Stand with Palestinian Christians

Apr 25, 2016 by

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J. Nelson Kraybill fails to mention (“Coercive economic actions are ineffective in Israel/Palestine conflict,” March 28) that the Palestinian church is advocating for BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) as one of the few remaining nonviolent ways to hold Israel accountable to international law and its own democratic ideals. Kraybill asks us to understand “Israeli Jews in the West Bank” — settlers whose illegal presence is facilitated by the Israeli government — but says nothing about understanding the plight of Christians who have lived there for centuries.

The Palestinian church’s call for economic pressure on Israel is included in the 2009 Kairos Palestine statement. Some of the statement’s endorsers have urged Mennonites in the West to support BDS. They continue to do so, even in the wake of the Mennonite Church USA assembly’s failure to pass the Israel-Palestine resolution last summer. In my own current experience of living and traveling in the West Bank and Israel, BDS is often one of the answers we hear when we ask how we can support the people of Palestine.

Christians in North America add to the sense of isolation and suffering among Palestinian Christians when they ignore, bypass or discount the voice of the Palestinian church — not to mention the secular voices, including many Jewish ones, advocating the same measures.

BDS is not anti-Israel or anti-Semitic; the fact that a small minority within the movement are does not disqualify it as a strategy. As Kraybill urges, we should decry the immense tragedy of the Holocaust, and we must walk with Jews in their historical journey of victimization. We can affirm Israel’s right to a secure homeland. We can affirm that God has a special plan for Israel in modern history. But none of that means ignoring or condoning Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people.

When Palestinians hear the international community condemn the BDS movement, they hear that community consign them to more years of empty peace rhetoric, while settlements expand, separation walls lengthen and hope for self-determination and dignity fades.

We should heed Kraybill’s suggestions for engagement — except investing in companies that benefit from the occupation. The most important thing is to hear what the Spirit may be saying through our fellow believers in the region. The Kai­ros document is a start. Learning tours that include Palestinian perspectives are also important.

Byron Rempel-Burkholder
Winnipeg, Man.

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