An Open Letter to the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori
From the Palestine Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Dear Bishop Katharine:
We write as fellow Episcopalians who share your deep interest in “a just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict” as stated in your letter to the two major political candidates for President of the United States on October 12. Our membership includes many seasoned people who have traveled extensively to Israel and Palestine, some of whom have lived in the region for a number of years. We are comprised of lay and ordained members, including bishops. We hope our letter today will further the interests of not only dialogue, but advocacy on behalf of the just peace that we both deeply desire for Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
We particularly appreciate your pointing out a number of the complexities that make progress towards justice challenging, including a potential “nuclear Iran; continued Israeli settlement building, particularly in and around Jerusalem, at a pace and pattern that complicates the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state; unacceptable levels of violence on all sides; and the humanitarian disaster of the Gaza Strip.” You also correctly point out that even though “only direct bilateral negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians themselves can bring about a just and lasting peace, history is clear that American political leadership has the power to play a catalytic role in supporting the work of peacemakers.”
This latter point, with which we share agreement, leads us to ask why you have not yet signed the letter from our ecumenical partners to Congress calling for an accounting of U.S. aid to Israel. The General Convention just completed in Indianapolis voted (A-015) to reaffirm Resolution 1991-A149, which “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 of 1961.” It also calls for “hold(ing) in escrow aid to Israel by an amount equal to any expenditures by the Government of Israel to expand, develop or further establish Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and only release the aid from escrow if proof is given that settlements are not being established.” Given the explicit nature of our Church’s policy we are perplexed that you have not yet signed onto the letter to Congress. We could not have a clearer policy base for you to join in this important initiative. We hope to see your name added in the coming days.
We would also like to point out that your letter to the presidential candidates fails to describe accurately the current state of affairs in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. One might imply from your letter that there are two equal parties to the conflict. In fact, your letter does not once mention the word “occupation.” (Nor did the General Convention 2012 resolution B019). We wonder if your failure to mention the occupation is deliberate or just an oversight. No one who is uninformed would understand from your letter that the state of Israel has been oppressing the Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967. We cite the B’Tselem report, “No Minor Matter” as evidence of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children as just one of many forms of human rights abuses committed by Israeli entities. B’Tselem is a respected Israeli organization. Our own State Department has also noted significant human rights abuses by Israel in its annual human rights report. We also commend the latest issue of Cornerstone, a publication of Sabeel, which writes about children being held under Israeli military detention. 500-700 children are prosecuted in Israeli military courts each year. The description of detention of these young people is heartbreaking. We commend the full issue to your attention.
We would add that unless American political leadership is willing to hold Israel accountable for acts – past and present – that undermine movement toward a just peace, restarting bilateral negotiations may create the illusion of progress but will simply condemn the Palestinians to continued loss of their land and resources. “Supporting the work of peacemakers” must include addressing the immense imbalance in power that has characterized negotiations during both the Bush and the Obama administrations and drains these and possible future talks of any hope for successful resolution. Negotiations must be matched by actions on the ground that support, not undermine, the talks themselves. Again, we appreciate your noting this concern.
Because of so many documented human rights violations by the state of Israel, the letter to Congress could not be more appropriate. The current impasse in negotiations makes inevitable a third intifada, the nature of which we can only speculate about. The letter to Congress sends an important signal to all the parties that U.S. Christians stand for human rights across the board, without exception, and is an important advocacy effort that could help forestall another intifada. Palestinians on the ground need to see that others understand their daily suffering and are speaking out. Otherwise, the voices of extremism will drive events.
We appreciate your reminder to the candidates that “a two-state solution is the shared policy of the United States government, the government of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority.” But as you no doubt already know, many expert analysts, including American and Israeli Jews, are making the case that the policy of Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land and its unrelenting expansion of illegal settlements, has or soon will make a two-state solution impossible. Many of our members believe the two-state solution has already been foreclosed. Your letter correctly acknowledges that settlement building “complicates the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.” The irony is that Israel through its settlement policy is forcing a one state bi-national solution as the only alternative, which many Jews see as the end of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. The only other option would be for Israel to force Palestinians into a non-viable, non- contiguous state that will be judged by the world as another apartheid system, which will lead to an inevitable movement for a bi-national state. We believe our Church should review its policy of support for a two-state solution in light of Israel’s continuing expansionist policies that seriously draw into question its commitment to this goal. Ultimately, as you have noted, Israeli Jews and Palestinians must resolve this issue.
There is much else left unsaid here that we hope we might pursue in future dialogue with you. Again, we are grateful to see you engage this most pressing of all international conflicts, and we seek to find a common witness from our Church on behalf of justice for oppressed Palestinians and liberation from the role of oppressor by Israel so that our common vision of peace and security can be realized for all Israeli Jews and Palestinians.
Faithfully and with gratitude,
Steering Committee, Palestine Israel Network/Episcopal Peace Fellowship:
Ann Coburn, Cotton Fite, Brian Grieves, Donna Hicks, Edward LaMonte, Grace Saïd, Newland Smith, Cabell Tennis, Jessie Vedanti
Linda Gaither, Chair, National Executive Council, Episcopal Peace Fellowship
Allison Liles, Interim Executive Director, Episcopal Peace Fellowship