Consecutive issues of MWR carried opinion pieces speaking negatively of the nonviolent movement to oppose Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory.
“Resolution on Mideast Harms Efforts for Peace for All Faiths” (Oct. 26) equates last summer’s Mennonite Church USA resolution on Israel-Palestine with the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement and calls it “counterproductive” to the cause of peace. The piece never uses the word “occupation.” In “Pray for Peace of Jerusalem” (Nov. 9), J. Nelson Kraybill encourages us to be “agents of healing” rather than participants in “coercive boycotts.”
We are a group of Mennonite pastors and leaders just back from a “Come and See” learning tour sponsored by MC USA and Mennonite Central Committee. During our 11 days in Palestine and Israel we encountered Palestinians living at the edge of a bearable existence, experiencing night home raids, encroaching Israeli settlements, the trespassing and expanding separation wall, checkpoints, home demolitions, imprisonment of children, racial profiling, limited access to water and a tangle of laws limiting mobility and economic opportunity.
We spoke with Israelis who see the injustice for what it is and are working to educate Israeli society about the plight of Palestinians, calling for the end of military occupation of Palestinian land. We spoke with Israelis and Palestinians who lost family members in the horrific violence that plagues this land. We heard the perspectives of diverse faith traditions: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular.
One of our learning experiences took place at Aida refugee camp in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. Aida’s residents come from 27 villages they were expelled from by the Israeli army in the war of 1948. What began as a group of 800 refugees living in tents is now 5,000 people living in concrete structures on the same small parcel of land.
One of the shining lights here is an MCC partner, Lajee Center, a community center providing programs for youth and trauma counseling for children. Our group witnessed a youth dance troupe, shared in a wonderful meal and toured the facility. Our time at Lajee was cut short because Israeli soldiers fired tear gas near the center. One of the canisters landed by our tour bus. Two days after we returned to the U.S., we read that soldiers had shut down the Lajee Center, its roof now occupied by snipers, with more tear gas raining down on Aida.
Rather than an exception, this kind of control and repression of Palestinian existence is the norm throughout the West Bank and Gaza. We heard repeated pleas similar to this one from an Evangelical Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem: “We (Palestinian Christians) are here. We will stay here. But you have to help us by going back to your churches and explaining what the situation is. We are no different from you. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. . . . We are fighting for our existence. We are resisting for our existence.”
It is remarkable that many Israelis and Palestinians truly desire to live in peace. It is equally remarkable that Israeli government policy continues to make a just peace less feasible and that a tiny violent minority on each side has so much sway over public opinion.
As one Palestinian remarked: War didn’t work; international law hasn’t worked; a nonviolent intifada didn’t work; the Oslo peace process didn’t work; throwing stones definitely isn’t working.
Divestment and boycotts are extreme measures, taken in extreme circumstances, but the Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers we spoke with see them as the only nonviolent forms of protest they have left. They told us this frankly, despite the fact that Israeli law strictly prohibits free speech on this topic.
We are deeply troubled by how our financial lives are enmeshed in policies of occupation through our investments, purchases and tax dollars. Massive U.S. military aid to Israel props up the occupation.
We encourage Mennonites to continue to educate ourselves about these matters and to build relationships with Jews and Muslims. There can be no true peace without justice, and sometimes justice needs to be demanded from those in power, for the sake of all parties.
Cyneatha Millsaps, Community Mennonite Church, Chicago; David Sutter, Kern Road Mennonite Church, South Bend, Ind.; Dawn Yoder Harms, Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen; Ind.; Deron Bergstresser, Faith Mennonite Church, Goshen; Eric Kurtz, Assembly Mennonite Church, Goshen; Gwen Gustafson-Zook, College Mennonite Church, Goshen; James Rissler, Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship; Janeen Bertsche Johnson, Eighth Street Mennonite Church, Goshen; Janice Yordy Sutter, Kern Road Mennonite Church; Joel Miller, Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church; Leighton Miller, Wildwood Mennonite Church, Engadine, Mich.; Mary Nitzsche, Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church; Philip Dick, Mennonite Church of Normal, Ill.; Randy Detweiler, Holdeman Mennonite Church, Wakarusa, Ind.; Wayne Nitzsche, Perkasie (Pa.) Mennonite Church.