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The Israel-Palestine report

In search of a third option

By Carolyn Pogue

Everyone makes mistakes. Even churches. I think we are making one right now by wading into the Israel-Palestine question with a recommendation to boycott settlement products. As if.

One proverb I live by isn’t found in the Bible. It comes from Poland, author unknown: “If there are only two options, choose the third.”

Our church has been criticized for taking political stands; I’ve always been proud that we’ve had the guts to do that. We claim that Jesus took stands and would expect his followers to do the same — even if it’s costly. That’s not the issue.

The issue is that we are adding one more negative idea to an already negative situation in Israel and Palestine. The boycott action has been inspired by our work with Christians, Muslims and Jews in Israel and Palestine, who feel frightened and isolated. Nevertheless, we are stumbling into a situation without most of us knowing how it feels to have histories of displacement, exile, genocide. We don’t know how it feels to live surrounded by nations like Iran whose leadership openly state that they want all Jews obliterated. Again.

Decades of peace talks and United Nations experts have failed to bring peace. Maybe they fail because they do what CBC’s Peter Mansbridge did: he asked experts there, “Is peace possible?” But he interviewed the military and government people and ignored the peace experts — the Arabs and Jews who work together for peace.

One of the three-member team who presented the Mideast report at General Council told passionate stories of how terrible life is in the West Bank under the Israeli occupation. Well, living under any occupation is dreadful and humiliating. When I interviewed a member of the Israeli peace group Women in Black for The Observer years ago, she said, “This occupation brutalizes both sides; we don’t want our children conscripted to the army for this. We want an end to it.” They hold weekly silent vigils in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I wonder how many voting delegates at General Council know about Women in Black, Religions for Peace and other groups.

A third option could be for United Church people to support the Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. No one knows better than the family of a dead child about the need for ending violence and hatred. Members of this grassroots organization meet in person and online, run programs and tell their stories.

A third option could be for United Church people to begin new chapters or support the small Canadian branch of Friends of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. This village, known in English as Oasis of Peace, was built on land donated by a Christian monastery in the 1970s. Half the citizens are Jews and half are Arabs. They govern themselves, work, play, educate their kids, celebrate each other’s festivals and learn each other’s languages. They run the School for Peace, where people from conflict areas, like Ireland, come to discuss and study peace. There are volunteer opportunities for international visitors. The elementary school is an education in itself: two teachers in every classroom, one Arab and one Jew.

My husband, Very Rev. Bill Phipps, is part of the Canadian Friends of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, based in Calgary. This spring, they hosted an evening with Dorrit Shippin, a village founder, at a public library. Many came to the talk. People know about violence; there is curiosity about peace.

A third option could be to encourage United Church travellers to the Holy Land to include a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, and to include visits with members of groups like Rabbis for Human Rights.

One vivid image I carry of our visit to the School for Peace is of children entering the playground. They walked beside a peace pole and under a brightly painted rainbow of hope.

There are many third options to a boycott of settlement products (what are they, anyway?) that could have been presented and that would not unravel our church’s work in Bearing Faithful Witness, a bridge-building study of United Church and Jewish relations. Instead, the report has offered yet another negative idea to the mix. We can be more creative than that.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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