The PFMEP Blog

The PFMEP Blog focuses on advancing Middle East Peace.

Thoughtful comments on blog articles can provide additional insight and stimulate productive debate. We welcome comments from a diverse group of contributors.
John Wimberly

Retribution or Reconciliation?

Yuval Roth had long been committed to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And then in 1993, one month after the Oslo Accord was signed, Roth’s brother was kidnapped and shot in the head by Hamas as he served along the Gaza-Israel border. Some in Gaza rejoiced at the murder. Some in Israel demanded retribution. How did Yuval respond to his brother’s death?

Yuval created an amazing non-profit, Road to Recovery, that provides transportation for Palestinians needing to go from the West Bank or Gaza border to Israeli hospitals. Employing Whatsapp technology, Roth has mobilized more than 1,200 Israelis who provide more than 10,000 trips annually from the border to hospitals. Volunteers in Gaza and the West Bank get patients to the border; volunteers in Israel get patients from the border to Israeli hospitals and back to the border.

One of the organizations using Roth’s services is Project Rozana that works with Palestinian children who need urgent care currently unavailable in Palestinian hospitals. Project Rozana works with Palestinian and Israeli doctors to get these children to Israeli hospitals. One such physician is Dr. Khadra Hasan Ali Salami, a mother of two working as a highly respected pediatric hematology oncology specialist at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. Teaming with Palestinian and Israeli medical colleagues as well as Project Rozana, she helps West Bank and Gaza children receive life-saving cancer treatments in Israeli medical facilities.

A large obstacle for Palestinians needing specialized medical help has been and is transportation. A child may need to receive chemo treatments in Israel twice a month. The roundtrip cost of taxis from the West Bank to the border to major hospitals in Israel can be as much as $300; well beyond the means of many Palestinians. Working with Project Rozana and others, Road to Recovery drivers help the kids and their family companion get back and forth for chemo and other medical appointments.

Roth is quite clear that the drivers, not just the ill children, benefit from Road to Recovery and Project Rozana’s efforts. “These encounters break down barriers,” Roth says. “Everything the Palestinians knew about us, and everything we knew about them, simply disintegrates.” Bonds of trust are built that even the harsh politics of the Middle East can’t destroy. Help someone’s child live and you have a friend for life.

If all of this sounds like work in which the church should be involved, you are correct! But raising one’s voice for reconciliation and humanitarian projects in the PCUSA these days causes one to be accused of “normalizing the occupation” by some BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) advocates within the church. In other words, if you help Palestinian kids get through checkpoints to a hospital in Israel, you are accused of accepting and perpetuating the existence of the border checkpoints. Forget about the health of the kids. If you promote building the West Bank economy as a peacemaking strategy, you are told that you are just making the status quo more acceptable. Forget about the jobs created for Palestinians. Such is the ideological doublethink that is promoted within the PCUSA regarding Palestine-Israel.

Can the PCUSA not side with the reconcilers in the Middle East rather than those who seek retribution for past and present harm? Can we not realize that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, not because Jesus was “normalizing” the harm, but because it is the only way beyond harm? Short answer: Yes, we can! May the PCUSA become known for the kind of grace-filled work we witness in Project Rozana and Road to Recovery.

For more information:

https://usa.projectrozana.org/

http://www.roadtorecovery.org.il/

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George Douglas

A Wilberforce Model for Middle East Peace

In the 18th and early 19th century, British parliamentarian William Wilberforce led the movement to abolish the slave trade in England. Wilberforce’s story encourages all who want peace between Palestinians and Israelis by showing the power of perseverance and importance of grassroots work. His motivation came from a deep Christian commitment. His close friend John Newton, the ex-slave trader, Anglican clergyman, and author of the song “Amazing Grace,” convinced him to practice his faith as a Christian in politics and not enter the ministry as he initially intended.

When he was elected to the British parliament (in 1780 at the age of 22) he set upon abolishing the slave trade. Almost every member of Parliament was getting money from the slave trade companies, as was the King, and the English public had little interest in the issue. Many thought the cause hopeless, just as many today see the cause of Middle East peace as hopeless.

Wilberforce persevered nonetheless, and the campaign was a model of Christian activism. His movement built public awareness of the evils of the slave trade. They led tours of slave ships to demonstrate the inhuman conditions the slaves faced. They produced posters and books and held rallies. They created a national abolition organization and a powerful grassroots movement.

In 1789 Wilberforce put forth the first legislation for the abolition of the slave trade, but it was 18 years (in 1807) before the legislation passed and the slave trade was abolished. It took another 26 years of campaigning to have the existing slaves released. In 1834, one year after his death, 800,000 slaves were freed and the institution of slavery ceased to exist in the British territories. Wilberforce dedicated his entire life to this important cause and his story is a source of inspiration to this day.

This story offers some important lessons for Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. First is that change requires commitment and perseverance. Second is that both grassroots and political efforts are essential. At the grassroots level over 100 peacemaking organizations bring Israelis and Palestinians together for person-to-person contact. Over 100,000 Palestinians peacefully enter Israel each day for work and 30,000 work in West Bank Industrial parks. Palestinian-Israeli contact and economic cooperation must be encouraged, not discouraged by boycotts and other hostile actions.

There must also be a strong political will for peace on both sides of the conflict, and they feed off of each other. Here we face two very different situations. Israel is a liberal democracy. Israeli citizens freely elect their leaders with a free press and freedom of political expression.

For Palestinians the political situation is much more challenging. At present there are no freely elected leaders at the national level and no immediate prospects for change. Palestinian President Abbas’ term of office ended 8 years ago. The Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank but Hamas, which remains committed to the violent destruction of Israel, has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006. There is little freedom of political expression. Palestinians criticizing the Palestinian Authority risk arrest, and Palestinians opposing Hamas in the Gaza Strip risk death.

The situation puts Palestinians in a position of weakness. Nothing would strengthen their position more, and advance the cause of peace, than a freely elected Palestinian government committed to the rule of law and peaceful coexistence with Israel, yet too many in the West see the Palestinian political situation as immutable and hopeless.

Such a sentiment reveals a deep condescension and bias toward Arabs and Palestinians. Are they simply incapable of building a multi-ethnic state as other nations have done? Are they incapable of building a liberal democracy based on rule of law? The answer is a resounding “no”, and such aspirations should not be given up on.

Much has been said of the Israeli “right” and the West Bank settler movement gaining strength in Israel. Palestinian political instability feeds this, and even incrementally positive Palestinian political progress would give Israel’s peace movement and political moderates a strong argument for peacemaking with the Palestinians. There is no quick solution but there is a path forward, starting with Palestinians having genuine freedom of expression, followed by broadened participation in the Palestinian political process, and ultimately genuinely free elections.

Some will read this and think we are wasting our time on a hopeless cause, as many thought William Wilberforce was. They may be right. Wilberforce, however, benefitted from a unique form of ignorance: he didn’t understand what he couldn’t do. Such ignorance is often the essential element for meaningful change.

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George Douglas

A Troubling Resolution

This summer the Israel-targeted Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement aggressively promoted their agenda at several church assemblies, but progress for BDS was limited. At the United Methodist Church General Conference divestment was rejected and delegates urged Methodist groups to sever involvement with the BDS umbrella group End the Occupation. BDS made limited progress elsewhere and several divestment and boycott proposals were rejected. At the Presbyterian GA a proposal to boycott Hewlett Packard was overwhelmingly defeated and the PC(USA)’s longstanding commitment to two states for two peoples was reaffirmed.

At the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), divestment failed to gain widespread support. However, a resolution (full text on page 23 of this document) was approved which included the following statement:

To urge this church’s members, congregations, synods, agencies and presiding bishop to call on their U.S. Representatives, Senators and the Administration to take action requiring that, to continue receiving U.S. financial and military aid, Israel must comply with internationally recognized human rights standards as specified in existing U.S. law, stop settlement building and the expansion of existing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, end its occupation of Palestinian territory, and enable an independent Palestinian state; and

To encourage this church’s members, congregations, synods, and agencies to call on the U.S. President to recognize the State of Palestine and not prevent the application of the State of Palestine for full membership in the United Nations.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly. At first glance the statement may seem like a reasonable stance supporting Palestinian rights: why shouldn’t Christians urge the U.S. government to officially recognize the State of Palestine and pressure Israel to “enable” an independent Palestinian state? What harm could possibly come from such a clear and simple statement advocating for Palestinian human rights?

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Mike Gizzi

Co-existence efforts and grassroots interaction as a foundation for peace

I believe strongly that a two state solution is the only real path to peace. But such a solution can only come about when there is real grassroots, person-to-person interaction. It is an essential precursor to building the trust necessary for peace. For me, the importance of co-existence and interaction cannot be understated. When I think about co-existence, I always return to the wise words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. In his book The Dignity of Difference, and then again in his more recent and compelling book Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Rabbi Sacks provides the theological foundation for co-existence.

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Mike Gizzi

What BDS won’t tell you

One of the next battles over BDS will be fought in a little more than two weeks, when the 222nd General Assembly begins in Portland, Oregon. Portland was site of the recent United Methodist Church’s General Conference, which rejected BDS efforts at divestment, and even saw the Methodists end ties with the “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation”, an umbrella organization of BDS groups in North America. The UMC is a much larger Church than PCUSA, and I am hopeful that we Presbyterians can learn from the wisdom of our Methodist brothers and sisters. The BDS Movement has targeted the PCUSA for more than a decade. It includes a relatively small, but extremely vocal and effective group of activists who have worked very hard to get the Church to adopt social witness policies promoting the goals of the BDS movement, while often masking them in claims that the policies being sought are not about BDS, but about justice for Palestinians. Two years ago, they succeeded in getting the Church to selectively divest from three companies doing business in Israel – Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola Solutions, while claiming that divestment was in no way an embrace of BDS.  Boycott. Divest. Sanction. How could anyone ever think that divesting from these companies was related to BDS?

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Mike Gizzi

Freedom for two peoples

Freedom is a precious thing. Freedom for Israelis is freedom from terror. Freedom for Palestinians is self-determination. The two state solution is the path to freedom. And freedom is the path to peace. Read more from in my op-ed blog in The Times of Israel

 

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John Wimberly

Methodists Reject BDS

The United Methodist Church's (UMC) General Conference met last week in Portland, Oregon in the same rooms where the PC(USA) General Assembly (GA) will soon meet. They made some very interesting decisions regarding Israel-Palestine peacemaking that will surely have a ripple effect within the PC(USA). Like the Episcopal Church, they again rejected divestment overtures seeking to declare Israel to be the singular obstacle to peace in the conflict. In addition, they issued a clear repudiation of UMC involvement in the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement.

By almost a two-thirds majority, the UMC delegates asked Methodist groups to sever involvement with the BDS umbrella group End the Occupation.

End the Occupation has been a driving force behind a ten-year divestment campaign which reached a climax with the PC(USA)’s narrow vote in 2014 to divest from three companies doing business with Israel’s defense forces.   Incredibly, Anna Baltzer, the National Organizer for End the Occupation and prominent leader of the BDS movement in the U.S., was a "Resource Person" to the last two General Assemblies representing a standing GA committee. She was allowed to speak in committee hearings when concerned Presbyterians attending the hearing were not. The appointment of an international leader and advocate of the BDS movement as a committee “Resource Person” showed flagrant disregard for the ethical standards called for in the committee process. This should not have happened in 2012 and 2014, and should not be permitted this summer in Portland.

Divestment proposals put before the UMC General Conference were very similar to those narrowly approved at the 2014 PCUSA GA. By strong majorities, the UMC committees rejected the divestment overtures on the basis that they declared Israel to be the sole obstacle to peace when it is clear to diplomats and other experts that Palestinian groups such as Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are also major obstacles to peace. In their place, they chose an option rejected by the PC(USA) GA in 2014---to invest in peace.

Events at the UMC General Conference in Portland raise several interesting questions. Will Presbyterians wake up to the fact that PC(USA) policies regarding Israel-Palestine are being driven by secular BDS organizations and not by serious theological and biblical reflection? Will Presbyterians join Episcopalians and Methodists in rejecting a simplistic, dualistic approach to the Middle East conflict in which one side (Israel) is portrayed as the problem and the other side (Palestinians) is portrayed as innocents? Will Presbyterians ask their standing committees to think for themselves rather than rubber stamping the leadership of a the secular, harsh BDS agenda?

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Mike Gizzi

When history and facts don’t seem to matter: The Presbyterian Church, BDS, and the ‘largely non-violent First Intifada’

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been tied up in the politics of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel for more than a decade, culminating in a narrow four-vote majority in the 2014 General Assembly to divest church funds from HP, Motorola, and Caterpillar because of those company’s products being allegedly used to violent ends by Israel in the Palestinian territories. The GA tried to claim that its vote to divest was not about joining the BDS movement, but was a statement on socially responsible investment. This was wishful thinking because within 30 minutes of the GA’s vote, the New York Times reported that the Church had become aligned with the BDS Movement.

Now, two years later, another PC(USA) General Assembly approaches. This time, the BDS agenda is a bit more nuanced. A task force was commissioned by the GA in 2014 to examine the continued viability of the Church’s commitment to a Two State solution. Responsibility for this study fell on the Church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which recently issued a report titled "Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Justice Peace."  The ACSWP seeks to have their report endorsed by the GA this summer in Portland, Oregon, when it meets in mid-June. It should surprise no one that the report that was written mimics many of the Israel-targeted BDS arguments that have been used again and again.

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John Wimberly

A Target on Our Back

The PCUSA Portland General Assembly is one of three denominational meetings this summer being targeted by the secular Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, referred to hereafter as “End the Occupation”, a non-Presbyterian, secular umbrella organization promoting BDS, has zeroed in on the Methodist, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist denominational meetings. As their Call to Action concludes, “Here’s to 2016 being the most exciting year for church divestment yet!” 

In Portland, the BDS movement, which refuses to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state, is committed to seeing the PCUSA end its historic commitment to a two state solution. Through groups like End the Occupation it will strongly lobby in support of an ACSWP Study paper coming to the General Assembly that recommends the PCUSA no longer support a two state solution. We at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace strongly urge the GA to continue support of the only diplomatic approach endorsed by the world’s major powers.

End the Occupation and the Presbyterian-related Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) have worked closely to align the PCUSA with the BDS movement’s agenda. The two groups have enlisted Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a small fringe group of American Jewish young people, in their efforts. The efforts of End the Occupation, IPMN and JVP have been vigorously denounced by all mainline Jewish organizations. J Street, a very progressive Jewish organization, has also opposed all efforts to divest that are trumpeted by End the Occupation, IPMN and JVP.

Of course, forgotten in the statements of End the Occupation and, oftentimes, IPMN is the fact that the 2014 General Assembly explicitly distanced itself from the BDS movement. In the overture endorsing divestment of GA funds from three companies, the General Assembly stated, “This action on divestment does not mean an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.” Further distancing itself from BDS efforts, the General Assembly instructed the IPMN to place a disclaimer on its controversial paper Zionism Unsettled, stating that the document in no way represented the positions of the PCUSA.

In 2014, opponents of divestment warned that it was naïve to think the PCUSA would not be viewed as being in alignment with the BDS movement if we voted to divest. Sadly, the opponents were prophetic. Within minutes of the 2014 vote, the BDS movement was sending messages around the world that the PCUSA had joined their movement. That message has continued unabated for two years.

At Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, we hope that commissioners will realize that we, the PCUSA, are being used cynically by a secular BDS movement that in no way shares our theological commitments. Let’s get the target off our back.       

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George Douglas

Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies

We talk often of the barriers to peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but little attention is focused on the barriers faced by Palestinians who favor coexistence and peace with Israel. Late in the evening of Monday, May 2, Palestinian activist Baha Nabata was shot dead in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. His assailant escaped on a motor bike. His killing was reported in the Israeli media. It did not receive any coverage we know of by the Palestinian Maan News Agency, or in the international media.

Mr. Nabata was a well known civil rights and youth leader in his community. His numerous accomplishments included paving the camp’s roads, setting up emergency medical services for residents, and training firefighters with help from the Jerusalem Fire Department. He also led a youth group in the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Shehada.

His activities caused him to be in contact and cooperate with Israeli municipal officials. For this he was branded by some Palestinians as a traitor, and for this Mr. Nabata feared for his life and eventually paid the ultimate price.

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George Douglas

PFMEP GA breakfast speakers announced

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will again be an intensely debated issue at the upcoming General Assembly in Portland. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace will be hosting a breakfast meeting on Saturday, June 18. If you are attending GA, we hope you will join us. Registration information is available at General Assembly information.

We are excited to have two very special guest speakers at the breakfast: noted Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, and Arab-Christian Israeli scholar and diplomat George Deek. 

Bassem Eid is a Jerusalem-based political analyst, human rights pioneer and expert commentator in Arab and Palestinian affairs. In 1996, he founded the Jerusalem based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. In 2016, he assumed the role of chairman of the Center for Near East Policy Research.

George Deek, currently a Fulbright Scholar at Georgetown University, is an Arab-Christian Israeli that hails from the city of Jaffa, where his family has lived for over 400 years. He graduated with two degrees, LL.B. in Law and B.A. in Government, at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya. After having worked as a lawyer in a private firm in Tel-Aviv, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008.

Mr. Eid was born in the Jordanian-occupied Old City in East Jerusalem, and spent the first 33 years of his life in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. He rose to prominence during the first Intifada, the Palestinian uprising and was a senior field researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. 

Mr. Eid’s work focused on both Israeli and Palestinian human rights issues. He publicly condemned the widespread murder of Palestinian dissidents, often for reasons unrelated to the Intifada. In 1995, following his report about the Palestinian Preventative Security Service, he came under attack by some Palestinian leaders for revealing human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). He continued his criticisms of human rights policies of both Israeli and Palestinian armed forces. Arrested by Arafat’s Presidential Guard (Force 17), he was released after 25 hours following widespread international condemnation. 

Mr. Deek previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel in Norway between July 2012 and January 2015, where he also served as Chargé d'Affaires between February and September 2014. Previously he served as Israel's Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria (2009-2012).  

Mr. Deek was involved from a young age in the promotion of mutual understanding and co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Israel. He was the co-editor of the first local newspaper of Jaffa “YaffoSheli/ Yafati” (“My Jaffa” in Hebrew and Arabic); He led various Arab-Jewish delegations and programs to the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom; He was the manager of the "Arab-Jewish" debate forum of Israel's leading news website Ynet. He lead the youth movement of the Arab-Christian community in Israel, while also managing the musical school of the community, where over 120 children and youth of the ages 7-25 years received education and music lessons for free.

Both of our speakers are uniquely qualified to share their insights into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and both will share their ideas for peacemaking and coexistence. We hope you will join us in Portland. For those who cannot, we will have videos of their presentations available on the PFMEP website.

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John Wimberly

Peace or Polarization?

Is Jesus Opposed to Building Normal Relationships Between Israelis and Palestinians?

The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement is on record as opposing efforts to create “normalization” of relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. They reject all forms of dialogue, cooperation, or engagement between Israelis and Palestinians and their respective supporters. On the BDS Movement website, the BDS National Committee “calls for action against projects and initiatives which amount to recognition of or cooperation with Israel’s regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation (i.e., normalization).  This means opposition to programs like Hand in Hand that promote coexistence and are supported by many PCUSA congregations.  Hand in Hand and programs like it bring young Israelis and Palestinians together to build trust and friendships.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

On San Bernardino and Paris

The tragic events in San Bernardino and Paris, perpetrated by self-described supporters of Islamic State, are dominating the headlines. Islamic State and similar jihadist movements represent a serious threat to the civilized world. At the same time, they do not reflect beliefs held by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace categorically condemns the appalling anti-Islam rhetoric being uttered in this country, Europe and elsewhere. Lumping all Muslims together as fanatics is the same as trying to link all Christians to the white separatism of groups like the Ku Klux Klan or all Jews with the actions of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League. Today is not a time for people of faith to attack one another. It is a pivotal moment in human history when reasoned, reasonable people of faith need to come together and isolate the fanatics in our ranks---whether they be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic or any other type of religious fanatics.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

Now more than ever our prayers are needed for the peace of Jerusalem. The violence that in recent weeks began in Jerusalem is spreading across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Israelis are filled with fear, and Palestinians of good will are seeing their future disintegrate before their eyes.

What is needed to end this violence? The position of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is that progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is essential. There is only one path to peace, and it is the two state solution.  This has been the position of the PCUSA for decades and should remain the focal point of our peacemaking efforts. Political leaders on both sides, with help from the international community, must commit to this and demonstrate tangible progress to their respective peoples.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

The Pillars of Peace

Peace requires a foundation, and organized efforts to promote coexistence, understanding, and cooperation are essential for building this foundation. Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Arabs are engaging in a dynamic and growing group of organizations dedicated to such efforts. To learn about them visit the website of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a network of over 80 organizations committed to this critical work. Christians can and should support these efforts; they are non-political, build bridges, and advance the cause of peace.

These efforts are facing opposition from the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement. The term for this opposition is “anti-normalization”. As a case in point, one of the ALLMEP organizations is YaLa Young Leaders, a rapidly growing youth peace movement with almost 1 million supporters in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. Last year YaLa hosted an online peace conference that attracted over 40,000 participants. YaLa has received statements of support from former president Bill Clinton and many other distinguished figures.

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John Wimberly

The Plight of Middle Eastern Christians

As Christians, we are concerned about all the people who are suffering and dying in the chaos that has engulfed much of the Middle East. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a special bond with Christians who are being persecuted. From Syria to Iraq to Egypt to Libya, we hear horrifying stories of Christians being jailed and murdered, even by beheading. At its April, 2014 meeting, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) responded to a Pittsburgh Presbytery overture expressing concern about the plight of Christians “in Egypt and other parts of the world” with the following advice to the Detroit General Assembly:

“Use of the word “persecution” mischaracterizes the nature of the maltreatment of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, and in many cases would be an unhelpful exaggeration.”

If this statement strikes the reader as incredible, it is. How have we reached a point where our leaders can dismiss the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians?

Due to the divestment debate, our denomination has been focused on the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis for more than a decade. Can it be that our preoccupation with the Palestine-Israel conflict has caused us to lose any and all understanding of the bigger picture in the Middle East? Have we become so absorbed in the suffering of the Palestinians and Israelis that we can see the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East as an “unhelpful exaggeration?”

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

The Two-State Solution: New Study Documents Benefits

A new study by the Rand Corporation released this week illustrates the economic benefits of the Two-State Solution. The study estimates an economic benefit of $150 billion dollars for Israelis and $50 billion for Palestinians over a ten-year period, with both peoples benefitting. It predicts a 36% increase in per capita income for Palestinians over the same time frame.

The study also analyzes additional scenarios, none of which provide the economic benefit of the Two-State Solution. The Two-State Solution is based on a foundation of self-determination for Palestinians and security for Israelis. A second scenario analyzed in the Rand report is one promoted by the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which calls for economic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without a commitment of peace from Palestinians. Under this scenario, both Israelis and Palestinians suffer economic losses, as economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians disintegrates. By pursuing the economic pressure strategy, the losses for the Palestinians are even greater when viewed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Netanyahu wins Israeli election and Palestinians lose in U.S. court

The recent Israeli election was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although only 24% of Israeli voters cast ballots for Netanyahu's Likud party, it was enough to ensure that the incoming Israeli administration will likely be led by Mr. Netanyahu. The victory came with a cost. To attract votes from the Israeli right wing, the Prime Minister made deplorable statements widely understood to be an outright rejection of the two-state solution and implored Israeli Jews to vote because Israeli Arabs were voting in large numbers. These statements were condemned by many groups ranging from Jewish organizations in the U.S. to the U.S State Department. We at PFMEP join in condemning political rhetoric that hinders the cause of peace for nothing more than political advantage, and PM Netanyahu’s statements reside squarely in that category. Days after the election, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s seeming reversal of his earlier statement on Palestinian statehood and apologies for his comments about Israeli Arabs have failed to remedy the situation he created.

In such a milieu, it is hard to retain hope for a two-state solution, but we are people of faith, not people who pursue political expediency. We work over the long term, not for short-term political ends. A two-state solution is the only possible just peace. It is the only option that allows both Palestinians and Israelis to have self-determination. It is the only option that has widespread international support. This is not a time to abandon the strategy. It is a time to insist on the strategy.

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Mike Gizzi

Israel through new eyes - a reflection

I returned home from two weeks in Israel three days ago. My trip was a university-sponsored one, to do the planning for a peace studies study abroad class, and a personal one, where I was on a fact-finding mission to gain my own perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I had heard the narrative that the pro-divestment proponents had put forth at GA, and wanted to see Israel on my own terms.    

In the time since I returned to Illinois, I have spent a lot of time looking at and sorting through the more than 5,000 photos I took and re-reading the daily blogs that I wrote. So many things jumped out at me. This was a trip unlike anything I have ever done. Ever. This is my first take at summarizing my experiences. 

Going to Israel was way outside of my comfort zone. I am talking thousands of miles outside of it. Forget the fact that I do not like flying, this was going to a country in one of the biggest hot spots of the world, where just seven months ago a war was going on.  So, Israel was way out of my comfort zone, yet going there somehow resulted in considerably expanding my comfort zone. There was not a single moment when I was in Israel or on the West Bank when I felt unsafe. I never had a panic attack, I was totally comfortable with my inability to understand more than a handful of words in either Hebrew or Arabic. It simply did not matter.  

Along the way, something incredible happened. I came to see the diverse cultures and people that live in Israel, the beauty and diversity of the land, and the religious significance and sense of the sacred present in the holy sites of the Abrahamic faiths.   I saw the green rolling terrain of the Galilee (which to my biblical-influenced mind looked nothing like it), the snow-covered terrain of the Golan Heights, the beauty of the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Ein Hod to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the hills of Jerusalem, the desert-like features of much of the West Bank (which more closely resembled my biblical images), the green of the Jordan River valley at Jericho, and the classical desert of the Dead Sea and Masada. All within a few hours of each other. All different. All Israel.

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John Wimberly

Here We Go Again

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) announced the membership of a group authorized by the 2014 General Assembly to study the two state solution as a peacemaking strategy for Israel and Palestine. Sadly, ACSWP has chosen to create a study team with an ideological imbalance that predetermines the result of its work. In the lead-up to the study team’s creation, ACSWP stressed that it would find experts to produce an objective analysis of the situation in the Middle East.  Instead, ACSWP has chosen several well-known pro-divestment activists to serve on the committee.  One member has written media op-ed pieces lobbying for the PCUSA to pass divestment overtures.  Another study group member was a staff person and current board member of Friends of Sabeel, an early leader in the divestment movement. 

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