The Methodist Council are due to meet on April 5 -7. It is then that the papers will be signed off for the 2014 Conference. In the light of the Methodist BDS survey, and the seeming commitment the leadership have given to the BoD to reverse the 2010 boycott resolution and replace it with some mumbo jumbo along the lines of “export peace, don’t import conflict”, it should all be very interesting indeed.
Of course it is always possible that the Council might remain frozen like a rabbit in your headlights and the whole business will be swept securely under the carpet.
With exquisite timing Ann Reeder had published in last week’s Recorder an excellent piece on the situation in Palestine, from where she has recently returned. She spells out the simplicity of the Palestinian situation with surgical precision and reinforces the Kairos call for affirmative action, and goes on to make a compelling case for outside pressure, given that Israel will not move unless and until there is a significant fear of loss. This in marked contrast to the message from the Methodist “leadership” after their BoD instigated visit to Palestine, supervised by the the Board proxy, FODIP, which consisted of nothing more than “it’s complicated”.
We knew of course, there was going to be a response but were not sure whether it would be from Jonathan Arkush (who has unfettered access to column inches in the Recorder) or from the BoD’s gopher, Bruce Thompson. We have to say that Bruce’s response was typically shallow and without any semblance of Christian empathy and responsibility. It also reeked of desperation and consisted of nothing but the ridiculous and pathetic whataboutery argument. When the hasbarafia can come up with nothing more than whataboutery, you know they are feeling the pressure.
Read Ann’s excellent piece and Bruce’s whining response below.
Methodist Recorder March 7, 2014
What we have seen and heard
Ann Reeder reflects on a visit to Palestine
Singing carols last Christmas, I was struck by the unrealistic image of Bethlehem portrayed. One month later in Bethlehem City Hall, listening to the Palestinian Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr Vera Baboun, I determined to write of what I had seen and heard.
At the lighting of the Christmas tree in Manger Square last December, she had said “Let us hope that we will have peace”. This December she hopes she will be able to say “Let us thank God that we have peace”, for 2014 must be the year for things to change.
Dr Baboun, a Palestinian Christian, talked about living with uncertainty and the ghettoization of Palestine. She described “abnormality as the norm” and said that “It’s good that we still exist,” given the “knot settlement around the neck of Bethlehem”.
The city is besieged, she said, and while tourists may visit for a few hours, they may not see the economic cost, the “sparkle that is fading in the eyes of young people”, the abuse of human rights and the huge illegal Israeli settlements that are suffocating a city that is now forced to buy water from Israel, its occupying power. “Security comes from peace, not walls”, Dr Baboun said, referring to Israel’s Separation (or security) Wall around the West Bank.
How I hoped it could be possible for Church leaders to listen to her words. For as Palestinians and Israeli alike said to us, ask the International community to see what is really going on and make the Palestinians’ voice heard.
Our base in the occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank was Ramallah, with visits to East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. During our visit we were witnesses to the humiliation of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, the displacement of Bedouin people from their land, child detainees facing military courts, the poverty of Palestinian refugee camps, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the building of Israeli settlements deep in Palestinian territory (in one case a town of 50,000). I frequently thought back to the homeland policy and pass laws of the South African apartheid state that had destroyed homes, livelihoods and human rights for so long. But I also remembered the solidarity shown by the Methodist Church and others through boycott, disinvestment and sanctions that had led to a free, democratic and non-racial South Africa. And I hoped that freedom could come to Palestine soon.
Hebron, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, is holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is a tense city of 225,000 people with a ghost town at its core, where 400 Israeli settlers are “defended” by 350 Israeli soldiers in a small area below the historic holy site. We walked Shuhada Street, the old main street with its market closed, knowing that the street is forbidden to Palestinians. We felt the reality of divided communities and zealous faith, extremist action worsening the situation.
In Ramallah, the weeping continues. We visited the Al Amari refugee camp. Built for 1,000 Palestinian refugees who were forced out of the Jaffa area in 1948, it is now an impoverished home for 10,000. A Palestinian who had been forced to leave his home said: “I want my freedom. I want to be able to take my daughter to the sea without checkpoints.”
But checkpoints and the Separation Wall are one of the most obvious obstacles to peace. The wall is a brutal statement of Israel’s occupation and expansion by stealth, deviating from the recognised international Green Line (the 1967 border) to encroach on Palestinian land and enclose illegal Israeli settlements.
As hundreds of Palestinians smuggle themselves from Palestine to Israel to work or visit family without permits and manage to avoid checkpoints and the Israeli Army, many point out that it is not the wall which is preventing suicide bombings, but a decision by Palestinians themselves.
We walked through the checkpoint at Qalandiya to see how it felt to stand alongside the Palestinians who are subjected to this ordeal. It felt as though I was back at Norwich cattle market, where animals were forced through a case to enter the ring. Long queues formed as people patiently and stoically endured this humiliation. The wall and its checkpoints are an economic waste as well as deeply humiliating. Our President, the Rev Ruth Gee, described what it felt like to be driven through the barrier when two soldiers boarded the bus (Recorder, December 27 2013/3 January 2014). This wall separates families from each other, from work, from school, from places of worship, from their land and from health services. As the President observed “They are people divided by a wall, by fear, by history. They are people living with injustice. They are people longing for peace and dignity.”
A member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions showed us the impact of Israel’s tactics of forcibly removing Palestinians from East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. We heard of children taking their favourite toys to school in fear that they would return to a ruined house. Demolition notices are served on Palestinians without a timescale, causing immense psychological damage.
We observed the weekly non-violent opposition to the wall and the loss of land that followed its construction in the village of Bil’in. Quietly, dozens of people gathered on the hillside, waving the Palestinian flag. But from the other side of the wall, Israeli settlers looked on as the occupying Israeli defence force sprayed teargas over the non-violent protest.
I pondered how a people that had been persecuted for centuries and had suffered the tragic loss of the Holocaust can deny a homeland, safety, security, human rights, a livelihood and human dignity to their Palestinian brothers and sisters. And I wondered why the international community that has passed so many resolutions opposing Israel’s occupation fails to stop arms sales to Israel and does not impose – as it could – the pressure to bring about change.
Just as the Churches in South Africa published their Kairos document calling for freedom and justice, so, too, have Palestinian Christians. “A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering”, it is a word to the world on what is happening in Palestine. It is a call to the international community to stand by the Palestinian people who have been faced with oppressions, displacement and suffering for more than six decades.
From what I have seen and heard, I am convinced that we cannot ignore their cries for the international community to take action for peace, justice and reconciliation in the lands of the Bible. The occupation is destroying human beings and making a mockery of human rights. The Palestinian Kairos declares: “The West tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.” They call on us to help “shorten the time of suffering and hasten the time of reconciliation.”
More than two decades ago, the brave but just decisions of the Methodist Conference to support withdrawal from South Africa of Barclays Bank, the boycott of Shell and the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, alongside petitions and prayer vigils across the country, were part of the worldwide broadbased successful movement for change in South Africa. Having visited the West Bank, I think the time is right for the Methodist Church now to stand with the suffering Palestinian people and actively oppose the Israeli occupation. Israel has ignored international condemnation and failed to contribute meaningfully to peace talks. As someone I met said, it is because “Israel has not yet felt the pain”. Only through vigorous boycott, disinvestment and sanctions will change be brought about and will Israel and Palestine be free. If we act now, I cannot see how the two-state solution can be effected, given the devastating fragmentation of Palestine that the illegal settlements, the wall and house demolitions by Israel are bringing about.
I hope that Bethlehem’s Mayor will be able to thank God for peace next Christmas and that the Methodist Church will have played its part.
Ann Reeder visited the West Bank as part of a Labour2Palestine delegation as a candidate for the Euorpean Parliament. She worked for the Methodist Church on international, relief and development affairs from 1984-1996.
Bruce Thompson’s response
Methodist Recorder March 14, 2014
Why this obsession with Israel?
From the Rev Bruce Thompson
What an extraordinarily ill-timed article from Ann Reeder likening Israel to apartheid South Africa and condemning the “occupation” (Recorder, March 7).
Of course, she can be forgiven for not foreseeing that it would be printed the week that Russia occupied Ukrainian sovereign territory, bringing on the biggest crisis in East-West relations in a generation; we will wait a while I think, for calls at the Methodist Conference to boycott Russia, as we gave China over Tibet or indeed many of the Arab nations for their treatment of women, the abused and the raped.
The article smacked of pre-Arab Spring thought, during which time tens if not hundreds of thousands of Christians have been “cleansed” from their ancient homelands alongside millions of others in Syria alone. And where is the outcry from those who are obsessed with criticising the only Jewish state in the world? With more than 130,000 dead in the Syrian civil war, a short drive from Israel, is it any wonder that there is fear in the region? Especially, with Iran’s Foreign Minister claiming that the greatest threat to peace is the Shia/Sunni conflict; and he should know, as his regime has funded terrorism in the region for decades. Indeed, Ann couldn’t have known that just days before her article was to be printed a ship was intercepted containing advanced missiles allegedly bound for militants in Gaza.
As for likening Israel to apartheid South Africa, well I guess we have come to expect this nonsense. Of course there are problems in Israel/Palestine; I know of no country where difference doesn’t cause a problem. Have we forgotten the continuing tensions in our own islands,not least Northern Ireland, where other separation walls exist.
Ann, of course, overlooks the fact that Arabs in Israel have the right to vote, there has been an Arab member of the Knesset since its foundation, there are Arab lawyers and Arab judges prosecuting Jews, there is even an Arab Supreme Court Judge. Hospital treatment is not segregated; everyone, whatever their race or creed, works as a team to treat the sick. There are plenty of injured Syrians who have been met at the border grateful to receive top quality medical treatment from Israeli medics.
Ann and other anti-Israeli campaigners are fond of using the term “Kairos”, a biblical term they have hijacked for their own political ends. “Kairos” can be translated as a timely opportunity or moment. To prolong this debate with such obsession and naivete is anything but timely.
Look elsewhere in the world and we will find far greater human rights issues, not least on Israel’s borders; but before we judge others maybe we should consider the issues on out own doorstep; the rise of the far right and the deepening divisions within our own communities, not to mention the food crisis and rapidly growing inequality.
We should recognise this as a Kairos moment for us and deal with those issues now. I am afraid that specks, eyes and logs come to mind.
Bruce Thompson, Lincoln