Seeking peace in Israel and Palestine

An invitation for counsel and feedback for a revised resolution on Israel/Palestine.

A resolution on Israel-Palestine was brought to delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Kansas City in 2015. Delegates tabled that resolution asking that it be revised, and called for a period of learning and discernment as we seek to support Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers. In the fall of 2015, the Executive Board affirmed a process for revising the resolution. Through numerous drafts, a three person writing team – Rod Stafford, pastor of Portland Mennonite Church; Lisa Schirch, peacebuilding professor at Eastern Mennonite University; and André Gingerich Stoner, director of Interchurch Relations for Mennonite Church USA — prepared this revised resolution. The writing team consulted frequently with a diverse, 10-person Mennonite reference group and tested this resolution with a range of Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish partners.

The resolution seeks to speak in a distinctively Mennonite voice, embracing a restorative justice framework by naming ways Mennonites have participated in harms, committing to concrete steps to address these wrongs and outlining ways to implement and support these initiatives. The resolution pursues a “two-handed” approach, speaking clearly against injustice and violence and also extending a hand of understanding and relationship to all parties.

In October, the Constituency Leaders Council affirmed sharing this document with the broader church for discussion and feedback.

The writing team welcomes your feedback and counsel by January 9, 2017, using the feedback form linked below.

The team will review and consider all comments before submitting the resolution to the Mennonite Church USA Resolutions Committee by the end of January, 2017.

Feedback form for Israel-Palestine Resolution

Mennonite Church USA logoSeeking Peace in Israel and Palestine

But they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid. Micah 4.4

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5.9

As followers of Jesus and his gospel of reconciliation, we long for peace, security, justice, and flourishing of all people living in Israel-Palestine including Jews, Christians, and Muslims.[1]

We have heard the cry of Palestinian Christians to us in Kairos Palestine, A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. The Palestinian people have suffered injustices, violence, and humiliation, including the Crusades, colonialism, and living under military occupation or in refugee camps throughout the Middle East today. The Jewish people have suffered violence and trauma often at the hands of western Christians, including the Inquisition, pogroms, and the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust. They continue to experience antisemitism and violence today.[2]

The sufferings of these two groups have too often been set against each other. We recognize, rather, that the legacy of Jewish suffering is intertwined with the suffering of Palestinians. After the Holocaust, the longing for a secure Jewish state resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remain refugees. The continued threat to the security of Jewish people around the world has been used to justify the oppressive military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. [3]

As U.S. citizens, as Christians, and as Mennonites, we share responsibility in the harms to victims of antisemitism and military occupation. As we acknowledge our own complicity in this web of violence, injustice and suffering, we will strive, by God’s grace, to take concrete steps to address these wrongs.

Opposing Military Occupation and Seeking a Just Peace

Mennonites have been present in Israel-Palestine for more than 65 years, responding to humanitarian need, supporting sustainable development, advocating for justice, supporting reconciliation, and nurturing long-standing relationships with Palestinian and Israeli people and organizations, including both Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel.[4]

In our own nation, we are mindful of historic and systemic injustices and ways some of us have benefitted from and are complicit in these wrongs, including the forced removal of indigenous people from their land, the legacy of slavery and racism, and a broken immigration system. While the history and dynamics of each injustice are unique, the work for justice in any one place is linked to the work for justice everywhere. We continue to be called to name and address our part in harms at home, in Israel-Palestine, and elsewhere.

Confession and Lament

We confess and lament the ways we have supported the Israeli military occupation which includes the confiscation of land, home demolitions, checkpoints, walls, travel and trade restrictions, extended administrative detention, arrest of children, and extra-judicial killings. As Western Christians, Mennonites, and U.S. citizens, we have participated in harms against the Palestinian people in the following ways:

  • Failing to adequately understand the harms done to Palestinians in the creation of the state of Israel, as second class citizens of Israel, and under Israel’s military occupation
  • Failing to understand the dramatic power imbalance experienced by Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation
  • Being too slow to relate to Palestinian Christians as part of the body of Christ
  • Embracing or tolerating Christian Zionist theology which too often has disregarded the well-being of Palestinian people[5]
  • Accepting negative stereotypes of Palestinians especially those based on anti-Muslim and anti-Arab biases
  • Not adequately supporting both Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers who reject violence and choose the creative and courageous path of active non-violence
  • Contributing tax dollars to the $3.8 billion of annual U.S. military aid to Israel, some of which undergirds the military occupation, and failing to protest U.S. government support for the military occupation
  • Benefiting from companies that are actively participating in the occupation.

Commitments

Partnering with Palestinian and Israeli Peacemakers: We commit to continue to learn from, partner with, and pray for Palestinian and Israeli groups and individuals working for peace with justice.

Understanding the Realities of Occupation: We encourage Mennonite congregations and area conferences to learn about the situation, including studying Kairos Palestine. We urge our members who travel to Israel-Palestine to seek out diverse Palestinian and Israeli voices to better understand their experiences and perspectives.

Engaging Christian Zionism: We urge pastors, teachers and appropriate church agencies to engage Christian Zionism within our own church and in the broader American Christian community, encouraging Christian Zionists to enter into conversation and relationship with our Palestinian Christian partners and as followers of Jesus to pursue a nonviolent, inclusive, and just vision for Jewish and Palestinian coexistence in the Holy Land.

Advocating with the US Government:  We urge members, congregations and denominational offices of Mennonite Church USA to advocate with the US government to end military aid and arms sales in the region, and support measures that pressure Israel to freeze settlement construction, respect human rights including the civil rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, end the occupation, and work for a just peace in accordance with international law.

Avoiding Economic Support for Occupation while Investing in Peace and Justice: As people who seek to follow Jesus in daily life, we know that how we spend and invest our money is an important part of our faith life. Concerns about simplicity, fair trade, and sustainability guide our individual and institutional purchasing decisions. We urge individuals and congregations to avoid the purchase of products associated with acts of violence or policies of military occupation, including items produced in settlements. Likewise, Mennonites have spent years developing investment strategies that reflect our deepest convictions. We want to invest in peace with justice, not profit or benefit from the suffering of others. We direct the staff of the Executive Board on an annual basis, to convene representatives of Everence and church-related organizations and agencies involved in the region, to take counsel and to review investment practices for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation. We urge Mennonite Church USA agencies, organizations, and members to do the same.

Opposing Antisemitism and Seeking Right Relationships with the Jewish Community

Both Mennonites and Jews have had the experience of being a religious minority within a Christendom context. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Catholic and Protestant leaders persecuted both Mennonites and Jewish people. At times Mennonites and Jews were neighbors as they were given refuge by tolerant authorities. Nonetheless, in many settings Mennonites adopted the negative attitudes of the prevailing Christian culture towards our Jewish neighbors.

Confession and Lament

As Western Christians, Mennonites, and US citizens, we confess and lament the ways we have participated in harms against Jewish people:

  • Failing to do the hard work of examining our participation in antisemitic belief and practice
  • Bearing complicity in the Holocaust that killed six million Jews, failing to respond to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe and failing to fully examine the historic record of Mennonite complicity in these atrocities
  • Ignoring the gravity of ongoing antisemitism and acts of violence against Jewish people
  • Failing to recognize how these past and present traumas contribute to the need for security for Jewish people
  • Neglecting to build relationships with Jewish representatives and communities in the United States and to recognize diverse expressions of their hopes and fears.
  • Failing to understand what the state of Israel means to Jewish people

Commitments

Examining the Legacy of Antisemitism: We call on Mennonite Church USA staff, in conjunction with Mennonite institutions, in the next biennium to initiate a series of consultations on topics including Mennonite involvement in the Holocaust and how we read scripture in light of the Holocaust. We direct staff to share findings from these consultations within Mennonite Church USA and with other national Mennonite bodies and Mennonite World Conference, to explore ways we might together address antisemitism in our tradition.

Building Relationships with the Jewish Community

  • We call on Mennonite Church USA to cultivate relationships with Jewish representatives and bodies and in the US.
  • We encourage each area conferences to commission at least one congregation to reach out to a local synagogue in their community to build relationships, listen deeply to their experiences and learn from them.
  • We encourage Mennonites to build relationships and partnerships with Jewish groups and individuals in the U.S. who pursue their calling to social justice and peacemaking.
  • As we cultivate relationships with Jewish communities in the US and Israel we will be attentive to and seek a deeper understanding of the diverse perspectives that Jewish people have of the state of Israel.

Prayer and Action

We commit ourselves to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5.17) for all people in Israel-Palestine, especially for those impacted by violence and those working for peace, even as we take concrete steps to examine our own complicity in injustices past and present.

We request that a report on the activities related to this resolution be submitted by the Executive Board staff to the next Mennonite Church USA delegate assembly.

 

[1]In this resolution the term “Israel-Palestine” refers to the areas of the present day state of Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories (consisting of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip).

[2] Antisemitism refers to the discrimination against, violence toward, or stereotypes of Jews for being Jewish.

[3]This resolution both addresses harms past and present to the Jewish community worldwide and also specific policies of the Israeli government. Though many Jews feel a strong connection to the State of Israel, it is not accurate to identify or equate the Jewish people with the Israeli government.

[4] Israel includes Jewish and Palestinian citizens. Israel’s population is 20% Palestinian. When this resolution refers to Israelis it includes this often forgotten minority. This does not refer to Palestinians living under occupation, who do not have Israeli citizenship.

[5] Christian Zionist theology typically advocates the gathering of the Jews in Biblical Israel as a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus,  and that Christians should support the state of Israel.

Clarifications

  1. Why should Mennonite Church USA be involved in Israel-Palestine? As Mennonites, Christians and U.S. citizens we are already involved in both helpful and harmful ways. The appeal of Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters challenges us to pray and work for peace with justice in that land. A history of antisemitism, especially among western Christians, compels us to wrestle with our role in the origins and perpetuation of this conflict. As citizens of the United States, whose government provides massive financial, military and political support for the state of Israel and its policies of occupation, we feel a particular responsibility for the ongoing suffering.  Finally, conflict in that small area fuels mistrust and violence throughout the region and beyond. Our commitment to the Prince of Peace beckons us to strive for God’s justice and peace for all the people of this region.
  2. How did this resolution develop? A resolution on Israel-Palestine was brought to delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Kansas City in 2015. Delegates tabled that resolution asking that it be revised, and called for a period of learning and discernment as we seek to support Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers. Through numerous drafts, a three person writing committee prepared this resolution in consultation with a diverse ten person reference group and tested this resolution with a range of Palestinian, Israeli, and Jewish partners.
  3. What is Kairos Palestine? Kairos Palestine was prepared and distributed in 2009 by a broad group of Palestinian Christian leaders including Catholic, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Evangelicals. This document is especially compelling to Mennonites because of its deep commitment to Jesus’ way of love even in the face of great suffering and severe injustice. It includes a call for economic boycotts and divestment from companies that support the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It affirms that only a nonviolent resistance based on love of enemy and a repudiation of revenge can lead to just peace and reconciliation.
  4. Have Mennonites supported using financial pressure for the cause of justice and peace on other matters? As people who seek to follow Jesus in daily life, Mennonites have long sought to practice our faith in our economic activities. Refusal to buy war bonds, for example, was a principled and costly decision for Mennonites in decades past. Mennonites have been at the forefront of developing socially responsible investment practices. Everence, our denominational stewardship agency, has long employed investment screens that preclude profiting from military production, the alcohol industry, and companies with a record of human rights abuses. Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in promoting fair trade purchasing and increasingly churches and members consistently purchase fair trade coffee. Awareness in our churches about human trafficking and child slavery has led Everence to serve as a primary force in leading American chocolate companies to shift towards child labor free cocoa-sourcing, which especially impacts communities in West Africa.  These are but a few of the ways in which Mennonites have sought to make responsible consumer and investment choices and use our economic power for the cause of justice and peace.
  5. How does this resolution relate to BDS? What is BDS? This resolution offers a unique Mennonite voice. It calls for a focused boycott and divestment of companies that are actively participating in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. This is not a blanket endorsement of everything that falls under the heading BDS. The resolution intentionally affirms the need to reach out to build stronger relationships with the Jewish community in the US and in Israel even as we clearly oppose Israeli government policies of occupation. The BDS Movement (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) was launched in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society organizations calling for economic, cultural, and academic boycotts of Israel. The appeal named three demands: an end to occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for displaced refugees. This initiative was promoted in light of failed efforts to bring peace through negotiations or international mechanisms such as the United Nations, and as an alternative to violent liberation efforts. The movement has grown to include a wide diversity of groups and specific initiatives.
  1. Why is it important for Mennonites to address antisemitism? Mennonites, like most western Christians, have been parties to antisemitism of the prevailing culture. As members of an Historic Peace Church, many Mennonites may assume that our tradition responded differently at critical historical moments. Significant scholarship, including recent research, highlights ways some Mennonites were complicit in the Holocaust. As a faith community, we have not done the hard work of examining our historic complicity or the ways antisemitism has shaped our perspectives and life, including how we read the Bible. Uncovering, confessing, and repenting for our antisemitism and historic complicity in harm to Jewish people is critical for our own integrity and faithfulness. We pray it may also contribute to healing and to the cause of peace. In recent years, Mennonite Church USA has taken small steps on this path. We have compiled a bibliography on Mennonite-Jewish relations, have acquired a grant to facilitate consultations, have encouraged an evolving alliance between Mennonite and Jewish activists and scholars for social justice around the world, and have begun exploring opportunities for more formal relations with Jewish leaders. There are individuals among us who have entered deeply into relationship with Jewish colleagues and partners. They will be valuable resources to the broader church as we continue this journey.
  1. Is this resolution consistent with the principles of Mennonite peacebuilding? The resolution embraces a restorative justice framework, naming ways Mennonites have participated in harms and taking concrete steps to address these wrongs. The resolution pursues a “two-handed” approach, both speaking clearly against any injustice and violence and also extending a hand of understanding and relationship to all parties. We will do both, not making one conditional upon the other, even if pressed to do so. The resolution recognizes that it is difficult for injustices to be heard when there is a major power imbalance. Addressing this power imbalance is part of the work of peacemaking and reconciliation.
  2. Does this resolution advocate for a “two-state” or “one-state” solution? This resolution does not advocate for any particular solution or any particular vision of statehood. Within both communities there are many differing ideas on this matter. Both Israeli and Palestinian people desire to live in safety and freedom and it is ultimately up to them, not Mennonites, to determine what that will look like.

Feedback form for Israel-Palestine Resolution

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