A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council

As the issues it addresses are of deep concern to us, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network is hosting the following letter.  It was, however, generated exclusively by those who are its signatories.

Episcopal Voices of Conscience

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 21, 2013

A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council


“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”-  Martin Luther King , Jr. August 28, 1963  Washington, D.C.

Today as we celebrate the life and witness of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., we affirm once more that we will continue to build on his dream of a fully inclusive America, “where we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Today we also want to invoke Dr. King’s call for justice on the land where Jesus lived his earthly ministry, the holy land that is precious to all Jews, Christians, and Muslims – the people of Abraham. We affirm that God intends for Israeli Jews and Palestinians to live together in a just peace. Dr. King reminds us that justice must be the arbiter of this conflict, and we add that truth must be its accompanist. This is the justice Jesus called for when he said, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of Apartheid, so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa.  All peoples who have experienced oppression, including indigenous peoples who have known what it is to be dispossessed of their land, understand the Palestinian issue.

Israel must be held accountable for allowing an occupation for 45 years that suffocates the dreams of freedom that Palestinians hold every bit as much as African Americans sought on that day when Dr. King told the world that he had a dream. Occupation cannot be justified as a tool of security. Occupation is its own form of violence, a prescription for frustration and rage among those shackled under its harsh restraints.

We ask the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church to look carefully at the full body of our Church’s policy on Israel and Palestine, and to implement those policies whenever the opportunity arises. The Episcopal Church General Convention held in July, 2012, adopted resolution A015 which reads in part: “Resolved, That that the General Convention reaffirms Resolution 1991 – A149, “Urge a Full Accounting of the Use of Foreign Aid to the Middle East,” adopted by the 70th General Convention,” which reads in part:  “require(s) the State of Israel to account to the Government of the United States for all aid to Israel…in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act.”

As elected leaders of The Episcopal Church, we ask Executive Council to:

  • Immediately send a message to Congress that the Episcopal Church supports our 15 ecumenical colleagues, who include the church leadership of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ denominations, that wrote to Congress October 5, 2012, calling for accountability of Israel’s use of foreign aid from our government. The voice of The Episcopal Church is woefully missing in the request our colleagues made to Congress.
  • Immediately move forward with our Church’s corporate engagement policy so that our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation. 
  • We respectfully ask for a public accounting of the Executive Council’s work on these matters no later than the meeting of Council June 8-10, 2013.    

The truth that is so readily seen worldwide, except among our nation’s leaders, is that Israel imposes a matrix of control over the occupied Palestinian territories, locating Jewish settlements on prime Palestinian land, building segregated roads forbidden to Palestinians to connect the settlers to Israel proper, erecting a wall that causes havoc in the daily lives of Palestinians and serves as another pretext to occupy yet more land. We see check points that are used to control the movements of people on their own land where tactics of bullying, intimidation, and detention are practiced; and where the demolition of homes and the uprooting of olive tree orchards are commonplace causing further humiliation and insult, along with the destruction of livelihoods. We see what was once Palestinian East Jerusalem being subsumed through Israel’s settlement policy. We see the teeming population of Gaza held under confinement on land, in the air, and at sea.

We ask today why is it that Congress and the White House are unable to see the injustice of the occupation, where Israel is the oppressor, and the Palestinians the oppressed? Why is it that our government could not recognize the rights of Palestinians to status as a non-member observer state at the United Nations? Why do our country’s leaders embarrass us as a nation by being on the short end of the UN vote, 138-9, and expose our irrational bias? We are mystified that Washington lives in a bubble of unreality in its blind support of an immense injustice perpetrated every day on the Palestinian people, and foments anger across the Middle East and the world.

Just as Dr. King spoke to the throngs on the Mall of our nation’s Capitol so, too, do his words ring true for Palestinians: “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.  And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

We believe, as does our Church, in the right of the state of Israel to exist, and we are aware of the threats against it from multiple sources, which saddens and concerns us. We assure all Jews in Israel and everywhere that we too share a commitment to Israel’s security and peace even as we insist that the state of Israel end this miserable occupation, which diminishes both the oppressed and the oppressor.  We affirm our commitment to non-violence and reject the use of violence from either side. We oppose the indiscriminate use of rockets fired into Israeli communities as we oppose bombs being dropped on Gaza by Israeli fighter jets. We affirm the right of Israel to be at peace with her neighbors, but insist it be through the prism of justice as we believe Dr. King would insist.

As our Church stated in 1991, we differentiate between anti-Semitism, which we abhor, and legitimate criticism of the state of Israel, especially as Israel imposes an unjust system of occupation upon another people. We affirm the right of Palestinians to non-violent resistance to the occupation just as African Americans resisted the inhumanity of Jim Crow and segregation.

And just as Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, we hear from Palestinians who have a dream. We hear from Israeli Jews of goodwill that share that dream. May both peoples dream as Martin Luther King, Jr. did: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

We turn to our elected Church leaders, the Executive Council, to take up the mantle of justice and truth and undertake the long standing witness The Episcopal Church has made over these last three decades.  We ask you, our elected leaders, to give voice to our long held policies, remembering that the arc of history bends towards justice.

Signed- Titles are for identification purposes only and do not imply organizational endorsement

Canon Bonnie Anderson, D.D., President of the Episcopal Church House of Deputies, 2006-2012

Owanah Anderson, citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Right Reverend Edmond L. Browning, former Presiding Bishop, 1986-1997, Current President of Sabeel, North America

Patti Browning , wife of Edmond Browning and long time activist for Palestinian justice

The Right Reverend Steven Charleston, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, retired

The Right Reverend Leo Frade, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida

The Reverend Canon Brian J. Grieves, former Peace and Justice Officer, The Episcopal Church 1988-2009

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean, Washington National Cathedral

Diane B. Pollard, Senior Deputy to General Convention, Diocese of New York, 1979 – 2012

The Right Reverend Gene Robinson, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, retired, current Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC

The Reverend Canon Edward Rodman, John Seeley Stone Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry, Episcopal Divinity School

The Reverend Winnie Varghese, Rector, St. Mark’s in- the-Bowery, New York, Executive Council 2006-2012

Supported by Internationals endorsers:

Dr. Jenny Te Paa – Dean, Te Rau Kahikatea, St. Johns College, Auckland, New Zealand

The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu – Archbishop Emeritus, Cape Town, Patron of Sabeel, International

19 comments on “A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council

  1. Virginia G Gambill on said:

    An excellent accounting of the facts on the ground in Israel. This letter should be signed and sent asap.

  2. Prof. Taheri on said:

    We all want peace, and yet, after more than a century of conflict, the struggle between these two related nations remains more intractable than ever. Why?

    Because each side is entrenched in its own narrative, to the exclusion of the other’s.

    Its faults notwithstanding, one must admit that Israel has taken some steps since the Oslo Accords toward acknowledging the Palestinian suffering. These steps are reflected in school books, in the media, and through other informational outlets. The Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, for instance, are now referred to as “Palestinians,” and most Israelis would like to see a Palestinian state emerge. The fact that Israeli voters don’t reflect these wishes has to do with fears of surface-to-air missiles two miles from Ben-Gurion International Airport, and scarred memories of blown-up buses and pizzerias.

    The Palestinians, unfortunately, have done little to allay Israeli fears. While Palestinians clamor for the removal of onerous checkpoints and barriers, militant attempts to penetrate these barriers and attack Israeli civilians have not ceased at all since the second Intifada. Similarly, school books and speeches, in Arabic, have grown radical, to the point of portraying Israel’s very existence as a crime. Little has been done to acknowledge the Jewish roots in Palestine.

    The fact is that the Jewish presence in Palestine goes much farther back than most Palestinians, as well as Arabs and Muslims in general, would be willing to admit.

    Before 1948, Palestine was ruled by a series of empires. Before that Palestine was Judaea—a Jewish country. Jews have lived in Palestine continuously for more than 3,300 years. “Palestine” was the name given to the Jewish homeland in the second century by the Romans, in an attempt to break the Jewish adherence to the land. This was a century after the Jewish temple was destroyed and more than a million Jews were massacred.

    The Jews stopped fighting the Romans only after they had no more fighting men standing. As Evangelist William Eugene Blackstone put it in 1891, “The Jews never gave up their title to Palestine… They never abandoned the land. They made no treaty, they did not even surrender. They simply succumbed, after the most desperate conflict, to the overwhelming power of the Romans.”

    The Jews persisted through the centuries under the various empires, after the Arab invasion of 635AD (which they fought alongside the Byzantines), and after the Crusade massacres of the 11th Century, which decimated much of their population. They never stopped returning, and their numbers recovered. In the 19th century, before the Zionist immigration, Jews constituted the largest religious group in Jerusalem.

    Few Palestinians realize that Jewish customs, religion, prayers, poetry, holidays, and virtually every walk of life, documented for thousands of years—all revolve around Judaea/Palestine/Israel. For thousands of years Jews have been praying for Jerusalem in every prayer, after every meal, in every holiday, at every wedding, in every celebration. The whole Jewish religion is about Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. Western expressions such as “The Promised Land,” and “The Holy Land,” did not pop out of void. They have been part of Western knowledge and tradition dating back to the beginning of Christianity and earlier.

    After the Crusades, the Jews—including many who have returned over the centuries—lived peacefully with Arabs, often in the very same villages, as in Pki’in, in the Galilee, until the Zionist immigration of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Article 6 of the PLO Charter specifically calls for the acceptance of all Jews present in Palestine prior to the Zionist immigration. These Jews were simply another ethnic group in a region composed of Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Druz, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Circassians, Samarians, and more. Some of these groups, like the Druz, Circassians, Samarians, and an increasing number of Christians, are actually loyal to the Jewish State.

    Incidentally, genetic studies consistently show that Zionist immigrants (a.k.a., Ashkenazi Jews) are closely related to groups that predate the Arab conquest, like the Samarians, who have lived in Palestine for thousands of year.

    Palestinian denial of these facts may lead to events such as the ones brilliantly depicted in Jonathan Bloomfield’s award-winning book, “Palestine,” in which actual history and predicted events are thinly veiled as fiction.

    If, as the current Palestinian narrative goes, the Jews are not a people indigenous to Palestine but rather an invading foreign colonialist body, then they must be fought until they are removed from this land. Anything short of that, by any standard, would be injustice.

    Thus, war and bloodshed will continue until the Palestinians start acknowledging the Jewish narrative, and the fact that Jewish roots in Palestine date back thousands of years, long before the Arab invasion.

    • Florence Mattar on said:

      The issue here that there are people that are living under a horrible occupation. It is worst than the apartheid in South Africa. Palestinians do not hate Jews but hate the actions and the injustice that is thrust upon them. More than 400 Palestinian villages were demolished and thousands displaced to make room for Jews coming from Europe and until now they are bulldozing homes all over, burning their farm lands, hundreds of children in prisons, etc. As Christians we should be deeply disturbed to see these horrific happenings, we cannot remain silent while there is so much suffering. Enough is enough.

      • Prof. Taheri on said:

        Did you personally visit prisons and saw children there, or are you referring to a 17-year old, brained washed with hatred, who tried to murder Israelis. Now that he is arrested he appears in pro-Palestinian propaganda as a “child.”

        Did you know that Israel is only bulldozing illegally built homes, and Hamas does the same thing in Rafah to its own population without much fanfare.

        “More than 400 Palestinian villages were demolished and thousands displaced.”

        I assume you are referring to 1948. The order is reverse. First Palestinians fled, and only then their villages were used to house Jewish refugees, cleared for development, or left to disintegrate. There was no campaign of village demolition, as Palestinian propaganda portrays it.

        The Arabs of Palestine fled at the urging and fear mongering of their own leaders, who promised that after the Jews were wiped out they could return. You can listen to their testimonies—their very own words—on youtube: watch?v=FuGqpFxogRg ; watch?v=cn4r7ZjG9Nc .

        There was no ethnic cleansing.

        In contrast, no Jewish leader told the 850,000 Jews in Arab countries to move out temporarily so the Arabs in their lands can be exterminated, and then they can return. And in many of these lands, e.g., Mesopotamia, the Jews predated the Arabs by more than 1,200 years.

        These Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel, unlike their 750,000 Arab counterparts who fled Palestine and were refused settlement and rights among their very own Arab brethren.

        By 1950, “Saturday” was largely complete. The Jews were gone. Today “Sunday” is taking place, and Christians are fleeing Arab lands in droves. As the current Arab saying goes, “After Saturday comes Sunday.”

        Palestinians could have stayed if they had not listened to the exaggerated scare stories of Hazam Nusseibeh and Hussayn Khalidi of the Higher Arab Executive, who had actually intended with their horror stories to draw in more Arabs to the fight.

        The Jews in the Arab countries could NOT have stayed. It was either fleeing as refugees (and losing an untold fortune that had been built over many generations) or facing death.

        They fled.

        They lost all their land, business and property, and became penniless refugees in Israel.

        Your untrue version of history and current events may only lead to further hatred and away from peace.

        The Church would do wisely to send a mission to Israel/Palestine, and meet with leaders on BOTH sides, and hear the full story.

  3. Vicki Gray on said:

    If there is room for the signature of a humble deacon, please add my name. I am heartened by the position advanced and the stature of those who have signed. You will find my comments on the Presiding Bishop’s pre-emptive strike appended to the ENS story on her shocking silence vis-a-vis the manifold and manifest injustices being inflicted on the Palestinians. It is time for the church to address those injustices loudly and clearly. This letter has begun the process.

    • Prof. Taheri on said:

      The Palestinians could have had a peaceful state in 1937 with the Peel Plan, but they violently rejected it.

      They could have had a peaceful state in 1939 with the MacDonald White Paper, but they violently rejected it.

      They could have had a peaceful state in 1948 with UN 181, but they violently rejected it. They chose instead to launch an offensive together with five regular Arab armies in an effort to “drive the Jews into the sea.”

      They could have had a peaceful state from 1948-1967 in the West Bank and Gaza, where the Arabs had ethnically cleansed every single Jew, but they violently rejected it. They chose instead to infiltrate the Jewish country and murder its civilians.

      They could have had a peaceful state after 1967, but instead, they and the rest of the Arab world issued the infamous 3 No’s of Khartoum: No to peace with Israel; No to recognition of Israel; No to negotiations with Israel.

      They could have had a peaceful state after the 1993 Oslo Accords. But instead they chose to introduce their latest weapon against the Jews: The suicide bomber.

      They could have had a peaceful state in 2000 with the Barak offer, but they violently rejected it, and started the gruesome series of suicide massacres known as the “Second Intifada.”

      They could have had a peaceful state in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal of 2005 but they violently rejected it with thousands of missile attacks.

      They could have had a peaceful state in 2008 with the Olmert offer, but they violently rejected. Every single month since, there have been dozens of attacks and attempted attacks from both the West Bank and Gaza. The only things preventing a bloodbath in Israel are the Israeli security measures: The “apartheid” barrier and checkpoints in the West Bank, the border and anti-missile system in Gaza, and intelligence that leads to preemptive arrests.

      The Palestinians had many chances.

      They rejected them all because destroying Israel was a higher priority.

      And it still is.

  4. martha knight on said:

    As a member of The Episcopal Peace Fellowship I claim to be a Christ Bearer; a Christian that carries the gospel of peace and reconciliation into the world, to all remote areas. I have a special interest in the Israel Palestine conflict saddened to tears daily of the injustices against my Palestinian brothers & sisters. I am deeply saddened at the stark silence of our Presiding Bishop as well; therefore please add my name to this letter.

  5. Prof. Taheri on said:

    “Occupation cannot be justified as a tool of security.”

    That is correct. That’s why Israel took chances withdrawing from South Lebanon and Gaza.

    The Palestinians greeted this gesture with thousands of rockets, forcing Israel to impose a blockade to limit the number and size of weapons that can enter the strip.

    Why would Israel now unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank, constricting its width to nine miles, and leaving its soft belly exposed? For instance, any passenger jet landing at Israel’s international airport would be within range of should-fired surface-to-air missiles. We are talking about nightmarish scenarios.

    Trying to negotiate a withdrawal is impossible. The Palestinians insist on the right of return, in effect saying that they’ll only make peace with Israel if there is no Israel.

    In the meanwhile, there are dozens of Palestinian attempts to murder innocent Israelis every single month, and the only thing that’s stopping them are the security measures: The checkpoints, the barrier, and intelligence, followed by these arrests.

    What is Israel to do?

  6. Peter Hildebrand on said:

    Please add my name to this excellent letter. No one who has truly visited Palestine, as well as Israel, can deny that Isreal’s State Aparthied Policies of oppression, of confiscation of land, etc., must be addressed, and the right to have reasonable, secure lives for the Palestinean people established.

    As our newly re-elected President so aptly quoted yesterday from out wonderful Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    This applies to Palestineans too!

    • Peter – Are you a PIN member? If not, join up now. A communication will go out shortly providing an opportunity to add your name in support. Those who sign will be delivered to Executive Council for their late February meeting. Thanks for your words. Cotton Fite

  7. The_Archer_of_the_Forest on said:

    I have an idea. Why doesn’t the Episcopal church give an accounting of all the money it spends on lawsuits and other mismanagement before we start shaking our fingers at Israel. Not that I am against having informed opinions on these issues, but does anyone really think Israelis or Palestinians care about our sanctimony when we are some small sect in the US that is less than 1% of the population? This is beyond arrogance.

  8. Robert H. Stiver, Oahu, Hawaii, USA on said:

    I am a Methodist, but I have read this letter of immense significance to the quest for Holy Land, regional, and world peace with a renewed sense of hope. Along the continuum of 50 years of suffering vicariously with the tormented Palestinians, hope has been my only solace. I hope, I pray that PB Schori will at long last stand up proudly, resolutely for truth, justice, morality, and peace…and lead the Episcopalians to the righteousness of this cause.

  9. Mike A on said:

    I think the real villain here is Iran. They send rockets into Israel from Palestinian territory. Israel retaliates against the Palestinians. Iran fights a war without suffering any consequences.

  10. The Rev. Wifredo Benitez on said:

    A commendable document! MLK’s vision of the Promised Land extends to the Holy Land itself, and that is a vision that will not be fulfilled until there is a dignified and just peace in Palestine/Israel where Palestinians and Israelis enjoy the same human rights and protections under the law. We all have a role to play in this. Our collective conscience needs to speak with a loud prophetic voice against the brutal occupation of Palestine. I firmly believe that with God all things are possible. We cannot remain silent. Si Se Puede! Salam/Shalom!

  11. Ann Fontaine on said:

    Sure could use some help arguing your case on the bishops and deputies listserve.

  12. Everett W. Francis on said:

    I served as Staff to the Committee on Social Responsibility in Investments as it was instituted and during the years of special concern for South Africa. The arguments against participation in the ecumenical action are the same or similar to those against such action then. And certainly the arguments against MLK’s actions which led to his imprisonment. My reading of recent GC’s actions does not inhibit present support of ecumenical action.

  13. Val Wallace on said:

    I have recently returned from a trip to Israel. While we were there, we visited refugee camps and witnessed the horrific living conditions the Palestinians are enduring. Israeli soldiers harass and humiliate the Palestinians in any way they can; gassing small Palestinian children at their schools, shooting older children as they play soccer in front of their homes, polluting their only source of water in addition to depriving them of water in order to keep the pools and sprinkler systems in the settlements active. A wall separates many of them from their lands, jobs and schools. There is no denial of the apartheid that exists in Israel.

  14. Hal Smith on said:

    This sounds like a good idea. If a product comes from a factory that brutally abuses its workers, and even the workers are on strike because of it and don’t want us to buy the products, why should I?

    If a product is defective, has offensive labeling, or causes alot of unneeded pollution and I have alternatives, why should I buy the harmful product instead of the one I prefer instead? Why should my taxes go to “unconditionally” supporting harm to native Christian villages in the Holy Land?

  15. I am concerned by a number of Professor Taheri’s assertions on this blog concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They are rather one-sided, misleading and sometimes contrafactual.
    For example, Mr. Taheri writes that, “The Arabs of Palestine fled at the urging and fear mongering of their own leaders, who promised that after the Jews were wiped out they could return. You can listen to their testimonies—their very own words—on youtube: watch?v=FuGqpFxogRg ; watch?v=cn4r7ZjG9Nc. There was no ethnic cleansing.”
    In fact, the thesis that the Palestinians left en masse at the urging of their leaders has long been discredited, including by Israeli historians such as Benny Morris. (See,”A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999″ (Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1999). The same applies to assertions regarding alleged Arab broadcasts urging Palestinians to leave. There simply is no record of such transmissions.
    On the other hand, there is an extensive record showing that Israeli authorities evacuated and forcibly expelled large numbers of Palestinians during the 1948 war. A number of 1948 war veterans have acknowledged receiving and executing such orders.
    In memoires, several initially adhered to the narrative that the Palestinians fled upon the urgings of Arab leaders. Later, however, they changed their presentation, admitting that they had given written orders to expel Palestinians. In this category are, for instance, Moshe Carmel, commander of the Northern Front in 1948; Shmuel (Mula) Cohen, commander of the Iftach Brigade in 1948; and Nahum Golan, commander of the Golany Brigade in 1948. (See, “Internal and External Collective Memories of Conflicts: Israel and the 1948 Palestinian Exodus,” Rafi Nets-Zehngut, Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (International Journal of Conflict and Violence: Vol. 6 (1) 2012, pp. 126 – 140).
    Then, there is the case of Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian Jew who fought with the Jewish forces in the 1948 War. Dunkelman was relieved of command after refusing a verbal order to evacuate Nazareth’s civilian population. When he requested written authorization it was not given. The writer Peter Kidron, who helped Dunkelman write his memoires, has reported that Dunkelman included this in his draft of the memoirs but then decided to leave it out. (See, “Truth Whereby Nations Live” in “Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestine Question,” Edited by Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens (Verso: London, New York, 1988).
    Kidron later translated into English Yitzhak Rabin’s book. The Israeli military censor cleared the material but the ministerial committee which reviewed the manuscript deleted Rabin’s recounting of the expulsion of 50,000 civilians from Lydda (Lod) and Ramleh. This incident took place within days of the verbal order described by Dunkelman.

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