Friday, September 26, 2014

PRAY, LEARN, ACT: Congregations Need to Stay Engaged on Palestine

Israel / Palestine: satellite view
I attended a panel discussion at Grace Place in Chicago last night entitled, "Forum with Ali Abunimah: The lessons of Gaza and the Tasks of the Movement Here," sponsored by Anti-War Committee – Chicago; Freedom Road Socialist Organization; U.S. Palestinian Community Network; Students for a Democratic Society - College of DuPage, Chicago Area Peace Action; American Party of Labor, American Friends Service Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine - UIC.

The panelists included:

The big takeaway for me was the message conveyed by Ali Abunimah: people in Gaza say now that there is a ceasefire, and the summer 2014 massacre in Gaza is behind us, please don't let up on your advocacy. Don't drop it!

I left convinced that Christian congregations -- including congregations of the ELCA, of which I'm a member, as well as others -- are one of the key places that continued faithful attention to issues of peace and justice in Israel / Palestine must be carried out.

Several of the areas of conflict discussed last night are exactly the kinds of ethical and spiritual issues that congregations and their members need to confront and deal with.

Boeing Corporation headquarters, Chicago
The campaign to bring about an end to Boeing Corporation material support for Israeli violence was discussed. In fact, in a well-known October, 2012, letter to Congress, "the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other U.S. Christian leaders are urging Congress to conduct an investigation into possible human rights and weapon violations by the government of Israel." (See "ELCA, other US churches call for examination of aid to Israel") Earlier this year, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) voted to divest from firms complicit in the occupation. So there is an ongoing obligation of members of faith communities to engage with these issues -- to pray on them, learn about them, and figure out how to take effective action. Congregations in the Chicago area -- the home of Boeing -- bear a special responsibility.

The controversy over the firing of Professor Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois points up a profound problem: there is a strong currency of intimidation in academics and other fields, in which people feel that they are not free to criticize Israel. This is an issue of particular concern for the faith community, which depends on the idea that we can "speak openly" about what is really happening in God's kingdom.

In addition to these two aspects of the struggle for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine, there are two others that I believe also strongly demand congregational engagement.

"Christian Orthodox worshippers hold up candles lit from the
'Holy Fire' as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre in Jerusalem's old city on the eve of the Orthodox
Easter."(AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
The occupation of and oppression in the very towns that Christians hear about every Sunday is a reason that Christian congregations need to attend to the current political situation week in, week out. I think in particular of scenes of the Easter celebration in Jerusalem in the film The Stones Cry Out - it reminds me that if we claim this history as our own, we also have to be concerned about what is happening on the ground there today.

And our concern should not end at the borders of Israel / Palestine. The civil wars in Iraq and Syria have brought to our attention the situation of Christian brothers and sisters in those countries. As the Lutheran bishop in Jordan and the Holy land, Dr. Munib A. Younan, has pointed out, this is a time when Christians need to be talking with each other and working in unity. Moreover, Bishop Younan points out that,

"As I speak, the United States is building a global coalition to fight against Da’esh, which calls itself the Islamic State. In the course of one week, President Obama said that there was no clear strategy against Da’esh; one week later, he said that the goal was degrading and destroying it. When paired with the inability of the United States and other western countries to limit the actions of the State of Israel, such efforts reinforce the impression that NATO countries are engaged in a global war not just against religiously-sanctioned extremism but against Islam itself. Arab Christians know that the US-led efforts in Syria and Iraq has almost nothing to do with us. They are engaging in strikes for their own interests alone. It is for oil, not for the protection of vulnerable groups. All of this makes us weaker. Here, I am concerned not just about Christians but about all groups in the Middle East. Christians cannot be used as an excuse to promote military strikes against Muslims!" (emphasis added) (See "Ecumenical Response to the Present Middle East Crisis - by Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, ELCJHL")

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

For these and many other reasons, Christian congregations have real work to do, on an ongoing basis, for peace and justice in Israel / Palestine and throughout the Middle East.

In the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), there is a very active Working Group on the Middle East (WGME). Among other initiatives, we provide a brief update to synod congregations each week -- urging members to "pray, learn, act" n issues affecting Middle East peace and justice.

I hope that congregations everywhere -- ELCA and other -- will treat work for peace and justice in Israel / Palestine and throughout the Middle East a regular faith practice.

Related posts

Lectionary readings frequently touch on the notion of Zion and Israel.  How do -- how should -- Christians across the country and across the world hear these lessons?

(See REMEMBERING ZION: What It Means for Peace and Justice Advocates Today )

When Chicagoans fully succeed in fully connecting the dots -- especially to the crimes being committed in their name with their tax dollars and the weapons produced by their favored corporate citizen, Boeing -- I think there will be some new and different phone calls taking place . . .

(See What's New in Chicago: Connecting the Dots - US Aid, Boeing Weapons, Gaza Massacre, Chicago Complicity )

Steven Salaita has forced us to speak quite openly about three rather distinct things that get treated (incorrectly) as if they were the same thing: the state of Israel (and whether you criticize it or support it); the ideology of Zionism (and whether you criticize it or support it); and the religion of Judaism (and whether or not you share in its values and beliefs).

(See "What good is a tweet?" (The Packing and Unpacking of Meaning and the Steven Salaita Case) )

"Inhumane treatment of young men and boys, arrests under cover of night, unjust torture while in police custody, missing husbands and brothers and sons, children stripped of internationally agreed upon human rights. For these Palestinian boys and men, we weep with the women."

(See Palestine: The Women Weep (34th Annual 8th Day Good Friday Justice Walk) )

"Jesus Christ says to us today, “Get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you.” (Acts 26.16–17)  Today, as I come before you to discuss the crisis facing the Middle East and especially the crisis facing Arab and Middle Eastern Christians, these words of the risen Christ to the Saul resonate for us and for the communities we represent. “Get up and stand on your feet!” “I will rescue you!” There is work to be done in my name"

(See "Ecumenical Response to the Present Middle East Crisis - by Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, ELCJHL")

I think the 3-part framework Ilan Pappé has set out -- BDS, Palestinian identity, Israeli opinion -- usefully defines priorities to which those working for justice in Israel/Palestine should attend.

(See Ilan Pappé's Vision of the Broad Shape of Change in Israel/Palestine )