieve its goals in building and achieving just peace and we must ask ourselves today – why?
We are also concerned by Israel’s systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance, and on our partners worldwide who use this method to pressure Israel to end the occupation. Many new laws were issued in Israel and around the world to oppose this creative non-violent resistance unlawfully, and to stop all effort towards peace. Not only is this an attack on the freedom of conscience and speech but it is also an assault on our right and duty to resist evil with good. Israel is even now trying to prevent pilgrims from visiting Bethlehem – the city of Emmanuel!
While we are grateful for the ‘costly solidarity’ articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last ten years as a result of this manipulating pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their religious dialogue partners.
Finally, we meet in an environment of religious wars and persecution in our region. Religious extremism is on the rise, and religious minorities have paid a heavy and painful price. We thank you for your efforts towards the refugees and towards ending the conflicts in our region. We also thank you for your support of persecuted Christians in places like Iraq and Syria.
“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Justice), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”. (Matthew 5:10-11)
As we stand in front of this “impossible moment”, it gives us no pleasure to say that “we told you so” eight years ago when we declared the moment as a Kairos moment! We stand facing the impossible, but we have not lost hope, since as followers of the Risen One, we are the people of hope. However, we need you and we need you now more than ever. We need your costly solidarity. We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians. We urge you to hear our call and adopt the following:
That you call things as they are: recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and in agreement of what a person like Desmond Tutu said and as the UN ESCWA report said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people”. We are disturbed by the fact that States and churches are dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination and daily death in the land. Just as churches united to end apartheid in South Africa and whereby the WCC played a courageous and pivotal prophetic and leadership role, we expect you to do the same!
That you unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust, and that you demand from the UK that it asks forgiveness from the Palestinian people and compensates for the losses. We ask that churches and Christians to support the Palestinians in their request for justice. It was his infamous declaration, after all that laid the ground for the concept of an ethno-religious state – the very same thing our region is suffering today.
That you take a clear and the strongest theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant. We ask that you adopt and live the theology suggested by Kairos Palestine and that you organize conferences to bring awareness towards this end.
That you take a stand against religious extremism and against any attempt to create a religious state in our land or region. We ask that you support us in combating the foundations of extremism and that you seek our council when acting against religious extremism so that you do not jeopardize and harm our standing here.
That you revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed – if the occupation and injustices in Palestine and Israel are not challenged.
That you lead campaigns for church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities on this side of the wall in cooperation with Palestinian tourist and pilgrimage agencies, in response to recent attempts by Israel. We ask that you publicly challenge any attempt by Israel or other Christians that discourage pilgrims from visiting Palestinian places.
That you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and nonviolently. We ask that you speak in support of economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation and go further to support sport, cultural and academic measures against Israel until it complies with international law and UN resolutions urging the ending of its
occupation, Apartheid and discriminations, and accepts refugees to return to their home land and properties.
This is our last peaceful resort. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, we ask that you intensify [such] measures.
That you create lobby groups in defence of Palestinian Christians. We ask that you publicly and legally to challenge Christian organizations that discredit our work and legitimacy.
We therefore propose as a matter of the greatest urgency that you create a strategic programme within WCC similar to the Programme “To Combat Racism”, to lead efforts to lobby, advocate and develop active programmes towards justice and peace in Palestine and Israel and work on maintaining the presence of the Palestinian Christians through supporting their organizations, church work and peaceful efforts.
As faithful witnesses, we acknowledge, affirm and continue the long standing prophetic tradition, especially the one started by the Amman Call and articulated in the Kairos Palestine document. We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call.
Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land. Our only hope as Christians comes from the fact that in Jerusalem, the city of God, and our city, there is an empty tomb, and Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and sin, brought to us and to all humanity, new life.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)
At an International Peace Consultation on 20 June, the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine issued on open letter to the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the ecumenical movement, stating, “There is still no justice in our land.”
June 21, 2017
In today’s Palestine, discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule, the letter states: “Today, we stand in front of an impasse and we have reached a deadlock. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.”
The coalition expressed its concern with Israel’s “systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance,” and with the fact that religious extremism is on the rise, with religious minorities paying a heavy price.
The letter also thanks churches for their efforts toward refugees and toward ending the conflicts in the region. “We also thank you for your support of persecuted Christians in places like Iraq and Syria,” states the letter.
Christians in Palestine need the ecumenical movement more than ever, the letter reflects. “We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians.”
The letter urges churches to recognize Israel as an apartheid state; condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust; take a clear theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant; stand against religious extremism; revisit and challenge religious dialogue partners; lead campaigns for church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities; defend the right of Palestinian Christians to resist the occupation creatively and nonviolently; create lobby groups in defense of Palestinian Christians; and create a strategic program within the WCC to lobby, advocate and develop active programs towards justice and peace in Palestine and Israel.
The letter expressed the urgent situation of the people in Palestine: “We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse,” the letter states. “This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.”
The WCC leadership will bring the letter to the next meeting of its Executive Committee in November in Amman, Jordan. The WCC also invited its members churches and partners worldwide to read and share the letter as a local voice from today’s Palestine.
[This document led to much discussion which has not been included here]
BoD blog: As Methodist Conference convenes, a number of motions related to the Balfour Declaration are due to be debated. Marie van der Zyl reflects on the importance of the centenary of Balfour for the Jewish community
June 27, 2017
There has been a huge public outcry over recent years about the terrible plight of refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe. The Jewish community has joined with Christians and others in calling for our government to provide more assistance to those fleeing conflict and persecution, particularly unaccompanied children. At the same time, we have also been remembering a period, 100 years ago when there was different influx to Western Europe.
The Jews of Tsarist Russia began fleeing westwards towards the end of the 19th century in response to pogroms and persecution in the lands where they had lived for hundreds of years. Many of these refugees became adherents of a new political movement called Zionism which had as its goal a Jewish homeland – a place where Jews, like other peoples, would be able to exercise their right to self-determination, without the fear of brutal racist attacks and casual discrimination.
Zionism was conceived as nothing more nor less than the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, exercising their long held desire – repeated every year at the Passover dinner – to spend “next year in Jerusalem”. Through the latter years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, Jews began to settle in biblical Palestine, purchasing land to set up collective farms, known as kibbutzim, adding numbers to a Jewish community, which had been ever present in the region.
In 1917, Palestine was an outpost of the Ottoman Empire. British troops stood on the threshold of defeating the Turks and marching into Jerusalem and the newly founded Jewish city of Tel Aviv. It was in the context of the humanitarian crisis facing the Jews of Europe, that Lord Balfour issued his famous declaration that his government “views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
At the time of the Balfour Declaration, there was no state of Palestine, and the crumbling remains of the Ottoman Empire seemed a reasonable place to make this new nation. Indeed the Church acknowledges “the long association of the Jewish people with the region of the Holy Land and the aspiration of many for return”.
Lord Balfour’s belief that the Jews needed a safe haven from persecution proved prophetic. Within 30 years a third of the world’s Jews had been slaughtered in the Holocaust. Indeed, had the state of Israel been established 20 years before, a large number of those who died may have been saved. Since then, Jews have fled from persecution in Arab lands, from Ethiopia and the Soviet Union to safety in their own country. When others may have been reluctant to take them in, Israel gave refuge to those who had been abused and threatened in the countries of their birth. One shudders to imagine what may have happened to this tide of the dispossessed had they not been able to travel to a country which could take them in and offer them food and shelter.
In 1947, United Nations agreed that the Jews should have a state in a portion of the land which made up Ottoman Palestine (a territory which was originally made up of latter day Israel/Palestinian Territories and Jordan). The Jews who had settled peacefully in in Palestine during the period of British rule following the First World War were to be allowed live in their own state alongside a larger Palestinian Arab nation, in a way envisaged by Balfour. The Jews accepted the UN’s Partition Plan but the surrounding Arab countries declared war on the nascent state. Conflict has been raging in the region ever since.
The Balfour Declaration was a deeply humanitarian act by a government which recognised the suffering of the Jewish people and took responsibility for acting to alleviate this distress. It has led to the foundation of a Jewish national home which has not only saved lives but become a vibrant liberal democracy – the only one in the region – which gives all of its citizens equal rights be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Lord Balfour’s prescience and compassion is to be congratulated. Nonetheless, while we celebrate this legacy, the Jewish community in Britain still yearns for peace, with a secure Israel, living alongside a viable Palestinian state.
For that reason, it is with great sadness that we note the recent open letter from The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine. This letter denies Israel’s right to exist, denies Jewish self-understanding regarding covenant, and calls for Christians to withdraw from dialogue with Jews. Were its proposals to be adopted by churches worldwide, it would cause a dangerous rupture in relations between Christians and Jews, and threaten the great progress which has been made through decades of dialogue.
Indeed, as of 2017, the Board of Deputies of British Jews is proud to be working with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland on a groundbreaking project called Invest in Peace.
This initiative links local churches and synagogues, whose communities come together to host Israeli and Palestinian speakers from peacebuilding organisations. The first such series of events took place in London in May 2017 involving Methodist and United Reformed churches, and Reform and Orthodox synagogues, who hosted the Parents Circle – Families Forum and raised money to support them.
United, these places of worship sent a message out loud and clear that British Jews and Christians are determined to export peace, rather than import conflict. As we reflect on the centenary of the Balfour declaration, we invite churches to reject the NCCOP’s dangerous and bigoted proposals, and join with us instead to invest in the peaceful future we all with to see in the holy land.
Marie van der Zyl is Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
World Council of Churches
20 June 2007
Issued at WCC International Peace Conference “Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East”
Amman, Jordan, 18-20 June 2007
Letters published in the Methodist Recorder
Posted by Kairos Britain
Rev. Warren Bardsley
August 4, 2017
VOICE OF PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS
At the Birmingham Conference Dr Stephen Leah brought a Notice of Motion commending [note: the motion did not commend the letter; it only proposed reading it] the recent letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) regarding the present desperate plight of the Palestinian people. The debate had hardly started when a resolution that ‘the motion be not put’ was carried.
However, prior to this vote a member of the Connexional Team stated that the letter “denies the right of Israel to exist”, a statement which was not contradicted and is plainly untrue. Having read the letter carefully I can find no place where this serious allegation is made. Either the speaker had misunderstood the letter, or was simply quoting verbatim from a document issued by the Board of Jewish Deputies circulating at Conference. (Both the letter and the document were available to Conference members).
The letter is addressed to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement, therefore by implication to the British churches. If the Kairos Palestine document (2009) was a cry from the heart of Palestinian suffering, this letter is an equally intense cry, from a situation described by Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michael Sabbah as “this impossible moment, which is beyond urgent”. That is the context and nature of the letter, signed by no less than 30 Palestinian Christian organisations.
The paragraph which was presumably the source of the allegation says: “we need to stand against religious extremism and any attempt to create a religious state in our land or region”. The context makes it clear that this is a reference to the Occupation of Palestinian land by economic and ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers.
There are now half a million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in some one hundred and fifty settlements, built largely on land set aside by the UN for the creation of a Palestinian state 70 years ago. This contravenes the 4th Geneva Convention, which states clearly that “the Occupying Power shall not transfer any part of its population into the territory of the Occupied”. So is not this Israel denying the Palestinian people the right to exist in a state of their own and doing so illegally?
It is noteworthy that there is no reference in the BoD statement to the 50-year long Occupation or to the word justice. The NCCOP letter says: “we are disturbed by the fact that States and Churches are dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal – ignoring the reality of Occupation. As churches united to end apartheid in South Africa the WCC played a pivotal, prophetic and leadership role and we call on you now to do the same….we ask you to defend our right to resist the Occupation creatively and non-violently….that you speak in support of economic measures to end the Occupation”.
There is much more in this epistle which deserves to be read, studied and acted on even by local circuits and congregations. At this critical moment it is imperative that we listen more carefully to the voices of our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers; to what they say from the heart of their struggle for justice – and less to those who “cry peace, peace, when there is no peace”(Jeremiah 6:14)
August 18, 2017
INVESTING IN PEACE TOGETHER
In recent weeks, some correspondents in the Methodist Recorder have sought to defend an “open letter” which sets back the prospects for Middle East peace and rejects the value of inter-faith relations.
The letter, from the misleadingly titled “National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP)” – a body which only came into existence for the letter and encompasses none of the major Palestinian denominations on an official level – denies Israel’s right to exist and calls on Christians to
withdraw from dialogue with Jews.
The letter calls for the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination in our biblical homeland. But in its invective against Israel, it is strangely silent about the fact that Hamas, a terrorist organisation which targets Israeli civilians with suicide bombs, car-rammings and knife attacks like the attacks in London and Manchester, is seeking to establish an Islamist-controlled state across all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.
We can only begin to imagine the results of this for Christians and other minorities, already beleaguered in so many of the surrounding countries, when by contrast Israel is the only country in the region with a growing Christian population.
Meanwhile, rather than seeking peace, the NCCOP letter actually calls for more division between communities, asking that Christians “revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed” – a highly irresponsible call in favour of a rupture in relations between Christians and Jews. This is an astounding suggestion for anyone to make in the decades of Christian-Jewish reconciliation that began after the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust.
It is no surprise then that at this year’s Methodist Conference, a notice of motion commending the open letter was rejected out of hand. We can do far better than entrenching division, by working together for peace instead. As of this year, based on a resolution at the 2014 Methodist Conference, the Board of Deputies of British Jews is proud to be working with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland on a ground-breaking project called “Invest in Peace”. The project brings to the UK Palestinian and Israeli peace activists, inviting them to share their stories with audiences comprising Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as people of no faith.
The first such series of events took place in London in May involving Methodist and United Reformed churches and Reform and Orthodox synagogues. Unlike the armchair advocates from whom we hear so often, the speakers told people about the losses they had personally suffered, but how this is not a cause for division. It is a cause for unity and the urgent pursuit of a lasting peace.
Together, these places of worship sent a message out loud and clear that British Jews and Christians will not be divided. We reject the NCCOP’s call to import conflict and will strive to export peace instead.
Rev. Bruce Thompson, Chair of Methodist Friends of Judaism:
August 25, 2017
THIS IS A ‘TROUBLING’ DOCUMENT
The Rev. Warren Bardsley’s letter (Recorder, August 4) regarding the notice of motion brought to the Conference by Dr Stephen Leah “commending the recent letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP)” is extraordinary. He is correct is writing that a member of the Connexional Team stated in the debate that the letter “denies the right of Israel to exist”, which it does, yet Mr Bardsley claims this “is plainly untrue”.
Mr Bardsley says that he has read the letter “carefully”. Let me remind him of a few things the NCCOP letter said. “We are still suffering because of one political declaration from a Western Empire, based on a twisted theological premise”. The declaration referred to is the Balfour Declaration, which has been debated through previous letters on this page. The term “twisted theological premise” is not only a denial of the right of Israel to exist; it also debunks the prophets on which that theological view was formed; it even questions the Jewish understanding of covenant. Let us be clear, the same prophets that foretold the return of Jews to the land are the very same ones that we in the Christian Church draw on to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah; are we to now think of those prophecies as twisted too?
Let us take a look at a few more sentences contained in the NCCOP letter: “That you revisit and challenge your dialogue partners and that you are even willing to withdraw from the partnership if needed”. Should we really be supportive of ending dialogue? Is refusing to talk a way to peace? A dangerous path indeed.
Again: “We ask that you publicly and legally challenge Christian organisations that discredit our work and legitimacy”. Who is to decide which Christian organisations are to be castigated? And for what exactly? Perhaps we might also take action against those Methodists that belong to organisations whose officers circulate deeply offensive material.
The NCCOP letter requests that we embrace the boycott of Israel, something that the Methodist Church rejected after a protracted year-long consultation that cost the Church in excess of £100,000. What a shocking waste of money in a cash-strapped Church. The letter completely ignores the rise of Islamism that is, of course, a major threat to everyone in the region but the Islamists themselves.
There are many other aspects of the NCCOP letter that are troubling; for the sake of brevity, I will refer to just one more: “That you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and non-violently”. On first reading, that sounds very worthy; but note the insertion of the word “and”. What does it mean to resist both creatively and non-violently? Isn’t “non-violently” sufficient? What does “creatively” mean when it is an addition to “non-violently”? I know that some would find this very helpful in their justification of Palestinian terrorism.
I vividly recall someone, now a senior Church leader, claim that the victims of a Tel Aviv café suicide bomber were “legitimate targets” because if they weren’t serving members of the Israeli Defence Force, then they have been in the past or would be in the future.
In my opinion, the NCCOP letter falls foul of the International Definition of Antisemitism and indeed the definition adopted by the Methodist Church too. Simply because it is produced by “Christian organisations” doesn’t make it acceptable.
Instead of falling for propaganda in this tragic conflict, in which so many are hurting, it would be far better not to take sides. We are informed “this is the voice of the Palestinian people”. It isn’t. It is the voice of a certain section within the Palestinian community and a small one at that.
I will share another Palestinian voice, that of a senior Church leader with whom we are in partnership: “It breaks my heart to see Churches in conflict over Israel/Palestine. Churches need to remember that Israel/Palestine is only one of many problems in the world”.
“Rather than motions and lobbying, look for more positive responses to the situation. If you have come here to be biased, you are not welcome here”.
‘GENUINE DIALOGUE’ IS NEEDED
It is sad when correspondents so overstate their views as to misrepresent other people and the facts. Such is the letter of the Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl (Recorder, August 18).
In attacking the Open Letter of the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches (WCC), she alleges that the organisation only formed recently to write the letter. Actually, the NCCOP has been active for several years. It has close links to the Joint Advocacy Initiative in Jerusalem, as well as the WCC, and is representative of all the major denominations.
Contrary to what the Board of Deputies claim, nowhere does the letter deny Israel’s right to exist or self-determination for Jews. Nor does it call on Christians to withdraw from dialogue with Jews. Rather, the letter is a cry for help from a people who have been living under a military occupation for 50 years and who are commemorating the anniversary of a unilateral British decision, the Balfour Declaration, to hand their country over to others. They speak of fears for the end of their Palestinian Christian community, of their yearning for freedom and what Emeritus Latin Patriarch Sabbah has described as the current “moment of impossible”.
Marie Van der Zyl also falsely suggests that the Methodist Conference rejected a Notice of Motion to commend the letter. Wrong on two counts! Firstly, the motion was not rejected, rather it was “not put”, which means it enters the record as having been discussed without a view being formed. Secondly, the Notice of Motion did not commend the letter; rather it asked us to read and share it. I know; I was the author of the Notice of Motion! The call to read and share was simply what we are encouraged to do by the World Council of Churches.
How sad it is that the Board of Deputies seeks to prevent us even reading a WCC referred letter from our fellow believers in Palestine!
The irony of the Board’s attempt to suppress this letter is that they say they want to promote dialogue between all sides! But how do you promote dialogue by lambasting any Palestinian who dares speak out of turn?
Genuine dialogue amidst conflict only comes when there is honesty and a willingness to listen. It also refuses to ignore structural facts of the conflict, such as the military Occupation, the illegal settlement building on occupied land, theft of water, the blockade of Gaza, and much more. It includes listening to the Palestinian civil society call, supported by Desmond Tutu, for a boycott of Israel until it ends the Occupation. It includes respecting international law, such as following our Conference’s call to avoid investments in illegal Israeli settlements.
Of course, readers can form their own view. I therefore encourage all to read and consider prayerfully the open letter from the NCCOP to the World Council of Churches. It is still on the WCC website; simply Google, “NCCOP letter”.
September 08, 2017
The Methodist Recorder extended its usual two pages for letters to three pages to accommodate these five letters criticising the letters of Marie van der Zyl and the Rev. Bruce Thompson.
PEACE AND JUSTICE IN ISRAEL PALESTINE
Rev. Warren Bardsley
The Rev. Bruce Thompson’s reply to my letter of Aug 4th is a classic case of taking a text out of its context. Without repeating what I said in that letter, I simply want to underline the point that the letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches is not fundamentally about the right of the state of Israel to exist; it is about questioning the right of Israel to deny to its Palestinian citizens the freedoms it claims for itself, amounting to a basic denial of its own Declaration of Independence in 1948: “it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, conscience, education or culture”.
It’s about questioning the right of Israel to initiate and perpetuate a 50 year-long colonial Occupation, in defiance of international humanitarian law, which in scope and intensity becomes increasingly unjust and demoralising, thereby denying statehood to the Palestinian people. It’s about the right of the victims of this Occupation to resist with the tools of creative non-violence, the principles of which are described clearly in the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5. This creative non-violence has been practised in our own time by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, the Christian Institute of Southern Africa and, in the present context, includes the strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
If the tone of the letter’s language is desperate, it is because the situation is ‘beyond urgent’. Dialogue matters, but here is a sober recognition that, through all the years of talking, the situation has steadily worsened. No-one appears to be listening. The letter calls for honesty and focussed action towards a lasting peace built on justice.
Ironically, Mr Thompson invokes the Old Testament prophets in the context of covenant; it was the 8th century prophets, notably Amos, first Isaiah and Micah, who insisted that to practice injustice against the poor and dispossessed is to violate the covenant and incur judgement from the God whose gracious promises extend to all people. In Biblical terms, if there is bias in God it is towards restorative justice.
Finally, though neither Mr Thompson nor myself would be able to quote exact figures, his dismissive comment that “this is not the voice of the Palestinian people, but a section of the Palestinian community and a small one at that” is hard to justify. The Kairos document was supported by all the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and its signatories were in the main acknowledged Church leaders. As far as the Christian community is concerned, among the 30-odd signatories to the NCCOP letter are some of the most highly respected Church-based organisations in Palestine/Israel, including Sabeel, the Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem Bible College, Wi’am and Kairos Palestine.
Incidentally, does Mr Thompson know of any Palestinian organisation which supports the Occupation? As for the wider Palestinian community , I wonder what the five million plus Palestinian refugees still living in camps within or on the borders of historic Palestine — including the hell that is Gaza — would have to say? It is not without significance that over 130 Palestinian organisations have declared support for the burgeoning BDS movement.
I continue to maintain that this is a document which, together with “A moment of Truth” (the Kairos Palestine Document), deserves to be read and studied by any church group wanting to engage in meaningful dialogue with the present struggle for a just peace in Palestine/Israel.
It was with great sadness and a sense of despair that I read the letter from the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl (Recorder, August 18). Sadly, the letter, its tone, its inaccuracy, its false presentation of the Methodist Conference and the disparaging characterisation of those who support the United Nations resolutions and the Palestinian people as “armchair advocates” only serves to create further injustice and division while purporting to work for peace.
The National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) letter does not, as Marie van der Zyl claims, deny Israel’s right to exist and neither does the Amman Call of 2007, referred to in the NCCOP open letter. The claim made for Christians to withdraw from dialogue appears to have been deliberately taken out of context to make it say what it doesn’t say.
If we are truly to invest in peace, then the perpetuation of injustice and violence, from wherever it comes, needs to be challenged and confronted – that I would suggest is a Gospel imperative.
The NCCOP Open Letter, the Amman Call and the Kairos Palestine document all specifically call for non-violent action to challenge the injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people. The call to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a powerful non-violent tool that seeks to put pressure on the Israeli Government to engage in seeking a just and permanent solution and comply by the United Nations resolutions. Regrettably it is the letter from the vice-president of the Board of Deputies that imports and perpetuates conflict and division and denies the longed-for justice and peace.
I shall continue to pray and work for peace, including the use of non-violent direct action, for my Christian, Jewish and Muslims sisters and brothers in Palestine-Israel and elsewhere in our deeply troubled world.
It was with a degree of dismay that I read the letter from the Board of Deputies to the Methodist Recorder. Since the Board presumes to speak for all Jews, I feel duty bound as a Jew, to dissent.
I have read the letter from NCOOP and find it deeply moving and indeed distressing in the itemisation it gives of long term oppression and discrimination against the indigenous Christians in Palestine, whose position under Israeli occupation is nothing short of catastrophic.
In view of the nature of the oppression they suffer, their demands seem eminently reasonable. They ask only that the reality of Israel as an apartheid state is recognised, a reality that I who grew up in apartheid South Africa, can vouch for, that the Balfour declaration be condemned, and that a clear theological stand be taken against groups who justify the occupation and privileges granted to one people over the other based on ethnicity and covenant.
Ms Van Zyl’s misleading response seems to show that she and the Board have no answer to the charge. So since the Board cannot defend Israel’s actions, it falls back on distraction and on nationalistic demands, namely Jewish self-determination.
Many Jews regard ourselves not as privileged Middle Easterners but as citizens of the country in which we live. And believe that we should not be privileged at the expense of the indigenous people of the land of Israel/Palestine. The Israeli defence mirrors that of white South Africa and when Ms Van Zyl talks about denying Israel’s existence, she really means denying Israel the right to privilege international Jewry against the indigenous residents of the territory.
The fact that there is a growing Christian population in Israel is something of a diversion. There is a simple reason for this growth, namely the Christians who emigrated from Russia, people with no ties to the land, but accepted because of their European heritage. Most found some vague Jewish connection and that was enough for the state. Like South Africa, Israel is keen on European migration.
The mind-set that can dismiss the indigenous Palestinians without addressing their concerns is embedded in the Board’s letter. It should be noted that Ms van der Zyl does not once mention the belligerent occupation or the right of indigenous Palestinians to self-determination. The absence of any scrap of concern for the oppressed tells us more than her whole letter about the world view of the Board and its servants.
The Board suggests that “dialogue” between Christians and Jews is the answer. Dialogue which is conditional on supporting ethnic privilege is not worth the investment. And it certainly will not lead to any sort of “peace”, predicated as it is on injustice and oppression. Until the Board and its servants stop acting as advocates for Israel, dialogue will lead nowhere.
It is time for the Christian churches to respond with courage and commitment to the trauma of the Palestinian Christians and to dismiss the special pleadings of those with the power to change the situation but who refuse to countenance equality and justice to those over whom Israel holds dominion.
There is much “fake news” in the letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews (Recorder , August 18). Writing about the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine, Marie van der Zyl says that it came into existence only to publish the Open Letter it recently sent to the World Council of Churches and “encompasses none of the major Palestinian denominations at an official level”. In fact, as a Google search shows, it has been around for at least three years and the letter is endorsed by the Kairos Palestine movement, which is supported by the Latin Archbishop and Orthodox Patriarchs.
Implying that the letter does not represent Palestinian Christian views is a deliberate distraction from the substance of the letter – its hard-hitting criticism of Israel’s continued illegal and oppressive occupation of Palestinian lands.
It is unfair to claim that the letter “calls for Christians to withdraw from dialogue with Jews” without setting this in context. What the letter wants is for inter-faith dialogue to include a serious challenge to Jewish people to recognise the plight of Palestinians and for Christians to withdraw “if the occupation and injustices in Palestine and Israel are not challenged”.
Ms van der Zyl’s claim that “the letter calls for the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination in our biblical homeland” takes some teasing out. “Our biblical homeland” implies that Jews alone have a claim to it, ignoring the rights of Christians and Muslims, especially those born there. The Holy Land is their and our biblical homeland too. Israel is not, as the Board of Deputies often claims, the only Jewish state in the world; it is not a Jewish state at all, but, from its inception, a secular one with a Jewish majority and significant non-Jewish minorities.
“Armchair advocates” of a Jewish State, like the Board of Deputies, fly in the face of majority Israeli opinion, which has repeatedly opposed the efforts of right-wingers like Netanyahu to legislate for constitutional change. Liberal Israelis and secular ones, along with Israeli Arabs, would agree with the Palestinian demand “that you take a stand against religious extremism and against any attempt to create a religious state in our land and region”.
The Rev. Bruce Thompson (Recorder August 25), criticising the Rev. Warren Bardsley for defending the Open Letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches, writes: “Instead of falling for propaganda in this tragic conflict, in which so many are hurting, it would be far better not to take sides”. His letter bears out the truth of the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.
Mr Thompson takes this sentence from the NCCOP Open Letter – “We are still suffering because of one political declaration from a Western Empire, based on a twisted theological premise” — and interprets it thus:
“The term ‘twisted theological premise’ is not only a denial of the right of Israel to exist, it also debunks the prophets on which that theological view was formed; it even questions the Jewish understanding of covenant. Let us be clear, the same prophets that foretold the return of Jews to the land are the very same ones that we in the Christian Church draw on to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah”.
We would remind Mr Thompson of Lord Balfour’s words in 1919:
“In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country….Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit this ancient land”.
In saying that the Balfour Declaration was “based on a twisted theological premise”, the Open Letter simply criticises Lord Balfour’s Christian Zionist belief that a mass return of Jews to the Land of Israel was necessary in order to bring about the Second Coming of Christ. The Open Letter does not refuse to accept Israel’s existence at the present time. And it certainly does not debunk the Hebrew Prophets or question the Jewish understanding of covenant. Indeed, as many Christian Zionists believe that, after Christ’s Second Coming, Jews will either convert to Christianity or go to Hell, it is the Christian Zionist beliefs that are anti-Jewish.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Prophets interpreted the covenant to mean that Israelite/Jewish self-determination and residence in the land were conditional on actions that accorded with truth and justice. The Open Letter is simply asking that the just and legitimate rights of Palestinians — entirely dismissed by Lord Balfour and disregarded to this day by the State of Israel and its apologists — should be recognised.
Mr Thompson also brings his idiosyncratic interpretative skills to bear on the Open Letter’s request “that you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and non-violently”. He writes:
“note the insertion of the word ‘and’. What does it mean to resist both creatively and non-violently? Isn’t ‘non-violently’ sufficient? What does ‘creatively’ mean when it is an addition to ‘non-violently’? I know that some would find this very helpful in their justification of Palestinian terrorism”.
Since when has “creative” meant “violent”? Has Mr Thompson never heard of the Palestinian term “Beautiful Resistance”, which means creative cultural resistance? It seems that Mr Thompson’s own highly creative imagination has run away with him here.