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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  • David Kucik

    I thought the worst part was when two Christians want to police that the Jews “live up to the standards” of how they understand “the Old Testament.” But then I read the end about Palestinians only “acting out,” and only because of the occupation. Like stabbing a 13-year old Jewish girl in her bedroom, and then have your mother praise you on Palestinian TV? (last month) Truth is: violence anti-Jewish violence was there well before the occupation, before Israel even (it’s simple history), and it will FOR SURE continue after the occupation. But I’m sure the well-organized PA politicians disguised as sweet pastors whom these two have been hanging with will find something else to blame Israel for.

  • David Kucik

    By the way, 1984 was not only “a massive displacement of Palestinians” but also one of Jews, by the many Arab nations that started that war.

  • Steven M. Moses

    “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.”

    Can you spell Christian arrogance any better than this? Will you speak like this about all the other non-Jewish states in the region that hang LGBTQ and discriminate against women? Chuzpe.

  • Peter Janzen

    I am sure they are nice people, life-long institutional Mennonites. But they are not “blowing a whistle”, they are preaching to the choir. They clearly know little about the history of Israel, nothing about life in Israel today, and even less about how a Christian should talk to Jews (hint: don’t say “you have to live up to the Old Testament prophets”). They spent time with the well-funded political activists at Bethlehem Bible College, ran with it, and convinced a tiny, shrinking denomination. Good for them. Bad for Israel? No. No one there cares.

  • Byron Rempel-Burkholder

    I wish we could keep focus, here: What Scriptural, moral, and internationally legal basis is there for a 49-year-old occupation of one land by another, and the accompanying systematic denial of human rights of the occupied people? Relatedly: How should North American Christians respond to Christian brothers and sisters in the occupied land who are groaning under the oppression and calling on us to stand with them in their nonviolent protest?

  • Berry Friesen

    So what happened to Mr.Barak/Vic Rosenthal?

    I wanted to agree with his assertion that one cannot “occupy” one’s own land. And to ask if his analysis changes if one steals it first. In such a case, one would need to construct a narrative of sovereignty so that the theft would be forgotten.

    For many people, it matters little whether that story of sovereignty is true or false. The scribes and courtiers around tribal chieftains David and Solomon knew this 3,000 years ago, and Barak/Rosenthal knows it still.

    1. Error One is to assume “a home land for the Jewish people” requires a Jewish state in which Jews are first class and Palestinians second class.

    Yet the Mandate only required Britain “to hold the land of Palestine, from the river to the sea, in trust for a national home for the Jewish people.” Could this be a “Jewish state” like Israel? No, because the Mandate includes this requirement: in the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and political rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

    Obviously, this Mandate requirement could be achieved by a single-state solution, or by a two-state solution that guarantees Jewish rights in the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights in the Jewish state. Today, we have neither; the Jewish state called Israel claims sovereignty over all and practices gross discrimination everywhere against Palestinians.

    2. Error Two is to assume that the rights to live where one pleases, to live in groups, to live anywhere, to live with equal protection of the law, to freely allow one’s families and friends to come live with you is the equivalent of “sovereignty.” It isn’t. Nor does it empower the holder of these rights to seize land, dig up olive groves, divert water, bulldoze houses, interfere with the education of children and deny Palestinians freedom of movement.

    The League of Nations’ Mandate created rights for both cultural groups across all of the area west of the Jordan. According to Barak/Rosenthal’s reasoning, this makes both a Jewish government and a Palestinian government sovereign across the entire area. This could be achieved by a one-state solution, but apart from that is an absurdity.

    Plainly, Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal because they exist only through the violation of Palestinian rights.

  • Rainer Moeller

    The tragedy of Israel is above all a tragedy of failed promises. Jewish liberals all over the world promised that Palestinian lives would become better when the West bank and Gaza came under Jewish rule in 1967, and that all would end well in a two state solution.
    Now some people never were honest about that. But others were honest at that time and simply have to grapple with the fact that they failed.
    I don’t think that it is very arrogant if we remind people to their own promises.
    And of course this is not a particular Jewish or Israel problem. American liberals promised that black lives would become much better if only blacks supported liberal rule. And this promises have failed, too, and American liberals can’t really accept this as a fact and come to terms with it.

    • Keith Wiebe

      Way too broad of brush Rainer.

  • Stan Harder

    It is truly sad what Mennonites support these days. Perhaps only a few Mennonite readers here are interested in the truth. But if anyone is, they should know that the Bethlehem Bible College has a deeply entrenched anti-Israel position demonstrated through statements and publications of leaders associated with the school. They teach Distortions, false accusations and innuendo against both Christian and Jewish Zionists as “extremists” are covered in political platitudes and religious rhetoric. They espouse Liberation theology which paints Jesus as a kind of messianic zealot of the second temple period. In Palestinian Liberation Theology, Jesus is a Palestinian prototype— he is identified with the Palestinian cause and represents Palestinian suffering in his life and his death.

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