In 2004, the PC(USA)’s 216th General Assembly focused on issues of justice, both in the United States and globally, and one issue of deep concern is the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Our mission history in the Middle East gives us the right to speak the truth to power on this difficult crisis between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs for the following reasons:
The PC(USA) has been in the Middle East focusing on the church’s mission since 1823. It has enjoyed success in at least three areas:
Evangelism – Today we have more than 500,000 Presbyterian Arabs as our sisters and brothers in Christ, most of whom we do not know.
Medical Mission – We have built clinics and hospitals and continue to work on health issues in the whole region.
Education – Every American University built in Beirut, Cairo, and Istanbul, and others all over the region, were built and supported by prayers, dollars, and mission personnel from the PC(USA). In fact, in 1860, the mission board charted the registration of the American University of Beirut in the State of New York.
Presbyterians work with the Middle East Council of Churches, which represents fifteen million Arab Christians. We support their ministry and mission in evangelism, education, medical, and social services. Our sisters and brothers in Christ ask us to work for justice and peace for the sake of the Gospel, and our witness to the risen Christ through working for justice supports their existence and their witness.
Since 1948, the Presbyterian Church has supported the creation of the State of Israel and prayed for the Jewish people. Across the United States, there are increasing numbers of Jewish congregations utilizing Presbyterian buildings for their Friday Sabbath worship services, and Presbyterians are more involved in this sharing of space than other Protestant denominations. Presbyterian clergy have long worked with local rabbis in interfaith services and on issues of social justice in our communities. Historically, Presbyterians have a strong relationship with Jews and Palestinians, and that history allows us to speak about the importance of reconciliation and peace between Israel and Palestine.
Since 1967 the PC(USA)’s General Assembly has been on record against the Israeli military occupation. The 216th General Assembly of 2004 endorsed three new positions:
That the separation wall Israel is building is illegal under International Law. The General Assembly action was affirmed by the International Court of Justice in The Hague and also by the Israeli Supreme Court. Why? Because the wall is being built on Palestinian land, inside the pre- 1967 borders deep inside the West Bank and Gaza and its purpose is to protect the illegal Israeli-Jewish settlements, not to protect the State of Israel. According to Betsalem, the Israeli Human Rights Organization in Jerusalem, “when the wall is completed it will harm and separate 850,000 Palestinians from their farmland, schools, clinics, hospitals, work, and places of worship.”
Christian Zionism is neither biblical nor Reformed. Theology matters to Presbyterians, and the General Assembly went on record, in part, to help us see that the positions of those who would seek to promote the relationship between Zionism and the second coming of Christ (e.g., the Left Behind series, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the Rev. Pat Robinson) are not acceptable. This dispensational theology says that the Palestinian Arab Christians of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the West Bank are there by mistake. They are on the land against God’s will. Dispensationalist theology holds that the land of Palestine belongs to Jews only, that it was given to them by God, and thus that the 4 million Palestinian Arab Christians and Muslims must leave land and faith communities that have been theirs for more than 2,000 years.
Phased Selective Divestment is directed toward American companies that are harming the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. There has been little if any protest or outcry against the last three actions of the General Assembly, namely, saying that the occupation must end, that the wall is illegal, and that Christian Zionism is not biblical nor Reformed. Instead, all the anger came against our phased Selective Divestment Policy in American companies that are working in the West Bank and Gaza and not in Israel.
Dr. Jeff Halper, an Israeli Jewish professor of Anthropology at the Ben Gurion University in Jerusalem and the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition wrote, “after years of diplomatic efforts aimed at inducing Israel to end its occupation, while watching it grow ever stronger and more permanent, ICAHD supports a multitiered campaign of strategic, selective sanctions against Israel until the occupation ends, a campaign targeting Israel’s occupation rather than Israel per se. …We also favor selective divestment and boycott as tools of moral and economic pressure”.
Agreeing with Halper, I support the PC(USA) Selective Divestment Policy because it reminds us that the occupation of Palestine is still the issue. We in the United States can continue to support Israel as our friend with 4 billion dollars a year and can help Israel to make peace with Egypt and Jordan, as we have in the past. I hope and pray too that we will help Israel make peace with Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and all of the Arab countries. But if we fail to make peace between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs by helping ending the occupation, peace will not come during our lifetime.
FAHED ABU-AKEL grew up in Galilee and came to the United States in the 1960s. He is the founder and director of the Atlanta ministry for International Students (AMIS) Inc. He was moderator of the 214th General Assembly of the PC(USA) 2002-2003.
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