The PFMEP Blog

The PFMEP Blog focuses on advancing Middle East Peace.

Thoughtful comments on blog articles can provide additional insight and stimulate productive debate. We welcome comments from a diverse group of contributors.

George Douglas is a ruling elder and a member of the steering committee of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace and serves as editor of the PFMEP website. He has visited Israel and Palestine on multiple occasions. He also serves on the West Coast Advisory Board of Save a Child’s Heart, a charity that brings Palestinian children and children from developing countries into Israel for life-saving heart surgery.


 

George Douglas

A Wilberforce Model for Middle East Peace

In the 18th and early 19th century, British parliamentarian William Wilberforce led the movement to abolish the slave trade in England. Wilberforce’s story encourages all who want peace between Palestinians and Israelis by showing the power of perseverance and importance of grassroots work. His motivation came from a deep Christian commitment. His close friend John Newton, the ex-slave trader, Anglican clergyman, and author of the song “Amazing Grace,” convinced him to practice his faith as a Christian in politics and not enter the ministry as he initially intended.

When he was elected to the British parliament (in 1780 at the age of 22) he set upon abolishing the slave trade. Almost every member of Parliament was getting money from the slave trade companies, as was the King, and the English public had little interest in the issue. Many thought the cause hopeless, just as many today see the cause of Middle East peace as hopeless.

Wilberforce persevered nonetheless, and the campaign was a model of Christian activism. His movement built public awareness of the evils of the slave trade. They led tours of slave ships to demonstrate the inhuman conditions the slaves faced. They produced posters and books and held rallies. They created a national abolition organization and a powerful grassroots movement.

In 1789 Wilberforce put forth the first legislation for the abolition of the slave trade, but it was 18 years (in 1807) before the legislation passed and the slave trade was abolished. It took another 26 years of campaigning to have the existing slaves released. In 1834, one year after his death, 800,000 slaves were freed and the institution of slavery ceased to exist in the British territories. Wilberforce dedicated his entire life to this important cause and his story is a source of inspiration to this day.

This story offers some important lessons for Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. First is that change requires commitment and perseverance. Second is that both grassroots and political efforts are essential. At the grassroots level over 100 peacemaking organizations bring Israelis and Palestinians together for person-to-person contact. Over 100,000 Palestinians peacefully enter Israel each day for work and 30,000 work in West Bank Industrial parks. Palestinian-Israeli contact and economic cooperation must be encouraged, not discouraged by boycotts and other hostile actions.

There must also be a strong political will for peace on both sides of the conflict, and they feed off of each other. Here we face two very different situations. Israel is a liberal democracy. Israeli citizens freely elect their leaders with a free press and freedom of political expression.

For Palestinians the political situation is much more challenging. At present there are no freely elected leaders at the national level and no immediate prospects for change. Palestinian President Abbas’ term of office ended 8 years ago. The Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank but Hamas, which remains committed to the violent destruction of Israel, has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006. There is little freedom of political expression. Palestinians criticizing the Palestinian Authority risk arrest, and Palestinians opposing Hamas in the Gaza Strip risk death.

The situation puts Palestinians in a position of weakness. Nothing would strengthen their position more, and advance the cause of peace, than a freely elected Palestinian government committed to the rule of law and peaceful coexistence with Israel, yet too many in the West see the Palestinian political situation as immutable and hopeless.

Such a sentiment reveals a deep condescension and bias toward Arabs and Palestinians. Are they simply incapable of building a multi-ethnic state as other nations have done? Are they incapable of building a liberal democracy based on rule of law? The answer is a resounding “no”, and such aspirations should not be given up on.

Much has been said of the Israeli “right” and the West Bank settler movement gaining strength in Israel. Palestinian political instability feeds this, and even incrementally positive Palestinian political progress would give Israel’s peace movement and political moderates a strong argument for peacemaking with the Palestinians. There is no quick solution but there is a path forward, starting with Palestinians having genuine freedom of expression, followed by broadened participation in the Palestinian political process, and ultimately genuinely free elections.

Some will read this and think we are wasting our time on a hopeless cause, as many thought William Wilberforce was. They may be right. Wilberforce, however, benefitted from a unique form of ignorance: he didn’t understand what he couldn’t do. Such ignorance is often the essential element for meaningful change.

George Douglas

A Troubling Resolution

This summer the Israel-targeted Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement aggressively promoted their agenda at several church assemblies, but progress for BDS was limited. At the United Methodist Church General Conference divestment was rejected and delegates urged Methodist groups to sever involvement with the BDS umbrella group End the Occupation. BDS made limited progress elsewhere and several divestment and boycott proposals were rejected. At the Presbyterian GA a proposal to boycott Hewlett Packard was overwhelmingly defeated and the PC(USA)’s longstanding commitment to two states for two peoples was reaffirmed.

At the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), divestment failed to gain widespread support. However, a resolution (full text on page 23 of this document) was approved which included the following statement:

To urge this church’s members, congregations, synods, agencies and presiding bishop to call on their U.S. Representatives, Senators and the Administration to take action requiring that, to continue receiving U.S. financial and military aid, Israel must comply with internationally recognized human rights standards as specified in existing U.S. law, stop settlement building and the expansion of existing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, end its occupation of Palestinian territory, and enable an independent Palestinian state; and

To encourage this church’s members, congregations, synods, and agencies to call on the U.S. President to recognize the State of Palestine and not prevent the application of the State of Palestine for full membership in the United Nations.

The resolution passed overwhelmingly. At first glance the statement may seem like a reasonable stance supporting Palestinian rights: why shouldn’t Christians urge the U.S. government to officially recognize the State of Palestine and pressure Israel to “enable” an independent Palestinian state? What harm could possibly come from such a clear and simple statement advocating for Palestinian human rights?

George Douglas

Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies

We talk often of the barriers to peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but little attention is focused on the barriers faced by Palestinians who favor coexistence and peace with Israel. Late in the evening of Monday, May 2, Palestinian activist Baha Nabata was shot dead in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. His assailant escaped on a motor bike. His killing was reported in the Israeli media. It did not receive any coverage we know of by the Palestinian Maan News Agency, or in the international media.

Mr. Nabata was a well known civil rights and youth leader in his community. His numerous accomplishments included paving the camp’s roads, setting up emergency medical services for residents, and training firefighters with help from the Jerusalem Fire Department. He also led a youth group in the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Shehada.

His activities caused him to be in contact and cooperate with Israeli municipal officials. For this he was branded by some Palestinians as a traitor, and for this Mr. Nabata feared for his life and eventually paid the ultimate price.

George Douglas

PFMEP GA breakfast speakers announced

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will again be an intensely debated issue at the upcoming General Assembly in Portland. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace will be hosting a breakfast meeting on Saturday, June 18. If you are attending GA, we hope you will join us. Registration information is available at General Assembly information.

We are excited to have two very special guest speakers at the breakfast: noted Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, and Arab-Christian Israeli scholar and diplomat George Deek. 

Bassem Eid is a Jerusalem-based political analyst, human rights pioneer and expert commentator in Arab and Palestinian affairs. In 1996, he founded the Jerusalem based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. In 2016, he assumed the role of chairman of the Center for Near East Policy Research.

George Deek, currently a Fulbright Scholar at Georgetown University, is an Arab-Christian Israeli that hails from the city of Jaffa, where his family has lived for over 400 years. He graduated with two degrees, LL.B. in Law and B.A. in Government, at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya. After having worked as a lawyer in a private firm in Tel-Aviv, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008.

Mr. Eid was born in the Jordanian-occupied Old City in East Jerusalem, and spent the first 33 years of his life in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. He rose to prominence during the first Intifada, the Palestinian uprising and was a senior field researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. 

Mr. Eid’s work focused on both Israeli and Palestinian human rights issues. He publicly condemned the widespread murder of Palestinian dissidents, often for reasons unrelated to the Intifada. In 1995, following his report about the Palestinian Preventative Security Service, he came under attack by some Palestinian leaders for revealing human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). He continued his criticisms of human rights policies of both Israeli and Palestinian armed forces. Arrested by Arafat’s Presidential Guard (Force 17), he was released after 25 hours following widespread international condemnation. 

Mr. Deek previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel in Norway between July 2012 and January 2015, where he also served as Chargé d'Affaires between February and September 2014. Previously he served as Israel's Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria (2009-2012).  

Mr. Deek was involved from a young age in the promotion of mutual understanding and co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Israel. He was the co-editor of the first local newspaper of Jaffa “YaffoSheli/ Yafati” (“My Jaffa” in Hebrew and Arabic); He led various Arab-Jewish delegations and programs to the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom; He was the manager of the "Arab-Jewish" debate forum of Israel's leading news website Ynet. He lead the youth movement of the Arab-Christian community in Israel, while also managing the musical school of the community, where over 120 children and youth of the ages 7-25 years received education and music lessons for free.

Both of our speakers are uniquely qualified to share their insights into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and both will share their ideas for peacemaking and coexistence. We hope you will join us in Portland. For those who cannot, we will have videos of their presentations available on the PFMEP website.

George Douglas

Jihad in Paris

 

The horrific jihadist attacks in Paris have the world reeling. As Paris dominated the headlines, the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram massacred over 2,000 innocent people in Northeast Nigeria. In Iraq and Syria, the shockingly brutal jihadist group known as Daesh or Islamic State continues to wreak havoc. Just a few short weeks ago the world faced the horror of over 140 precious and innocent schoolchildren murdered by the Taliban in Pakistan. We keep all of the innocent victims in our prayers, and it is difficult to imagine the pain and grief these terrible attacks have caused their families and friends. Taken in their totality, Islamic jihadist movements represent the greatest threat to world peace and to civilization of our time. How can they be stopped, and what can people of faith do? 

George Douglas

Why Is There a Conflict Between Gaza and Israel?

A friend passed along to me an electronic newsletter he received from a PC(USA) worker based in Israel who is currently visiting congregations in the United States. What caught my eye was a segment in the newsletter entitled “What everyone is asking: why is there a conflict between Gaza and Israel?” The answers given were striking and called for a response.