Things to Consider as Committee Hearings Begin on the Middle East

Commissioners on the Middle East Issues Committee of the General Assembly need to consider, first and foremost, the strategy of passing study papers and policies regarding the Middle East that have had absolutely no impact on the Middle East conflict in any positive way. Does the PCUSA want to continue to using a failed strategy?

Why not work with groups who are trying to build bridges over the wall, bridges that will ultimately bring the wall crumbling down? Congregations around the country, ignoring the policy statements of the General Assembly, are actively supporting grassroots groups in Israel and Palestine that provide educational, medical, social and other services to both Palestinians and Israelis. They do it by bringing the two peoples together working for the great good. Is it impossible to think that commissioners to the General Assembly will follow PCUSA congregations’ lead and move away from words to hands-on reconciliation?

A case in point is an overture before the Middle East issues committee asking for a study of a letter by The National Coalition of Christian Organizations. The organization, which lacks support from some of the major denominations active in the Middle East, including our most active partners in Israel-Palestine (Lutherans and Anglicans) has created another statement very hostile to Israel with no criticism of the violence perpetrated by a Palestinian group such as Hamas. Why would we study such a letter? Who are these people? Our most consistent partners in the Middle East did not sign it. Why would we support it?

Also, let’s look at what happened to the last two studies authorized on the Middle East. The General Assembly in Minneapolis received but didn’t approve a study; last year the General Assembly rejected the major thesis of a study paper (advocating dropping support for two states) saying that the denomination remained in support of two states for two peoples. Both studies involved huge expense to fund meetings and long trips to the Middle East. Both studies polarized the denomination creating unnecessary division instead of uniting us around a peacemaking strategy. Neither study has produced any meaningful step toward peace in the region.

Can we learn from the past? Costly study groups don’t work on Middle East issues. What does work is the grassroots ministry being done by our congregations engaged in reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.