Episcopal Church joins call for end to Gaza violence and measures to protect Palestinians

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Apr 12, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited Gaza City days before protests began along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, has added the Episcopal Church’s name to a joint statement protesting Israel’s deadly response to the violence.

The 15 denominations and Christian agencies say that they “cannot be silent” as Gazans have been killed or injured during the first two weeks of protests that are expected to occur until May 15. That is the day when Palestinians mark the “Nakba,” which is Arabic for “catastrophe,” and commemorates the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced off their land during the war that followed Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence from the British mandate of Palestine. That day is expected to be particularly fraught this year because it falls near the day when President Donald Trump plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial shift in U.S. policy.

Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition into crowds of Palestinian protesters, killing 15 and injuring some 1,000 others during the first day of protests March 30, which was the eve of Passover. Some of those injured later died. Close to 30,000 Palestinians had gathered near the fence for what organizers call the “March of Return.”

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, as Palestinians demanded the right to return to their homeland, the southern Gaza Strip March 30. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

While the majority of protesters were said to have not engaged in violence, some reportedly used slingshots to shoot stones at Israeli soldiers, lobbed Molotov cocktails over the fence line and sent burning tires rolling to the fence. Israeli Defense Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said March 30 that Palestinians were attempting to cross or harm the fence and “IDF troops returned precise fire.” He added that live ammunition was used only against those attempting to harm the fence. The IDF has said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, is exploiting the demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

Violence broke out again a week later on April 6. Seven Palestinians were killed and about 1,400 injured, including nearly 400 with gunshot wounds, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said it found that, in all, 26 people died, including three children, and 445 children were among the injured. OCHA said no Israeli casualties have been reported.

The churches and agencies said in their April 12 statement that they “support the Palestinian people as they courageously stand up for their rights.”

“We have worked in our own context in the cause of justice, peace, and equality, and continue to do so even as we recognize we have too often fallen short in these efforts. We reject the use of violence by individuals, groups or states,” they said. “In the wake of demonstrations that have resulted in tragedy and death, and anticipating the continuation of Palestinian protests over the coming weeks, we cannot be silent.”

The statement outlines a series of steps the groups would like to see taken:

  • An end to the use of deadly force by the Israeli military, and support for the call by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, to Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot.
  • An investigation into the deaths and injuries suffered resulting from the use of force.
  • A censure by the United States, and particularly Trump and members of Congress, of “the violent and indiscriminate actions of the State of Israel” and holding Israel “appropriately accountable, ensuring that U.S. aid isn’t used in ways that contravene established U.S. and international laws.”
  • U.S. support for the rights of refugees, including Palestinian refugees, based on international law and conventions.
  • A decision by the United States to resume its full funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which supports schools, hospitals and other essential services for Palestinian refugees. The U.S. recently announced that it would provide $60 million to UNRWA with no assurance of further funding for 2018, an 83 percent funding cut from the 2017 contribution of $365 million.
  • A call for the international community, including the U.S. government, to insist on an end to the blockade of Gaza, “which has resulted in uninhabitable conditions for the people there, including poverty and lack of sufficient access to clean water, food, medicine and medical supplies, electricity, fuel, and construction equipment.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, left, and Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani walk March 26 through the barren area between an Israel checkpoint and Gaza City. They were on their way to visit the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Their journey took place five days before violence broke out along the fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Sharon Jones

The statement said the Palestinians’ efforts to call the world’s attention to their struggle to “recover, their rights — rights as refugees, to demonstrate, and to live in dignity” were met with “an immediate and tragic rejection of those rights.” The denominations and agencies declare themselves “people of hope” who, in the Easter season, believe that those rights will ultimately prevail.

“In this time, we pray fervently, speak clearly, and act diligently in support of peace, justice, and equality,” they conclude.

The signers include the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., National Council of Churches, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, and the United Church of Christ.

After the first violence on March 30 and the day before the second round, Churches for Middle East Peace, or CMEP, a coalition of 27 U.S. denominations and organizations of which the Episcopal Church is a member, said, “we fully affirm the right of the Palestinian people to engage in nonviolent resistance.”

The organization said, “Resorting to live fire against unarmed demonstrators is a negligent and inexcusable response that failed to distinguish between those who came to protest peacefully and those with more malicious intentions.”

In a related move earlier this week, Curry signed onto a CMEP letter to Trump calling on the administration to “protect the vulnerable Christian communities in the Holy Land” and oppose official Israeli efforts that it said would financially harm churches.

The letter refers to Jerusalem Municipality’s plan to collect taxes on all church property not used exclusively as houses of worship. Including back taxes, the churches were told to pay approximately $186 million, according to the letter. The Israeli Knesset is also considering legislation that would permit Israel to retroactively expropriate land sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches since 2010.

The Times of Israel recently reported that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has been hit with a bill of the equivalent of nearly $2 million. Curry learned during his Holy Week trip to the Holy Land that Muslim religious groups would owe $120 million. Even though the controversial plan was put on hold early in March, the diocese’s accounts are still frozen.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (37)

  1. Carole Reed says:

    The history of Palestine is known, however, none of this explains why Palestinians were driven from their homes (remember Dier Yassein) and became and remain uncompensated refugees. Those who have suffered greatly have no reluctance to harm the innocents. As a Christian I must reject this atrocity.

  2. Jim Price says:

    What has the Episcopal Church done on behalf of the Palestinians in Syria? Thousands have been injured and killed by Assad and his allies.

    1. mfschjonberg says:

      By way of Episcopal Relief & Development, the church has been helping care of Syrian refugees for at least five years. You can find more information here https://www.episcopalrelief.org/press-and-resources/press-releases/2013-press-releases/episcopal-relief-and-development-responds-to-crisis-in-syria and here https://www.episcopalrelief.org/search?q=syria&yt0=Search.

  3. mike geibel says:

    I would donate to these refugee funds, but I will not because of the Episcopal Church’s anti-Israel proclamations.

    On November 2, 1917, the British government vowed to try to create a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine (Balfour Declaration) which opened the door for immigration by oppressed Jews. What followed was an extraordinary course of events, including a civil war between Jews, Palestinians and the Arab States where a small ad hoc army of Jews fended off the larger and better equipped Arab armies and States which had promised to annihilate the infidel invaders both in 1948 and again in 1967. Israel has become one of the Middle East’s rare functioning democracies and a country which has absorbed oppressed and destitute Jews from around the world, and its people have built a flourishing high-tech industry, and a country which is one of America’s most reliable allies in the region.

    The dark side of the creation of Israel was the 700,000 to 800,000 Palestinians who lost their homes and villages and whose descendants remain pretty much a people without a homeland, unwelcome in both Israel and in neighboring Arab States. It is true that there were many Palestinians who were “driven from their homes,” and it is also true that there was an equal or larger number who fled when the propaganda from Arab States reported exaggerated accounts of atrocities and ordered Palestinian residents to leave so their liberating armies could come in and kill all the Jews. It didn’t work out the way they planned.

    These historical events have resulted in an intractable “hatred and distrust” between Palestinians and Israelis made worse by the judgmental interference of other countries and religious leaders. Surrounded by internal terrorists and hostile neighboring states, and Palestinian leadership’s refusal to even recognize the Israel’s right to exist, it is not surprising that Israelis operate under a bunker mentality—the very survival of their people is at stake.

    The premise that a “peaceful” solution requires that the Israeli people who are the descendants of the brave Jewish immigrates who founded the country must surrender their homes and lands and dreams that their mothers and fathers fought and died for, is simply a non-starter. The arm chair pontificators who sit comfortably in the Episcopal Church back in America, and who condemn Israel and pointlessly demand “justice” in the abstract, operate in an imaginary world. You cannot reverse history, and if you try to do so, people are going to die.

    I offer no solutions, but officious political intermeddling by the Episcopal Church through its one-sided declarations and denouncements of Israel only make the situation worse, and alienate those members in the US who support Israel. Change, and hopefully peace, will only become a reality when the better hearts of Israelis reach out in compassion for the disenfranchised Palestinians—but that will only happen when the Israeli people feel safe and secure from the annihilation threatened by others. The TEC should stick to what it is good at–humanitarian aid–and stay out of the alienating politics of the peace efforts.

  4. Carole Reed says:

    I am proud of my church for defending the Palestinians against militarized troops who kill them without regard, or, could it be that the Palestinians assault the troops with stones and deserve to be shot? They want and deserve to live in their native land which was given by a colonial power to another group of people fleeing .
    Yes, why not donate to Israel because it agrees with your conscience and is considered a tax deduction by the IRS.

  5. Jim Price says:

    Carol Reed you clearly no next to nothing about Israel. The majority of Jews in Israel are from North African, the Mideast, and Central Asia. They are not of European origin. Prior to the establishment of Israel it was difficult for holocaust survivors to enter so the land was not given to another group fleeing persecution. Arabs started violence against Jews in 1920. They slaughtered the Jewish community of Hebron in 1929. I’m 1948 many Druze sided with the Israelis against other Arabs. If neighboring Arab countries had taken in their brethren – like India and Pakistan did – there would be no camps today. Many of us are now seeing the Episcopalian church for what it is. As Jews have learned over and over they must look out for themselves.

  6. Carole Reed says:

    I am an individual and not a spokesperson for the Episcopal Church.
    Giving colonial ruled Palestine to Europeans was decided by the Balfour Declaration. Helping the helpless is a concept I support as would have been the case decades ago in Europe when Jews were slaughtered…. if only I had been on this planet and of age to understand. Let us not forget the Native Americans.

  7. mike geibel says:

    When the Israelites fled from slavery imposed by the Egyptian Pharaoh and wandered for 40 years to finally settle in the “promised land,” did the land not belong to the tribes already living there? Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt (Numbers 34:1-12), and the Bible says this occupation of the promised land was God’s fulfilment of his promise (Deuteronomy 1:8). And more was said regarding the treatment of the peoples already living there:

    “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons”. (Deut.7:1-3 NIV)

    A pretty harsh description wouldn’t you agree?

    I hear no condemnation of God’s promise as reflected in the Bible by those who condemn the modern Zionist immigration to Israel and then compare it to the western expansion of immigrant Europeans in America. Proof of the sincerity of your contrition and demand for reparations for the disposed would be for the Episcopal Church and those members who condemn history and America as evil, would be to immediately deed all the Church property and your own homes to the nearest Native American Nation.

  8. Carole Reed says:

    So much of the Old Testament should not be taken as absolute fact. Did a whale really swallow Jonah and did Noah really build an arc to collect all the animals of the world such as polar bears and lions? Me thinks not. Native Americans were treated badly by European settlers just as the Palestinians are currently experiencing from the Israeli government. Be generous with compensation and look upon both peoples as having suffered badly at the hands of expansionist Europeans. No further comments.

  9. Carole Reed says:

    So much of the Old Testament should not be taken as absolute fact. Did a whale really swallow Jonah and did Noah really build an arc to collect all the animals of the world such as polar bears and lions? Me thinks not. Native Americans were treated badly by European settlers. Be generous with compensation and look upon both peoples as having suffered badly at the hands of expansionist Europeans. No further comments.

  10. mike geibel says:

    Dear Ms. Reed: If I understand you correctly, the history of the Exodus in Bible is false, the Israelis must atone for their occupation of Palestine by giving up their homes, and America must atone for its occupation of Native American Lands. I trust that you, as an inheritor of the land stolen from Native Americans, will promptly deed title to your house to the nearest tribal leaders. Demanding we be “generous with compensation” is rather hollow if you personally do not make the sacrifice you demand of others.

Comments are closed.