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

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.

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John Wimberly

Peace or Polarization?

Is Jesus Opposed to Building Normal Relationships Between Israelis and Palestinians?

The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement is on record as opposing efforts to create “normalization” of relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. They reject all forms of dialogue, cooperation, or engagement between Israelis and Palestinians and their respective supporters. On the BDS Movement website, the BDS National Committee “calls for action against projects and initiatives which amount to recognition of or cooperation with Israel’s regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation (i.e., normalization).  This means opposition to programs like Hand in Hand that promote coexistence and are supported by many PCUSA congregations.  Hand in Hand and programs like it bring young Israelis and Palestinians together to build trust and friendships.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

On San Bernardino and Paris

The tragic events in San Bernardino and Paris, perpetrated by self-described supporters of Islamic State, are dominating the headlines. Islamic State and similar jihadist movements represent a serious threat to the civilized world. At the same time, they do not reflect beliefs held by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace categorically condemns the appalling anti-Islam rhetoric being uttered in this country, Europe and elsewhere. Lumping all Muslims together as fanatics is the same as trying to link all Christians to the white separatism of groups like the Ku Klux Klan or all Jews with the actions of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League. Today is not a time for people of faith to attack one another. It is a pivotal moment in human history when reasoned, reasonable people of faith need to come together and isolate the fanatics in our ranks---whether they be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic or any other type of religious fanatics.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

Now more than ever our prayers are needed for the peace of Jerusalem. The violence that in recent weeks began in Jerusalem is spreading across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Israelis are filled with fear, and Palestinians of good will are seeing their future disintegrate before their eyes.

What is needed to end this violence? The position of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is that progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is essential. There is only one path to peace, and it is the two state solution.  This has been the position of the PCUSA for decades and should remain the focal point of our peacemaking efforts. Political leaders on both sides, with help from the international community, must commit to this and demonstrate tangible progress to their respective peoples.

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Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

The Pillars of Peace

Peace requires a foundation, and organized efforts to promote coexistence, understanding, and cooperation are essential for building this foundation. Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Arabs are engaging in a dynamic and growing group of organizations dedicated to such efforts. To learn about them visit the website of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a network of over 80 organizations committed to this critical work. Christians can and should support these efforts; they are non-political, build bridges, and advance the cause of peace.

These efforts are facing opposition from the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement. The term for this opposition is “anti-normalization”. As a case in point, one of the ALLMEP organizations is YaLa Young Leaders, a rapidly growing youth peace movement with almost 1 million supporters in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. Last year YaLa hosted an online peace conference that attracted over 40,000 participants. YaLa has received statements of support from former president Bill Clinton and many other distinguished figures.

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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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