By Peder Wiegner, member at Norristown New Life and of the Conference Israel/Palestine Taskforce
Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) together with Living Branches hosted the Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace Tour on Saturday, April 22. The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force was key to organizing this event together with Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).
Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Mennonite and human rights lawyer, together with Rabbi Linda Holzman of Jewish Voices for Peace and organizer of the social justice community in Philadelphia called Tikkun Olam Chavurah, shared their stories, experiences, and analysis of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This was a key time to hear their stories and experiences as in July, Mennonites from around MCUSA will be voting on an important resolution at the MCUSA Convention in Orlando, FL.
The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force’s Preston Bush welcomed the thirty or so guests to the event and introduced the speakers, while everyone enjoyed a delicious breakfast.
Rabbi Holzman spoke of her journey in the Jewish community as it relates to the context of Israel and Palestine. Holzman highlighted that there are a wide range of views about Israel/Palestine among the Jewish community, while speaking of some of the things she was taught as a child she had to unlearn in order to be able to see the reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people. One of those teachings was that the land of Palestine was empty before the Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine, and another was that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily, giving the land as a gift to the newly arriving Jewish settlers. Both of which she later learned to be false, as Palestinians were living there and had been working the land for centuries. Those who fled what is now Israel proper had their land taken from them, forcing them to become refugees never allowed to return home.
Rabbi Holzman reminded those present that criticism of the oppressive Israeli government does not come from Anti-Semitism; on the contrary, there is a wide variety of opinions and views within the Jewish world about Israel and Palestine. Not everyone is on board with supporting the oppressive regime.
She affirmed something that we Mennonites often declare. She said, “What I learned as a Jew was that everyone is created in the image of God and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and so we should never let others be enslaved. The Jews were strangers in the land and so we should treat strangers well.”
Rabbi Holzman closed by talking about intersectionality being the recognition of oppression of different kinds as being connected and also layered. For example, being a woman in a male-dominated society brings certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages are compounded for women of color in a society dominated by white privilege such as the U.S., or for a Palestinian woman in Israeli society. We need to open our eyes and see that the struggles of Palestinians are like those of people of color in the U.S. and like the struggles of indigenous groups all over the world.
Jonathan Kuttab then spoke about the current situation in Palestine today, the Kairos Palestine Document, the MCUSA Israel Palestine Resolution, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality holding to the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Palestinian civil society organizations have called for a nonviolent resistance strategy to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Part of this strategy includes the BDS movement. Yet many in the West are critical of this approach despite the fact that it is nonviolent. The BDS movement is a moral and ethical critique that bothers Israel. It bothers Israel so much that Israel has dedicated three government ministries to fighting it. That seems to be an indicator of the capacity of BDS.
Mr. Kuttab observed that Western Christians tend to hold Palestinians accountable when it comes to violence but often turn a blind eye to the violence perpetuated by Israel. Yet, they still have not supported the Palestinian-led non-violent strategies.
Many Palestinian Christians were shocked when the Mennonite church – a peace church – failed to pass a resolution in Kansas City in 2015, addressing the injustices perpetuated against the Palestinians. However, the new resolution being presented for the 2017 Convention provides an opportunity for Mennonites to end their silence on this issue and commit to being part of a just and peaceful solution in Israel/Palestine while at the same time speaking out against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other hateful ideologies in our churches and society.
This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Will we sit back and let the oppression of Palestinians continue without making a statement? We, the Task Force, invite our Franconia Conference delegates to Convention to support the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution.