Taking action for a Just Peace – Presbyterian Church GA 2016

Just two years after voting to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation by a narrow margin, the Presbyterian Church passed a series of powerful overtures committing the Church to taking action for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. The overtures included calling on the church to prayerfully study the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions call, calling on Israel to end its gross mistreatment of Palestinian children and on the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the U.S. legislature to take active steps toward that end, calling on Re/MAX, which sells homes in illegal settlements, to follow through on a new promise it made in a recent letter to the church to stop profiting from settlement sales and adopting a report (Israel/Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace) with a series of recommendations for how the Church should encourage the U.S. government to take action to address human rights issues rather than merely continuing to affirm the two-state solution.

The wide margins endorsing these measures demonstrate the church’s desire to continue taking bold action to make possible a just peace in Israel/Palestine, thanks to the strong leadership of our partners the Israel/Palestine Mission Network. Despite efforts to malign the BDS movement during the deliberations, and in defiance of efforts in state legislatures and by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to demonize the BDS movement, it is significant that the Presbyterian Church voted instead to prayerfully study the call from Palestinian civil society for solidarity through the tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Jewish Voice for Peace members along with partners from the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace attended the Presbyterian Church’s 222nd General Assembly to give testimony and bear witness as the Church considered a series of overtures. Here are some of those testimonies and stories:

Faryn Borella, Jewish Voice for Peace member from Oakland, California advocated for resolution 08-07 On Prayerfully Studying the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS):

My name is Faryn Borella, a proud member of the Jewish community and rabbinic student with Shomeret Shalom rabbinical school, a school to train future rabbis in the tradition of Jewish nonviolence. I am here speaking in favor of overture 08-07 to prayerfully study the BDS call. I first want to say thank you for welcoming me into your house and your process. Secondly, I want to say that as a rabbinic student, I love that the resolution calls the Church to not just study, but prayerfully study the BDS call. Thus, in preparation for today, I decided to do just that.

In Judaism, there are 613 mitzvot, or commandments, that G-d asks of the Jewish people. One of the commandments is to study Torah. Before a Jew performs a mitzvah, commandment, we recite a prayer. Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vtsivanu la’asoq b’divrey Torah. Blessed are you, G-d, spirit of the universe, who has sanctified us with your mitzvot and commanded us to occupy ourselves with the study of Torah. But in Hebrew, Torah simply means teaching, so G-d is commanding us to occupy ourselves with the study of teachings. I see the BDS call as a sacred teaching.

The BDS call is simple, a mere two pages with 3 values, 3 goals, and 3 tactics. The values are freedom, justice and equality. I have seen these values come up time and time again during my time here at the Presbyterian GA. They are also values fundamental to Jewish tradition, as in the words of Hillel the Elder, a first century Jewish sage: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary, now go and study.”

We are not asking you today to endorse BDS. We are asking you to study–to discern–and come back in two years time with a deeper and richer understanding. This is the way of the Jewish people and I have now seen this is the way of Presbyterians as well. Thank you.

G.J Tarazi, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace leader from Virginia advocated for Resolution 08-07 On Prayerfully Studying the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS):

My name is Dr. Ghassan Tarazi. I am here to strongly encourage you to approve Overture 08-07 – On Prayerfully Studying the Palestinian Civivl Society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. The plea from Palestinians comes from an ecumenical group of churches, in addition to a broad section of civil society. Their anguish is captured in the Kairos Palestine Document of 2009.

I am a Palestinian Christian with deep roots in Gaza. My family’s church there recently celebrated its 1,612th Anniversary. Yes, St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church was built in 404, shortly after the first Pentecost. It is still standing on the same foundation and it is still faithfully and stubbornly serving all its community under the horrific conditions of a 49 year military occupation and 10 years of military siege and periodic deadly assaults.

Learning – education and inquiry – are essential steps in your discernment process. Within this process, I invite you to get to know Palestinians. Avoid stereotyping us with that one negative brush of terrorists. We are God’s beloved children. As a matter of fact, our Lord Jesus was a Palestinian Jew living under Roman occupation. Unfortunately, today Palestinians are living under occupation, including the followers of Jesus.

I want to leave you with this thought: You are God’s hands in bending the long and often stubborn moral arc of the universe toward justice. We are challenged to participate and collaborate with the God of Justice in building God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven with this:

God – without us won’t; us –without God can’t.

My prayers are with you. Thank you.

Ned Rosch, Jewish Voice for Peace member from Portland, Oregon advocated for Resolution 08-02 On Advocating for the Safety and Well-being of Children of Palestine and Israel:

My name is Ned Rosch and I speak in favor of this overture advocating for the rights of children. I am a proud member of the Jewish community and active in Jewish Voice for Peace.

Not only have I had the amazing opportunity to live and study in Israel, I have also had the unforgettable experience of being part of a health delegation that worked in Gaza two months after the bombs of the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza took the lives of over 500 Palestinian children.

A Palestinian woman I worked with in Gaza told me of an experience that to me captured the horror, the fear, the helplessness that so many Palestinians felt, captive in the sealed off Gaza Strip with bombs from Israeli jets raining down on them – raining down on them for 50 days.  This woman, Rawya, shared with me that as bombs were falling all around and hitting nearby apartments buildings, she and her husband gathered their three young teenage children around the kitchen table and made each one answer the following question: What will you do, what will be your plan, if a bomb hits our apartment and we are all killed and you are the only survivor?  She said to me that she felt that, as a mother, she needed to ask that question through her anguished tears because that terrible possibility seemed horrifically real.

No mother should ever have to ask her children such a heart-breaking question. No young child should ever have to answer it. But that was the reality, and continues to be the reality, every few years – 2008-2009, 2012, 2014 – for Palestinian children living under a brutally inhumane Israeli siege and occupation.

For Rawya’s children, and so many like them, I respectfully urge you to support this overture advocating for the safety and well-being of the children.  Thank you.



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