The report focuses on the impasse in efforts to forge a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It also emphasizes the plight of indigenous Christians, who constitute a dwindling minority in Israel and Palestine.
During an overview of the committee’s work, Phyllis Neral, a commissioner from the Redstone Presbytery in western Pennsylvania, said Jewish leaders in her area had voiced concern about what they regarded as the potential for harm in the report.
Susan Andrews, a study committee member and the workshop’s moderator, responded that in her reading of the Christian Gospel, “doing no harm is not a Gospel value.”
Andrews, a member of the Hudson River Presbytery, said later that she meant specifically that the Gospel does not endorse avoiding harm as a primary goal. Jesus, she said, “didn’t back off from speaking the truth about the injustices he saw around him” out of concern for any collateral damage his words might cause.
Neral said in an interview that it was a Jewish physician who, during a meeting with Jewish leaders that she attended, likened the church’s proper role in Israel and Palestine to that of a physician bound by the Hippocratic oath’s stricture that those who would heal should first do no harm.
Byron Shafer, the only one of the nine members of the Middle East Study Committee to vote against adopting the panel’s full report, said during the workshop that he believed the committee had failed to achieve “an equal embrace for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Shafer, a member of the New York City Presbytery, added that the report “does not do a good job of expressing our support and love of the Israelis.”
Two other committee members, Lucy Janjigian and Nahida Gordon – both Palestinian Christians – accused Israel of terrorism. Gordon, of the Muskingum Valley Presbytery, said her family “experienced terrorism firsthand” when the Israelis bombed Jaffa in 1947-48. Janjigian, of the Palisades Presbytery, said U.S. aid to Israel is abetting terrorism today.
Andrews told the workshop audience that her fellow committee members’ comments provided a glimpse of “how rich and difficult and eye-opening our negotiations were.”