Couple take ‘pro-Israel’ stance against occupation

Serving in Bethlehem confirmed their support for 'blowing the whistle' on injustice they observed

Aug 1, 2016 by and

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Aquifers in the West Bank, Palestine, hold enough water to supply its inhabitants, but distribution is controlled by the Israeli government. Most of the water is directed toward neighboring Israel and the Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank.

Melita and Byron Rempel-Burkholder served in a variety of support roles in Palestine at Bethlehem Bible College from January to April. — Mennonite Church Canada

Melita and Byron Rempel-Burkholder served in a variety of support roles in Palestine at Bethlehem Bible College from January to April. — Mennonite Church Canada

Restricted access to water is just one of the injustices Byron and Melita Rempel-Burkholder encountered while serving on a Mennonite Church Canada ministry assignment at Bethlehem Bible College earlier this year.

What they witnessed left such a deep impression that they helped craft a resolution for the MC Canada assembly July 6-10 in Saskatoon, Sask.

The resolution, which passed with only one dissenting vote, invites congregations, communities and church members to explore the ways they may be “impeding or facilitating, ignoring or promoting, the quest for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

It also encourages the application of economic pressure through government sanctions and investment restrictions.

“The resolution attempts to echo the voice of the Palestinian Christian community,” Melita Rempel-Burkholder said, referring to the 2009 document “A Moment of Truth” from the interdenominational consortium Kairos Palestine.

“We talked to our [Bethlehem Bible College] colleagues about boycotts as a resistance strategy. Virtually all of them supported it, even if their own economy suffers in the short term.”

A nonviolent quest

For years, news media, politicians and even some Christian leaders in the West have sympathized with Israel while minimizing or ignoring the impact of Israel’s occupation, the Rempel-Burkholders say.

Those who compare the occupation to apartheid in South Africa or point out Israeli human rights violations — such as discriminatory access to water and the restriction of Palestinians’ rights to movement — are often labeled anti-Israel.

Byron Rempel-Burkholder says the resolution is pro-Israel. It seeks an Israel that lives up to the standards of justice upheld by international law and by the prophets of the Old Testament.

“This resolution is about blowing the whistle on the injustice of the occupation,” he said. “It’s about supporting Palestinians in a nonviolent quest for self-determination, justice and a peaceful coexistence with their Israeli neighbors.”

Frustration boils over

The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 forced a massive displacement of Palestinians. About 200,000 United Nations-registered refugees with ancestral homes in Israel now live in 19 West Bank refugee camps. Three times that number have refugee status but live in the towns and villages of the West Bank. Many more Palestinian refugees live in neighboring countries.

Israel administers 60 percent of the West Bank, which includes military zones, nature preserves, agricultural enterprises and Jewish settlements. It exerts enormous power over the remaining 40 percent too, even though that land is administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel enforces policies that favor Jewish settlements, and it imposes travel restrictions on West Bank Palestinians, who may need to cross military checkpoints into Israel for jobs, higher education, emergency medical care or even to access ancestral land near the Separation Barrier. They can only do so with permits, which are often arbitrarily withheld.

“After 49 years of military occupation and failed peace talks, some Palestinians get frustrated and act violently,” Byron Rempel-Burkholder said. “There’s no excuse for that, but, on the other hand, should we be surprised that people will act out that way when there are so few alternatives?”

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