Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is dedicated to advancement of the two-state solution: a negotiated agreement that calls for two states, Israel and Palestine, existing side by side in security and peace. While we operate as an independent organization, we also believe in engagement with all parties sympathetic to the two-state solution. Dialogue and partnerships are crucial elements in advancing the cause of peace.
Tragically, some of the initiatives put before past Presbyterian general assemblies have pointed us in the opposite direction. The denomination is petitioned continuously to condemn Israel as the sole party responsible for the conflict. We are asked to declare Israel an apartheid state, and urge church-affiliated investment funds to divest from American companies providing goods and services to Israel. These actions are not only wrong, they hinder our ability as a church to participate in a broad coalition for a just peace.
The American Jewish community has a deep and well-justified concern for Israel’s security and the physical safety of its people. This should not be interpreted as blind and unquestioning support for policies of the government of Israel, or as opposition to peace. There is a myth that is circulated that “The American Jewish community won’t criticize Israel and condemns anyone else who does.” If one takes the time to look at the level of debate that goes on among friends of Israel as to policies and courses of action, you will quickly realize the fallacy of this myth.
Prior to 2004, the PCUSA took some highly critical positions regarding Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians. The PCUSA positions did not raise a furor in the U.S. Jewish community. It wasn’t until the idea of economic retribution (boycotts, divestment or sanctions) against Israel was raised that the American Jewish community began to voice opposition to the direction in which the PCUSA was moving. Economic actions by Christians against Jews have a long, tragic history that could not be ignored. The BDS (Boycott/Divest/Sanction) movement, which some within our church espouse, questions the legitimacy of Israel’s security concerns, in spite of overwhelming factual evidence to the contrary, which rightfully strikes a nerve among Israel’s friends and supporters.
On Monday, Feb 6, Palestinian leaders agreed to the formation of a “unity government” between Fatah, the dominant party in the Palestinian Authority governing the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist militant movement controlling the Gaza Strip. Current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would lead this government until national elections are held later this year. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, credited with building civil institutions and improving security in the West Bank, would step down.
In the short 2007 civil war between Fatah and Hamas the Palestinian Authority lost control of the Gaza Strip, encompassing 40% of the Palestinian population. Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel and unequivocally rejects the two-state solution. A government with Hamas as a major participant, therefore, will not have the support of the international community, and will be unable to negotiate peace with Israel.
Advancement of the two-state solution requires that both governments, Israeli and Palestinian, be firmly committed to peace and able to deliver on commitments. For the Palestinians, this means disarming Hamas, regaining control of the Gaza Strip, and electing a government committed to peace. The next Palestinian elections can therefore be pivotal in advancing Palestinian statehood, and the power to do so lies solely in the hands of the Palestinian people.
Free elections require free speech and a free and independent media. Palestinians have made progress, but are still some distance from the freedoms necessary for genuinely free elections, particularly in Gaza.
As a recent case in point, Palestinian activist Mahmoud abu Rahma was stabbed and critically injured in January outside his home in Gaza(Palestinian activist attacked). Rahma is known for speaking out against Palestinian militants and leaders. The attack was most likely motivated by a recent article Rahma penned for the Palestinian Maan News Agency titled “The Gap Between Resistance and Governance”. The article criticized Palestinian government officials and armed militant groups for silencing critics, detaining and torturing political opponents, and endangering civilians by firing rockets at Israel from residential neighborhoods.
With so much media focus on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, not enough attention is focused on the need to build a strong consensus for peace within each society. If Palestinians reject violence and embrace peaceful coexistence with Israel, they can take control of their own destiny. They face major hurdles, and need more people willing to speak out against Hamas, as Mr. Rahma bravely did.
Presbyterians for Middle East Peace agrees with the decision of the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN-PCUSA), a group chartered by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), to shut down the IPMN Facebook page. IPMN cited its inability to properly monitor the content of the IPMN Facebook page as a major reason for its decision. The IPMN Facebook page contained material that drew sharp criticism from inside the Presbyterian Church and in the Jewish community. To gain an understanding of the nature of some of the material posted on the IPMN facebook page, we strongly suggest reading an article on the subject recently produced by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA): Confronting Anti-Semitism in Presbyterian Network.
Freedom of speech is a cherished American right and Presbyterian value. At the same time, a church sanctioned organization cannot be associated with the distribution of ideas and images that go against core principles of our faith. PFMEP commits itself to monitoring closely any and all material on our website to make sure it is consistent with the values of our faith.