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.
John Wimberly

The Plight of Middle Eastern Christians

As Christians, we are concerned about all the people who are suffering and dying in the chaos that has engulfed much of the Middle East. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a special bond with Christians who are being persecuted. From Syria to Iraq to Egypt to Libya, we hear horrifying stories of Christians being jailed and murdered, even by beheading. At its April, 2014 meeting, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) responded to a Pittsburgh Presbytery overture expressing concern about the plight of Christians “in Egypt and other parts of the world” with the following advice to the Detroit General Assembly:

“Use of the word “persecution” mischaracterizes the nature of the maltreatment of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, and in many cases would be an unhelpful exaggeration.”

If this statement strikes the reader as incredible, it is. How have we reached a point where our leaders can dismiss the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians?

Due to the divestment debate, our denomination has been focused on the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis for more than a decade. Can it be that our preoccupation with the Palestine-Israel conflict has caused us to lose any and all understanding of the bigger picture in the Middle East? Have we become so absorbed in the suffering of the Palestinians and Israelis that we can see the ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East as an “unhelpful exaggeration?”

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

The Two-State Solution: New Study Documents Benefits

A new study by the Rand Corporation released this week illustrates the economic benefits of the Two-State Solution. The study estimates an economic benefit of $150 billion dollars for Israelis and $50 billion for Palestinians over a ten-year period, with both peoples benefitting. It predicts a 36% increase in per capita income for Palestinians over the same time frame.

The study also analyzes additional scenarios, none of which provide the economic benefit of the Two-State Solution. The Two-State Solution is based on a foundation of self-determination for Palestinians and security for Israelis. A second scenario analyzed in the Rand report is one promoted by the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which calls for economic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank without a commitment of peace from Palestinians. Under this scenario, both Israelis and Palestinians suffer economic losses, as economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians disintegrates. By pursuing the economic pressure strategy, the losses for the Palestinians are even greater when viewed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Netanyahu wins Israeli election and Palestinians lose in U.S. court

The recent Israeli election was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although only 24% of Israeli voters cast ballots for Netanyahu's Likud party, it was enough to ensure that the incoming Israeli administration will likely be led by Mr. Netanyahu. The victory came with a cost. To attract votes from the Israeli right wing, the Prime Minister made deplorable statements widely understood to be an outright rejection of the two-state solution and implored Israeli Jews to vote because Israeli Arabs were voting in large numbers. These statements were condemned by many groups ranging from Jewish organizations in the U.S. to the U.S State Department. We at PFMEP join in condemning political rhetoric that hinders the cause of peace for nothing more than political advantage, and PM Netanyahu’s statements reside squarely in that category. Days after the election, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s seeming reversal of his earlier statement on Palestinian statehood and apologies for his comments about Israeli Arabs have failed to remedy the situation he created.

In such a milieu, it is hard to retain hope for a two-state solution, but we are people of faith, not people who pursue political expediency. We work over the long term, not for short-term political ends. A two-state solution is the only possible just peace. It is the only option that allows both Palestinians and Israelis to have self-determination. It is the only option that has widespread international support. This is not a time to abandon the strategy. It is a time to insist on the strategy.

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Mike Gizzi

Israel through new eyes - a reflection

I returned home from two weeks in Israel three days ago. My trip was a university-sponsored one, to do the planning for a peace studies study abroad class, and a personal one, where I was on a fact-finding mission to gain my own perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I had heard the narrative that the pro-divestment proponents had put forth at GA, and wanted to see Israel on my own terms.    

In the time since I returned to Illinois, I have spent a lot of time looking at and sorting through the more than 5,000 photos I took and re-reading the daily blogs that I wrote. So many things jumped out at me. This was a trip unlike anything I have ever done. Ever. This is my first take at summarizing my experiences. 

Going to Israel was way outside of my comfort zone. I am talking thousands of miles outside of it. Forget the fact that I do not like flying, this was going to a country in one of the biggest hot spots of the world, where just seven months ago a war was going on.  So, Israel was way out of my comfort zone, yet going there somehow resulted in considerably expanding my comfort zone. There was not a single moment when I was in Israel or on the West Bank when I felt unsafe. I never had a panic attack, I was totally comfortable with my inability to understand more than a handful of words in either Hebrew or Arabic. It simply did not matter.  

Along the way, something incredible happened. I came to see the diverse cultures and people that live in Israel, the beauty and diversity of the land, and the religious significance and sense of the sacred present in the holy sites of the Abrahamic faiths.   I saw the green rolling terrain of the Galilee (which to my biblical-influenced mind looked nothing like it), the snow-covered terrain of the Golan Heights, the beauty of the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Ein Hod to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the hills of Jerusalem, the desert-like features of much of the West Bank (which more closely resembled my biblical images), the green of the Jordan River valley at Jericho, and the classical desert of the Dead Sea and Masada. All within a few hours of each other. All different. All Israel.

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John Wimberly

Here We Go Again

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) announced the membership of a group authorized by the 2014 General Assembly to study the two state solution as a peacemaking strategy for Israel and Palestine. Sadly, ACSWP has chosen to create a study team with an ideological imbalance that predetermines the result of its work. In the lead-up to the study team’s creation, ACSWP stressed that it would find experts to produce an objective analysis of the situation in the Middle East.  Instead, ACSWP has chosen several well-known pro-divestment activists to serve on the committee.  One member has written media op-ed pieces lobbying for the PCUSA to pass divestment overtures.  Another study group member was a staff person and current board member of Friends of Sabeel, an early leader in the divestment movement. 

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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? 

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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.

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Jill Schaeffer

Pacifism may lead to violence

An 800 pound gorilla in the room of justice, particularly for some Christians, is a horror of taking any action that may be construed as violent.  To violate someone's personal space, whether physically, psychologically or spiritually and cause injury is simply not done among practicing Christians.  Only non-violent strategies are permissable, and the rule of thumb is to "follow Jesus," if need be, to the cross.

And yet, and yet.... Edmond Burke's purported sentiment of 1795, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men do nothing,"  raises a slew of questions regarding the use of force for the sake of saving lives rather than increasing the vulnerability of those put at risk if "good" men stand back and do nothing.

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Mike Gizzi

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

The 221st General Assembly ended with mixed feelings. While I was profoundly disappointed in the divestment vote, which I viewed as well-meaning, but misguided, I was somewhat satisfied that I had convinced the GA to approve my commissioner's resolution declaring that “Zionism Unsettled" does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My own perspective had been shaped by efforts developing interfaith discussions in my congregation last winter. The local rabbi taught a well-attended four-week class on “A Taste of Judaism.” I knew that upon returning home, I needed to reach out to her, explain what we did and did not do in Detroit, and build bridges towards an interfaith dialogue. Very quickly, it became clear that a group of us in the Presbytery of Great Rivers had similar views. We were disappointed in the divestment vote for various reasons, but wanted to turn lemons into lemonade. We wanted to find a way to build relationships, and develop interfaith dialogues, rather than create or exacerbate divisions.

The efforts initially began in a decentralized way. Throughout the presbytery, people began to reach out to the local Jewish community. A group of us drove to Springfield to have lunch with the Jewish Federation. I met with the local rabbi in Bloomington, and we decided that I would speak to her congregation at a Shabbat service about what we did and did not do in Detroit, and more importantly, how we might work together. Similar things occurred in Peoria and the Quad Cities. Inspired by the work going on to our north in Chicago, we moved to have the presbytery establish an interfaith working group.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Words of Peace and Freedom

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself...." 

                     Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19 

 

Our prayers today are with the people of Israel and Gaza as we all hope for an immediate ceasefire to the Hamas-Israel war. We also pray for a lasting solution that provides the people of Gaza with peace and freedom and the people of Israel with security and freedom from violent attack.  

The civilians of Gaza, the vast majority with no connection to Hamas or related groups, have suffered the overwhelming brunt of the pain and suffering from the conflict, yet have no voice in their path forward. This must change. The people of Gaza have a right to peace and freedom, and a right to freely choose those who lead and speak for them. The 221st Presbyterian General Assembly (2014) formally recognized this essential human right, approving a resolution calling for “measures to ensure free and fair elections within the Palestinian territories.”  

We believe the people of Gaza should have basic freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly, and the right to choose their leaders through a genuine democratic process. The international community has been almost completely silent on the rights of the people of Gaza to have fair and open elections, and this has been wrong. These freedoms offer no guarantee of peace, but without them it is difficult to see how prospects for peace can move forward. At Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, we also support an international program for reconstruction efforts in Gaza. 

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