Presbyterian delegation connects with those suffering in Israel/Palestine

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network group calls for ceasefire in Gaza and bears witness to violence during their trip.

What remains of a city in the Gaza Strip. Image by hosny salah from Pixabay.

“The pain here is immense.”

Hunter Farrell, a seminary professor and teaching elder who is one of a Presbyterian delegation of 35 traveling in Israel/Palestine, wrote this as part of a post on social media: 

 “We spoke with the father of one of the Israeli hostages last night in Tel Aviv and, this afternoon, with the mothers and sisters of some Palestinian prisoners being held in ‘administrative detention,’” he wrote. “Some of the prisoners are as young as 13 years old, well below the age permitted by international law. Israel’s administrative detention permits detention without charges having been made and even the child-prisoners can receive no visitors — from family, lawyer or a Red Cross representative. The pain here is immense.” 

The group includes a former moderator of the General Assembly, mid council executives, seminary professors, pastors and Presbyterian church members from all around the United States. They are there as part of the “Solidarity with the Suffering” delegation organized by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) amid the ongoing war in Gaza, which started on October 7, 2023, with a Hamas attack that killed 1,139 Israelis and foreign nationals. Among those killed in the attack were 764 civilians, and 248 people were taken hostage.

As of February 26, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Israeli military has killed at least 29,782 Palestinians in Gaza and 400 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Israel has also detained about 7,000 Palestinians, most without charge, according to the U.N.  

The delegation’s trip was to express solidarity with all who are suffering in Israel/Palestine during this time of immense violence, to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, to witness to and advocate for an end to the increased violence and dispossession of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, to call for an end to Hamas’ acts of violence against civilians, and to demand the return of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas and all Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. 

“We are not here to speak on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” wrote Bruce Reyes-Chow, a former moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly. “Rather, we are here to speak to our Christian siblings, Presbyterian and beyond. To be clear, we’re not here to save anyone or to get in the way; we’re here to express solidarity, to learn from those doing the work locally, to amplify further what is going on, and to do our part to help move the needle towards an end to the suffering and violence.” 

This trip comes 10 years after a General Assembly vote to approve an overture calling for divestment from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, companies that sold their equipment to the Israeli government that was used in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the region.  

The delegation arrived in Amman, Jordan, on February 15, crossed the border into the West Bank, which is along the west side of the Jordan River in Israel, and the travelers spent a week meeting with Israelis and Palestinians to hear their stories, pray with them, and try to understand what is happening from the perspective of the people being directly affected by the violence. The delegation met with a variety of groups including local Christians, human rights organizations, representatives of the U.S. State Department and others. They met daily from 8 a.m. until 9 or 10 p.m. 

Rick Nutt, a teaching elder and retired religion professor from Ohio, wrote, “Friday, February 16, was the first day of meetings for our delegation to stand in solidarity with the suffering, and our focus was on threats posed by Israel to the people of East Jerusalem … We heard first from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions … Approximately 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Since 1947, about 50,000 homes of Palestinians have been demolished; we were told that there has been a 70% increase in demolitions since October 7, 2023 …  

“What can we do?” he wrote in his post. “We can stay informed through organizations such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network, learn from Jewish human rights groups like B’Tselem, consult our General Assembly statements on Palestine (most recently Jerusalem 3, 2, 1 in 2022), support the work of Sabeel Ecumenical Theological Center, and write our representatives in Washington to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza War and an end to U.S. unquestioning support for Israel.” 

Bob Ross, a geography professor and Presbyterian church member from Pittsburgh wrote, “More than 7,000 Palestinians have been arrested – more than 90% without charge – since October 7. Police brutality, especially since October 7, has reached unprecedented levels here, according to Nadi Al-Nasir of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, with whom we met today. Since October 7, Palestinian prisoners are not granted an attorney, they are not granted visits by family members, and almost all of them are physically assaulted. The Israeli military has tortured nine Palestinian prisoners to death since October 7.” 

Farrell offered the following request, “Pray with me that a movement of justice-seekers – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and non-religious – would rise up in our nation to work for justice in Israel/Palestine.”

To learn more about this delegation and to read blog posts from its members, visit the IPMN website.