Tag Archives: Palestine

Urge Members of Congress to Attend a Briefing on Life for Palestinian Children under Israeli Military Occupation

From the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children
Thursday, June 8, 2017
9:30 AM
Cannon House Office Building, Room 122

 Confirmed speakers include:

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director, Human Rights Watch
Brad Parker, Staff Attorney and International Advocacy Officer, Defense for Children International – Palestine
Nadia Ben-Youssef, Director, Adalah Justice Project
Yazan Meqbil, Leonard Education Scholar and student at Goshen College

1912539_1519557018267999_6120668267282374878_oThe briefing marks 50 years since Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Children under 18 years old currently represent 46 percent of the 4.68 million Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This current generation has grown up in the shadow of failed negotiations and with futures stifled by systemic discrimination, persistent settlement expansion, blockade, and repeated military offensives.

Panelists will examine how persistent human rights violations, systematic impunity, discrimination, and a hyper-militarized environment affect the lives of the Palestinian children growing up under a military occupation with no end in sight.

 The briefing is sponsored by Defense for Children International-Palestine and American Friends Service Committee as part of their No Way to Treat a Child campaign.

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Filed under Current Events, Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Let the circle begin

Intl Day Solidarity Palestinian PeopleToday is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

The UN Calendar of Observances app says this about the day:

More than eight million Palestinian people live in territory occupied by Israel, in Israel, in neighbouring Arab States, and in regional refugee camps. International Day of Solidarity provides an opportunity to remind the international community that the question of Palestine remains unresolved and that the Palestinian people have not yet attained their inalienable rights as defined by the UN General Assembly, including the right to self-determination and national independence.

On the official page for the day, the UN provides this description:

In 1977, the General Assembly called for the annual observance of 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (resolution 32/40 B ). On that day, in 1947, the Assembly adopted the resolution on the partition of Palestine(resolution 181 (II))

In resolution 60/37  of 1 December 2005, the Assembly requested the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division for Palestinian Rights, as part of the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November, to continue to organize an annual exhibit on Palestinian rights or a cultural event in cooperation with the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN.

The observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People also encouraged Member States to continue to give the widest support and publicity to the observance of the Day of Solidarity.

In 2014, the Day, which is normally observed on 29 November, will be commemorated at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday, 24 November.

I had the privilege to speak on behalf of the Israel-Palestine NGO Working Group at the UN for the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. We called for the UN and international community to increase their engagement and efforts to support Palestinians and Israelis in the search for just, sustainable peace.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke. He concluded:

On this International Day of Solidarity, I call on the parties to step back from the brink.  The mindless cycle of destruction must end.  The virtuous circle of peace must begin.

May the circle begin!

See you along the Trail.

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Confronting racism in church and society

I had the privilege of providing the September 4, 2014 message for Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. I focused on our need to address racism within the church and our society. I am grateful to Sara Lisherness, Sera Chung, and Toya Richards for editorial input.

As followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we claim the biblical vision of the day when swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Our faith in Christ compels us to work for a world filled with justice and peace.

The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, in partnership with other Compassion, Peace, and Justice and World Mission programs, helps Presbyterians witness and work for justice and peace in Syria, South Sudan, Israel/Palestine, and other places that experience conflict and injustice. We commemorate theInternational Day of Peace, September 21, a day the United Nations invites all nations and peoples to take concrete steps to strengthen the ideals and reality of peace.

We respond to Christ’s call, and the message of the International Day of Peace, whenever and wherever we work for justice and peace in the face of brokenness and strife. The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the killings of other African American males, demonstrate the need for such work in our own country.

Such events painfully remind us of the ongoing reality of racism and poverty as well as the impact of the militarization of police forces in our country. Too many African American men have been killed by the police. Too many issues of racial injustice have festered unresolved, leading to distrust and fear, anger and violence. Ongoing disenfranchisement has resulted in hopelessness and despair.

Presbyterians have a mixed record when it comes to responding to race. We have taken important steps on the journey to racial justice. At the same time, we have often failed to sufficiently recognize and repent of our complicity in the creation and continuation of systems and structures that perpetuate racism. We have been slow to undertake the difficult work of dismantling systems of privilege and disadvantage.

This summer, Presbyterians have prayed and stood with the people of Ferguson, Missouri; we have witnessed and proclaimed the good news of God’s love for all in pulpits across the country. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, in partnership with the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy and First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, is providing support and resources to the church and community through two members of the National Response Team with significant experience in public violence disaster response.

As we give thanks for these and other efforts, we need to continue the journey to justice and accelerate our pace. Resources are available to help Presbyterians confront and address the persistence of racism.

The Season of Peace, which begins on September 7 and ends on World Communion Sunday, provides a time to reflect on, and work for, racial and economic justice and peace. During this season, we receive the Peace & Global Witness Offering that supports peace and justice efforts around the world and in our communities.

A team comprised of staff from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly has gathered to identify further actions Presbyterians can take to address racism, the militarization of police forces, and poverty. Watch for more information and opportunities for engagement.

As our Brief Statement of Faith reminds us, In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. May we be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading as we share the good news of God’s peace.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Keep moving

Anguish grips my soul as events unfold in Gaza.

I am cautiously grateful for the cease-fire announced today. I have prayed for peace; now I pray the negotiations will succeed.

I have called on Congress to act for a ceasefire in Gaza and to pursue a lasting peace in Israel-Palestine.

I have contributed to UNRWA to support their work caring for Palestine refugees in Gaza. There are a number of other agencies responding to the needs of Palestinians and Israelis.

photo (71)I also read Izzledin Abuelaish’s book, I Shall Not Hate.

On January 16, 2009, Israeli shells hit Abuelaish’s home in the Gaza Strip. The devastating explosions killed three of his daughters and a niece. A Palestinian doctor, Abuelaish writes of his experience and his refusal to turn to hate and revenge. Faced with heartbreak unimaginable, he called for the peoples of the region to talk to each other and to build relations with each other that could serve as the basis for efforts that might lead to a just peace. Abuelaish lives his call.

As bombs and shells fell on Gaza; as rockets struck Israel; as Israeli tanks rolled and Israeli troops marched; as Palestinians emerged from tunnels; Abuelaish’s words carry a powerful poignancy and a deep urgency.

We use hatred and blame to avoid the reality that eventually we need to come together.

Hatred is an illness. It prevents healing and peace.

Peace is humanity; peace is respect; peace is open dialogue. I don’t think of peace as the absence of anything that just puts it in a negative light. Let’s be positive about what peace is–rather than what it is not.

We do not need to merely accept what is happening around us. We all have the potential to be agents of change.

I believe that Einstein was right when he said life is like riding a bicycle: to keep balanced, we must keep moving. I will keep moving, but I need you to join me in this long journey.

I give thanks for Izzeldin Abuelaish and all who keep moving on the long journey to justice and peace in Gaza and Israel and places around the world. I pray for the courage and strength to keep moving with them.

See you along the Trail.

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In This Place

This is the manuscript I took into the pulpit at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church today. The preached sermon varied from the manuscript in some instances as the preaching event took place.

People often ask if I miss serving as a pastor in a congregation. I reply that I miss the community, the shared life. But I feel called to my work at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. I make mistakes; challenges and frustrations arise, but I believe I am where God has called me.

And then come those Sundays when I have the privilege to take part in the sacrament of baptism. And in the joy and wonder of the moment, I feel a tug to parish ministry.

Because I knew I would have that privilege this morning, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about children. Of course along with the filled expectation of the sacrament, this week has also brought tragedy and sorrow and hope.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Israeli children who listen for sirens and take refugee in bomb shelters.
Palestinian children killed upon a beach, under the crushing weight of collapsed homes, on the streets of Gaza.
Israeli and Palestinian children bound together in the violent spiral, not of their making, of occupation and resistance.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Nigerian girls abducted from schools and homes, wrenched from their families, held by a rebel group.
Children of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains who huddle in caves as bombs dropped by the government rain around them.
South Sudanese children whose stomachs knot from hunger and malnutrition that threaten their lives.
Syrian children caught in a chaotic cross fire.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children forced to carry guns larger than they are tall in combat.
Children who breathe air-filled with dust and sometimes toxic gases in mines for gold.
Children used, violated, and exploited.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children fleeing rape and gang recruitment and violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and parts of Guatemala who make their way to the United States to be placed in detention centers where they may experience cramped cells without enough food, beds, toilets or showers.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children who lost a parent when a plane went down over the eastern Ukraine.
Children with AIDS or whose parents have AIDS whose lives will be affected by the loss of the researchers and scientists on that plane.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Children in our country whose lives are constricted and diminished by racism.
Children bullied because of their sexual orientation.
Children who know violence in their homes, their schools, and their communities.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

New babies, long-awaited, welcomed, cherished.
Children who receive encouragement, affection, support, and nurture.
Children who enjoy life, bring delight to friends, and share love with family members.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

And I have wept.
Sweet tears of joy and grace.
Hot, bitter tears of grief and pain and anger.
Purging, cleansing tears that have renewed my commitment.

And I have prayed.
For the circumstances that wound children.
For the children. By name when possible.

Prayer opens me to God.

Prayer also opens me to the children and circumstances for which I pray. It binds me to the children be they in Damascus or Detroit. It calls me to commit to act on behalf of the children for whom I pray.

Prayer makes and nurtures the relationships, key to pursuing justice. And prayer for justice and wholeness in one setting draws me out of myself to experience anew the connections between all forms of injustice. It reminds me of the interdependence of people and life. It transforms me as it leads me to pray—and then act—more broadly than I would have otherwise done.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

And I have advocated with government officials and others who are in positions to act to reshape realities for children.
And I have made contributions to groups caring for children in the United States and abroad.
And I have invited and challenged my family and friends to learn and pray and act.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

And I have come to this place, this sanctuary, this congregation.

I come to stand in community. For community is essential to confront the realities of the world. Only together can we stand against the forces that violate children; alone we cannot stand.

I come to sing songs, break bread, share the cup.

I come to celebrate with a family as they present their children for baptism. Affirming their faith in Jesus Christ in a world broken, fearful, and frightening. Proclaiming hope. Sharing love.

I come to remember the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In ways that may surprise us, frighten us, awe us, God is at work. Here. Now. In this community.

When I experience the presence of God, I join Jacob in his affirmation of wonder and faith: “Surely God is in this place — and I did not know it!”

And knowing that God is in this place, reminds me, fills me with hope that God in Jesus Christ is in all places. Even in places where heartache and horror seem strong; even in places where violations occur; even in places where people and relationships are most badly broken and fear and wrong seems strongest, God is at work.

In this place, I am reminded that God is at work in all places. And that sustains and challenges me to look for how God is at work and, as the Holy Spirit gives me grace, to join in that work.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Faith in God in Christ have put them there.

And in this place, God invites us all to join in caring for the children. The children of this congregation. The children of this community. All the children, all God’s children of the world. May we hear and respond.

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Filed under Current Events, New York, Worship

Remember Palestinian workers on International Workers’ Day

May 1. May Day. International Workers’ Day.

A day to give thanks for those who have worked to extend and protect the rights and dignity of workers. A day to remember those who work, often in situations of degradation and exploitation.  A day to commit ourselves to the efforts to ensure that all people have the opportunity for meaningful, safe work that will allow them to support themselves and their dependents.

A post by B’Tselem reminded me of workers I had not considered on this day:

For Palestinian workers, there is not much cause for celebration: the day is a painful reminder that another year has gone by and nothing has changed. Palestinians are still denied basic rights, including the right to earn a living without risking their lives.

B’tselem reports that Israel exploits natural resources of the West Bank (quarries, water, land) for its own needs and those of Israeli settlers even though this violates international law. This is a major factor preventing the development of a Palestinian economy on the West Bank. No Palestinian economy means limited work opportunities for Palestinians. This makes working within Israel the only option available to Palestinians.

Some Palestinians do so illegally. Such workers live in a state of anxiety, fearing detection, arrest, injury. B’Tselem notes that for such workers “labor rights such as a minimum wage, reasonable work hours, and a pension scheme seem like a distant dream.”

Other Palestinians seek to obtain work permits which Israel controls. Even with permits, Palestinian workers may enter Israel only through designated checkpoints. There, B’Tselem reports “harsh conditions of overcrowding, long lines, and cases of humiliation during inspection. On Sundays, the number of Palestinians crossing through both checkpoints peaks at 4,500. The workers and their belongings are scanned with a metal detector. Then, they move on to stations where personnel check their fingerprints and their papers, including their entry permits.”

As International Workers’ Day draws to a close, I give thanks for those workers who helped established rights workers enjoy today. I look for ways to extend and protect those rights. And I think of situations where workers are abused and exploited. I think of the West Bank how the workers there need the occupation to end so a viable economy can be built as steps toward the day when all can be employed in dignity.

Even as I type, I wonder what the workers of Gaza face. And the workers of other places. And I realize I need to learn more about the workers of the world, all the world including the United States.

The words of Joan Baez come back to me:

And the aching workers of the world again shall sing 
These words in mighty choruses to all will bring 
“We shall no longer be the poor 
For no one owns us anymore” 
And the workers of the world again shall sing

May it be so.

See you along the Trail.

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Advocate for Peace in Gaza 

From the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness:

Ask Congress to Support a Lasting Ceasefire and an End to the Gaza Blockade

On March 11 three Palestinian members of Islamic Jihad were killed in southern Gaza, with their deaths reportedly attributed to an Israeli airstrike. The next day, Gaza fighters launched dozens of rockets into southern Israel, and the Israeli military conducted numerous airstrikes on Gaza.  Rockets and airstrikes continued later in the week.

The latest violence takes place following recent Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza.  In a March 4 report, “Spike in number of Palestinian civilians killed near Gaza perimeter fence,” the Israeli human rights organization, “B’Tselem,” describes incidents of civilian deaths. Amneh Qdeih, 57 was shot and killed “when she approached Gaza’s perimeter fence. Her relatives told B’Tselem field researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh that Qdeih, who was mentally ill, had been at a family wedding in the town of Khuza’ah, not far from the perimeter fence in the southeastern Gaza Strip.”

Also in March, the European Union released its report, “EU Heads of Missions’ report on Gaza 2013.”  The report details deteriorating conditions for the 1.7 million Palestinian residents of Gaza.  Power outages last up to 16 hours per day. Fuel shortages result in severely compromised water and sanitation facilities and disruption to hospital services.  The water situation is particularly dire, as the report details. Due to an  “over-abstraction of water from the aquifer—the principal water source in Gaza—the groundwater level has been sinking.  This causes salty seawater to seep in, rendering 90% of the aquifer’s water unsafe for drinking without treatment.  According to a UN study, the aquifer may become unusable by 2016 and damage to it may be irreversible by 2020.”

Click here to send a message to your members of Congress today!

The Heads of Mission warn that “the human rights situation in Gaza is worrying,” The ongoing closure policy means that movement and access for Palestinian residents of Gaza is strictly limited. As a result, Palestinians in Gaza are rarely able to visit family members, study at universities, and access holy sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The report notes a lower number of rockets in 2013 than in previous years, but “indiscriminate firing of rockets towards Israel by extremist groups in Gaza has continued, in violation of international law.”

The recent deaths of Palestinians in Gaza and the firing of rockets into Israel, as well as the deteriorating living conditions there, demonstrate in tragic way that the blockade of Gaza is suffocating for its residents while not bringing security for Israel.  As energy and attention focus on the ongoing peace negotiations, it is also critical to address the Gaza situation.

While Israel, as the occupying power, bears primary responsibility for ending the blockade, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto leadership in Gaza also must be held accountable.  While the Egyptian government has taken measures to curtail tunnel traffic, they should also be encouraged to work with the parties to facilitate use of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

Click here to send a message to your members of Congress today!

In 2005 Israel and the Palestinian authority signed an agreement on movement and access contained in two documents, “Agreement on Movement and Access,” and “Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing.”  This agreement should be immediately updated and implemented, to alleviate the suffering and collective punishment of the people of Gaza and to provide for the security of the people of southern Israel. The need is urgent for a lasting ceasefire and an opening of the monitored crossings for humanitarian assistance, transit of persons, and imports and exports for the Gaza economy. It is time for a new strategy toward Gaza – a strategy that is based on human rights, international law, and respect for the dignity, freedom, and security of all persons.

At the 219th General Assembly, the PC(USA) expressed its opposition to a blockade on Gaza which prohibits adeaquate levels of food, medicine, building supplies, and humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza. In addition, the denomination affirmed its support for the necessity of allowing “free commercial exchange in and out of Gaza.” As part of this recommendation, the General Assembly specifically called upon the U.S. government to “end any support for the blockade that interferes with the adequacy such items or such exchange.” As Presbyterians we are guided by a concern for a just and lasting peace that will reach all people in Israel-Palestine, including the citizens of Gaza.
Click here to send a message to your members of Congress today!

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