The Palestine Israel Network (PIN) of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship decries the undemocratic act of the government of Israel on July 24 in barring entry to Israel by five Americans. We join interfaith partners in this condemnation, including Jewish Voice for Peace and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church. These five travelers – Jewish, one a rabbi, Christian, and Muslim – were part of an interfaith delegation to the Holy Land and were barred from boarding their plane in the US on the order of the Israeli government. Although they were not permitted to see the order barring their travel, it is a reasonable assumption that the action was based on a recently passed law in Israel barring entry to anyone supporting the Palestinian-led movement to apply economic pressure to stop the unjust and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and lives; ie, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS).
This hostile act should alarm all persons of faith, as well as any persons of conscience who value justice. Boycott is a time-honored method of free speech and action, not least in bringing down South African apartheid and in the American civil rights movement. Virtually every American who engages in social justice work has employed it in one form or another. No wonder boycott has rightly been called “as American as apple pie”.
Among the destinations of the five barred travelers and their group was Jerusalem, possibly the single most sacred site on our planet for the most adherents. In 1947, the fledgling United Nations approved a Partition Plan to establish Jewish and Arab states in the Holy Land; included in that plan was designation of Jerusalem as an international city to assure and ensure its accessibility to the hundreds of millions of pilgrims around the world who hope one day to visit there.
As events transpired after 1947, however, the Partition Plan was ignored, the state of Israel was declared on land mostly violently taken from indigenous Palestinians who lived there, and the 70-year catastrophe of injustice upon Palestinians unfolded, continuing to this day.
And far from protecting Jerusalem for all adherents and pilgrims, the nationalistic and discriminatory policies of the Israeli government have turned that beautiful and holy city into a place of separation, violence, and injustice. Muslims are now regularly barred from Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Many Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza are barred from visiting Jerusalem by the restrictions of the occupation. Other holy sites are affected as well. Christian Palestinians in Nazareth suffer the same array of discriminatory laws as their Muslim neighbors, affecting their abilities to find housing, education, and employment. Bethlehem, in the West Bank, is walled off, its residents crushed by unemployment and oppression. And Christian pilgrims miss the opportunity to visit countless other holy sites because they are located in the West Bank; few pilgrims go there, discouraged and frightened by the harassing and threatening behavior of occupation soldiers and police.
The recent action to bar these five travelers – not the first to be barred under this law – should put all persons of faith and conscience on high alert. The occupation is going global and now will attempt to reach anyone anywhere in the world who exercises the right to act for justice.
PIN encourages all members of the Episcopal Church to learn more about the lives of Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation, and how the work of the many ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem is affected. We encourage clergy to provide opportunities for parishioners to learn more about Israel’s practices and policies, and discuss how the Gospels offer ways to respond to injustice wherever we find it. We encourage actions at all levels – among friends, in the parish, in the diocese, and at the Church Center – to join as community and live out unafraid our baptismal covenant to seek justice for all people. All people.