M005 Palestinian Human Rights
RJ Powell, Gail Bennett, Carolyn Mok
To the Deputies and Bishops of the Episcopal Church assembled at the 80th General Convention:
Support for human rights is a Gospel value for Episcopalians. We promise, in our Baptismal Covenant, to live out our renunciation of evil, in the Spirit of Jesus, by striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.
The Episcopal Church [TEC] has been true to its core values, offering a strong witness over forty years for peace with justice in resolutions of General Convention and the Executive Council, supporting human rights and human dignity for all peoples, including those in the Holy Land: Jews and Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and Druze.
Since 1979, TEC policy has supported the right of Palestinians to a free and independent state, while affirming the right of Israel to exist as a free state with secure borders (1979, 1988, 1991, 2015, 2018), with Jerusalem as the shared capital of two sovereign states (1985, 2018). Following TEC calls to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to lift its blockade of the Gaza strip, our church engaged in positive investment in Palestinian institutions and infrastructure as a step toward statehood.
The reality on the ground: Israeli policies entrench the occupation, laying the groundwork for unilateral, de jure annexation via unlawful expansion of settlements, demolitions, the 'israelification' of East Jerusalem, and the construction of permanent infrastructure in the West Bank designed to splinter any future Palestinian state.
TEC supports full civil and human rights for all citizens within Israel's borders (1988,1991).
The reality on the ground: in 2018, the Jewish Nation State Law established that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” Non-Jewish citizens have human rights but not full civil rights. Prior to 2018, there were already 66 Israeli laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens in Israel.
TEC affirms that Palestinian displacement through the expansion of settlements, forced evictions and home demolitions is unjust and illegal, impinging on the basic right to life. TEC has established a No-Buy list for church investments in companies profiting from Israel's expansionist policy. Aid or loans to Israel must be conditioned on protecting human rights, especially of detained children, as well as on cessation of violence as a tactic of civilian control (1994, 2018).
The reality on the ground: the Jewish Nation State Law establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” and mandates the state to “labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.” To settle/colonize an inhabited land requires massive violence, manifested in the siege of Gaza, checkpoints, land confiscation, arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, home demolitions, assaults on agriculture, and the killing of peaceful protesters. Despite this reality, $38 billion over a decade in U.S. military aid to Israel remains unconditional.
TEC affirms the principle of Right of Return not only for Jews but also Palestinians displaced in 1948, with restitution or compensation for losses, as called for by the U.N. (2000).
The reality on the ground: Israel rejects the Palestinian Right of Return as a demographic threat to the Jewish State; over five million stateless refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, existing in camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the Occupied Territories. US funding for UNRWA has been politicized and subject to suspension in an effort to delegitimize both the Agency and Palestinian refugee status itself.
TEC supports U.S. pressure on Israel to end human rights violations in Gaza (2018).
The reality on the ground: the total land, sea and air siege of Gaza has been in place for fifteen years, resulting in a devastated economy with 80% of the population dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Gaza is classified as “unlivable” by the U.N. Israeli bombers periodically destroy infrastructure: businesses, housing, medical clinics, schools, mosques. Gaza exists in a perpetual state of humanitarian crisis.
TEC has urged, opposed, requested on behalf of Palestinian human rights for over forty years. Yet the situation on the ground has deteriorated to the point where the internationally recognized NGOs Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem use the word apartheid to describe the reality of relations between the State of Israel and Palestinians. This is a development that challenges our resolve as a church, even as we acknowledge the fact that Christians are disappearing in the Holy Land.
It is past time for TEC to respond to the cry of Palestinian Christians in the 2009 Kairos Document: “In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope... We believe that God's goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and death that still persist in our land. We will see here 'a new land' and 'a new human being,' capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.”
It is past time for TEC to answer the call of Kairos to support systematic Boycott, Divestment and economic Sanctions to put pressure on the government of Israel to end the occupation of Palestine and to reach a just and definitive peace.
The Rev. RJ Powell, clergy deputy, Diocese of East Tennessee
The Rev. Gail Bennett, clergy deputy, Diocese of New Jersey
Dr. Carolyn Mok, lay deputy, Diocese of Rochester