‘Palestine’ and Overture 6: Ten Questions to Consider

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Synod 2019 will be asked to deliberate Overture #6 from the Council of East Hill Community CRC, Vernon, British Columbia entitled “Follow Christ in the Way of Peace, Doing Justice, and Bringing Reconciliation to the Peoples of Israel and Palestine.” (see the Agenda for Synod 2019). 

The council of East Hill Community CRC overtures Synod 2019 of the Christian Reformed Church to act on the following:

  1. To increase the awareness of our members that in the ongoing conflict the system of official policies and practices of the Israeli government with respect to the treatment of Palestinians violates biblical principles of justice and righteousness.
  2. To, along with other Christians, continue to call on our respective governments and ultimately the government of Israel to hear God’s call to practice justice with regard to the Palestinian peoples.
  3. To encourage the Palestinian peoples and Israel to continue to choose the way of a nonviolent path to peace in the face of this deteriorating 52-year occupation.
  4. To instruct the Council of Delegates to instruct the Office of Social Justice to continue to lead our churches into taking appropriate action by providing educational resources, consultation, and coordination of our congregations’ efforts in addressing these injustices.

To assist delegates in their deliberations with this Overture, I would like them to ask them to contemplate the following ten questions.

  1. Given that the word ‘Palestine’ is derived from Roman occupation of Jewish territory of what they called “Philistine” (after the Bar Kokhba revolt of 134 AD) is it possible that the very term carries other meanings than its present day connotations as applied to an ethnicity, for example?
  2. Given that the region was Jewish originally, and that invaders of Arabic and Muslim origin then occupied it, a valid question might be “whose land is it anyways?” A further question that is addressed below is “is this all about land, anyways?”
  3. Given that the region now called Israel/Palestine was under Islamic control, how does this play into the equation? Islam has a doctrine called ‘waqf’ which essentially declares that any land that has been in Islamic hands must remain so until perpetuity, and if it reverts to non-Muslim hands, then war is declared in perpetuity. Has the overture sufficiently considered the consequences of the doctrine of waqf?
  4. Given that enmity between Muslims and Jews was declared at the time of the founding of Islam, and that Islamic texts, including its eschatology portray a strong anti-Semitism, should this dynamic enter the equation?
  5. Given that a reaction to Christian Zionism [largely driven by dispensational theology] is now Christian Palestinianism [largely driven by liberation theology] how should delegates navigate theologically through these two opposing and yet very vocal options?
  6. Given that there is ample evidence of exploitation of victimization on the part of some Palestinians with the resultant effect to demonize all things Jewish [see unedited scripts from Palestinian TV here [MEMRI | Middle East Media Research Institute] where does the call for justice apply to this dynamic? Where does responsibility for Palestinian actions come into play?
  7. Given that there is evidence of exploitation of Palestinians by Palestinian leaders  [*witness the fortunes that leaders such as the late Yasser Arafat, Mousa Abu Marzook and Khaled Meshaal have amassed] how will this injustice be addressed?
  8. Given that Christians of Arabic background in this region are doubly marginalized, either by a Jewish or Muslim majority, depending where they live, how will their plight be prioritized? Also, given that Christians throughout the world suffer injustices and that this must rank high on a list of Christian priorities, why does it seem that injustices towards Palestinians [Christian or otherwise] seem to have a higher “value” than say, Pakistani Christians trapped for years in refugee camps, than the almost unreported kidnappings of Christians in the Minya region of Egypt and the present systemic persecution of Christians in China?  
  9. Given that many resources on the region for Christian reading tend either toward Christian Zionism [i.e., blessing all things Jewish] or Christian Palestinianism [i.e., blessing all things Palestinian] how will balanced resources be made available, in light of the overture’s leaning toward the second?
  10. As much as biblical justice is part of the mandate of the church and its members, where does the CRCNA draw lines around what its "core business" might be, and what might be the ministry of a certain group of interested members, without it needing the official funding, energy, and sanction of the CRCNA? In short, can the CRCNA ever say no to official advocacy for an injustice somewhere on this planet?
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Thanks for this John.  Your question #10 is indeed the summary conclusion.  I am increasingly befuddled by the idea that some CRC assemblies have, Synod included, that they can meaningfully "address" infinitely complex political issues (which are almost always the media hot topics of the day) they know little to nothing about in detail by delegating "all those details" to a CRC agency.

We are becoming stooges of the political/media spin machinery that is becoming increasingly pervasive in the US, all the while thinking we are "champions of social justice" because we are able to point to a supposed injustice we in fact know little about and tell something else to "do something about that."

Thanks for your thoughtful questions to address this overture. I can only hope that whoever is considering it will take your questions to heart. This overture was twice rejected by Classis British Columbia South East because of the one-sided nature of the argument. Its author is passionate for the Palestinian cause, but that passion has closed his mind to any serious dialogue or consideration of the complexities of the situation in the Middle East. We've had extended dialogue with him on the matter, but he persists with a very one-sided agenda.

The situation in Israel/Palestine is incredibly riven and complex. We need to be cautious about wading into this conversation with broad-based and church-wide declarations without real and full understanding of the issues on the ground there. I can only hope and pray that saner heads will prevail at synod to see through the narrowness of this deeply flawed overture.

Rather than highlighting only justice issues, the CRC would be much better served by a broader focus on "reconciliation" in this context. A reconciliatory approach which has justice as a component avoids the tendency to demonize the "other" side, and promotes listening and dialogue instead.

Thank you for this John.

I have great concern over the growing emphasis, both in the crcna and in the church generally, on social justice, and this is a great example of why.  

One of the great flaws in the social justice framework is the way that it seeks to bring "justice" to groups rather than to seek a just outcome in specific, individual situations.  This approach almost always leads to injustice rather than to justice.  Biblically speaking, justice (each one receiving what he/she is due, based upon the law of God) can only have an individual application, for we are individually responsible before him, and all that we are responsible for is what we ourselves do or don't do. 

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 

Over and over again, God warns his people not to consider what group people are from in seeking to do justice, but to simply look at the facts.  And, in order to make sure that only the facts were used, they needed to be established by 2 or 3 witnesses.  In other words, before any conclusion could be determined to be "just" those entrusted with bringing justice had to follow a process that was just.  The social justice movement, in seeking to bring justice to groups overly simplifies each situation and leads to many guilty people being protected and many innocent people being found guilty.

If we want to work to establish true justice between the Jewish and Palestinian people (outside of bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ) we should work to make sure that in each and every territory the law applies to everyone, and each individual situation is assessed through a just process.  If we made this our goal, and worked for it, we would soon find out which of the individuals in these groups really wants justice and which of them are just interested in stirring up mobs of people to help them achieve their unjust aims.

 

A reply to John Span and all:

John, read the overture again and notice that it is not about who owns the land but about the 

treatment of one people who have all the power over another people who have little power. 

The one has been impoverished by countless discriminatory laws by the

other occupying power for a long, long time.

 

The prophets always warned ancient Israel “to act justly...do not oppress the alien,

the orphan or the widow….to not shed innocent blood.” Jeremiah 7:5 -7

Remember the story of the prophet Elijah when he spoke to King Ahab “Have you killed and

taken possession?”  Ahab had killed Naboth and had taken what was not his. 1 Kings 21:19 

There is no blessing for ancient Israel nor the modern state of Israel. 

The forced illegal dispossession of homes and land takes place to this day.

 

Our Lord and Redeemer was not here to form an earthly kingdom but to call all people to Himself.

Jesus changed everything! The apostle Paul proclaimed that there is now no difference between

Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Alongside ancient Israel, the modern state of Israel, we are all grafted into the “New Israel” 

for which our Lord died and rose triumphant. 

 

I was in Israel/Palestine, particularly in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas, in October 2015 to

specifically be a witness to what happens there. I went with the Christian Peacemaker Teams.  

There were eight of us. (Canadian, American, Australian). 

We talked with families who were dispossessed of their homes. 

We interviewed parents whose children were dragged off to jail.  

I saw how the Palestinian people in Hebron had to live with so many military checkpoints 

and the midnight raids they have to endure. 

We also spoke with Israeli Jews who are affected by the conflict or work for justice and reconciliation,

so many Jewish people are also deeply hurting from the trauma of what is there.

It was so disturbing that I resolved to speak up and be an advocate on all their behalf. 

It is about justice and descent human rights here and now.

 

The majority of visiting people go to places in Israel where there is relative calm and they naturally 

want to avoid the places where conflict is very real. Yes, there is corruption on both sides, 

you mention Hamas but Bibi Netanyahu will face the courts one day and not just in Israel.

Yes, the overture may seem to you to be one sided or lop-sided.

I agree with you because the whole situation there is lop-sided. 

You can find statistics about this on the website “ifamericansknew.org”.

The injustices done to Palestinians is plain to see and well documented by the United Nations and 

Israeli human rights organizations like B’Tselem. I also agree with Gary Roosma that the conflict 

has become complex but because Israel and a couple of western powers, mostly with the US support of 

$3 billion or more per year of US tax payer’s money. They are letting Israel be content with treating 

this as a frozen conflict. So, this keeps the Israelis in Tel Aviv wealthy but insecure; 

and this keeps the Palestinians poor and doing most of the suffering.

 

Brothers in the Lord, I am glad we are having a conversation about this most pressing subject and there

is much more to be said.

 

 

 

 

Participant

As part of the Kingdom Church, the CRC can encourage praying for God's heart for Israel, and for the nations.  His Word encourages us to pray for the peace of Israel and Jerusalem... I understand there are many complexities to the understanding of "Israel", but praying for "Israel" and the salvation of "Israel" is a scriptural principle, even if our understanding of "Israel" varies. God's heart for Israel includes that "Israel" will be a light for the nations (Is 60) and to welcome the strangers and aliens within their gates. That God calls Himself "the Holy One of Israel" is significant.  God's heart is for "Israel" to fulfill it's God given calling, and at this point, however one understands "Israel", "Israel" (Jewish people/children of Abraham (natural branches), Gentile believers - Abraham's adopted children (wild branches) the physical promised land of Israel, the modern nation of Israel, and/or the Church), it is falling short and from my experience and perspective, our prayers on behalf of "Israel" have fallen short.

Participant

One of the beautiful collaborations of unity happening in Israel, is Messianic Jews, Christians and Palestinian believers coming together to worship Yeshua! here is the first album representing these collaborative efforts and how the Holy Spirit is giving new songs to these worshippers in Jerusalem!  pray for an increase of this unity and worship... https://dorhaba.com/en/voice-of-one-calling/

another ministry that is bringing unity is Seeds of Hope, uniting Jewish and Arabic/Palestinian children in schools so they become friends growing up, instead of enemies!  

https://seedsofhope.org; I have had the privilege of meeting Tass and hearing his testimony, several times.

http://www.jewishroots.net/library/testimonials/tass-saada-testimony.html

 

 

   Thanks Bev. Beautiful music.

I pray that the collaboration that Seeds of Hope is promoting will serve as an antidote to the absolute abuse of Palestinian children as shown by Palestinian Media Watch which monitors original language releases by Fatah and Hamas. See this page among many. http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=844

    If there are in injustices in this whole mix, then why is this not being addressed in the overture?

Shalom, Salaam

John

I write in support of Overture #6. Having read John Span’s questions and following comments, I’ll make three points.

 

First, in past great discussions about the church’s role related to social injustices some Christians also suggested that the issue is complex, that there is good and bad on both sides, that the church is not competent to pronounce on political issues and should stick to its spiritual mandate. We find such arguments during the abolition debates of the 19th century, Apartheid, Nazism, world war II, the civil rights movement and Vietnam. And, again today. History teaches that those voices proved to be wrong.

 

Second, that Overture #6 was twice rejected at the classical level and kept alive by a single passionate individual speaks neither for nor against its truth. Is it a vice to be passionate, or to be a single voice? Synod 2018 adopted Bev Sterk’s overture on abuse of power in spite of its rejection at every prior step. Again, history teaches that single, committed outliers can be beacons of righteousness. Thomas Moore comes to mind.

 

Third, that Israel treats its Palestinian neighbours unlawfully and with great injustice is well-documented and beyond dispute. That Jesus calls his followers to resist evil and support righteousness is also beyond dispute.  Overture #6 is prudent, it stays within the ecclesiastical task and calling by restricting itself to the church’s prophetic task. It does not call for or endorse any particular, concrete political position. It calls for justice, for righteousness in the Middle-east conflict and for the denomination to educate its members. If we may not do that, what are we church for?

There is a time to speak out in matters, but we need to know what we are talking about. Yes, there is injustice on the part of the Israeli government in this situation. The problem with the overture is that it only looks at the injustice from one side. There is injustice, exploitation, and abuse on both sides, and to call one side to account while ignoring the abuses of the other side is not the right approach. People and churches tend to be all pro-Israel, or all pro-Palestinian. This overture errs in the latter direction. If we as a church are going to begin to speak into this complex situation, we need to do a lot more research and study of the situation on the ground there. 

Putting justice as our primary focus is a mistake. Reconciliation is the better focus and starting point. A good example is the organization Musalah, let by the Palestinian Israeli, Dr. Salim Munayer. This overture, by contrast, is neither balanced nor fair in its assessment.

The overture, I suspect is motivated by a couple impulses. The first is a desire by some in our denomination to embrace a mainline social gospel where the church works as a political activist organization, often for perspectives from a certain place on the political spectrum. 

The second, is a desire to push back against the obsessive "pro Israel" theology of the dispensationalists. Their zeal for pro-Israel activism often takes on an unbiblical, racist attitude toward the Palestinian Arabs.

In both cases, I think it would be better to challenge our seminary and Faith Alive to provide better discipleship materials. Regarding the first issues, we ought to learn about the Reformed 2 Kingdoms view of Calvin as well as Kuyper's concept of Sphere Sovereignty. On the second, why not promote better discipleship materials on eschatology? I see that we do have a video series "God Wins" on the Book of Revelation and that seems like a good start. 

Put another way: the antidote to bad public theology is good public theology.