Longhurst: ‘A cry for home’

Dec 4, 2017 by

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“Everyone needs a home — where families are safe and secure, where their basic needs are met, where they can come and go freely, and where they can imagine a future.”

John Longhurst


That’s the way a new campaign called “A Cry for Home” from Mennonite Central Committee on Palestine and Israel begins.

“But that is not the reality for Palestinians,” it goes on to say.

The goal of the campaign is to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and how may have experienced the demolition of their homes.

Through the campaign, MCC Canada is asking people to sign a petition that urges the Canadian government to “prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and hold Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees.”

Thinking about the campaign, some may wonder: With all the huge needs in the world today, why focus on this issue?

On the MCC Canada Ottawa Office blog, public engagement coordinator Esther Epp-Tiessen gave a number of reasons: requests from partners, the desperate situation facing Palestinians and MCC’s 68-year history in the region.

They are also doing it because they care about Israeli Jews, who are also “harmed by the words, walls and weapons that divide them from Palestinians.”

Faith, of course, is another big reason: “Our commitment to Jesus compels us to stand with the oppressed, lovingly speak truth to power and actively seek a just peace in the land where Jesus walked.”

All good reasons, but I wondered if MCC had considered how the campaign might be viewed by Canadian Jews.

Considering recent flare-ups of anti-Semitism in the U.S., and even here in Winnipeg, Man., is MCC Canada worried the campaign might add to the anxiety of Canadian Jews?

I called Rick Cober-Baumann, MCC Canada’s new executive director, to see what he thought.

He acknowledged this is a concern.

“We want to make it absolutely clear that we don’t want to promote antagonism against Jews, in Canada or Israel,” he says.

That’s why the campaign affirms the fears of Israelis, who also “live with ongoing fear and trauma . . . they too long for safety and security.”

MCC “clearly recognizes the insecurity and lack of safety felt by Israelis,” he said, noting that in the past MCC had not fully taken this into account. “This time we are making more of an intentional effort.”

That includes being “more responsive to the Jewish community,” in Canada, doing things like looking for ways to dialogue with Canadian Jews about this issue who also want to find a “nonviolent and just peace in Palestine.”

Cober-Baumann recognizes that not everyone will be happy with the campaign — Jewish or Mennonite. Yet he believes it’s important.

“Our advocacy effort is based on our experience,” he said. “It shows us that there is an occupation and that a deep price is being paid for that occupation by the Palestinians. It grows out of the reality on the ground.”

Through “A Cry for Home,” he hopes MCC’s supporters, and other Canadians, will come to a deeper understanding of the situation.

Whether that happens remains to be seen.

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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