Thursday, May 15, 2008

James Wall on Talking with the Enemy

Impressions (The Christian Century magazine)
May 20, 2008

Carter's Middle East mission

by James M. Wall

An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (April 15) sharply criticized Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert for Israel's "boycott" of Jimmy Carter during the former president's recent trip to the Middle East. Olmert refused to meet with Carter; Israeli security personnel were not available to assist Carter's Secret Service detail. Editors of Ha'aretz wrote, "The boycott will not be remembered as a glorious moment in this government's history."

From the moment he took office as president in 1977, Carter was determined to achieve peace between Israel and Egypt. Working "incessantly toward that goal," Carter concluded the 1979 peace agreement for which, Ha'aretz concludes, he deserves "the respect reserved for royalty for the rest of his life."

Such high praise rarely appears in U.S. media. Most Americans have forgotten, if they ever knew, that 30 years ago, in a peace agreement with Egypt, Israel agreed to full autonomy for the occupied territories, and also agreed not to permit Jewish settlements there. These promises have been forgotten by Israel, which continues to build and expand settlements in the West Bank.

But Carter hasn't forgotten, and his memory may be a factor in the hostility toward him—a man who remembers prods the conscience of those who want to forget.

Israel is deeply indebted to Carter for its peace accord with Egypt. Not only did the agreement remove a major threat to Israel's security, but it also started the flow of billions of U.S. tax dollars into the Israeli economy, a subsidy now militantly defended annually by Israel's supporters in the U.S. Congress.

But this is also the man who wrote Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and whose references to apartheid and critical view of Israeli policies have outraged many. Reflecting on the controversy evoked by the book, the Ha'aretz editorial states:
Israel is not ready for such comparisons, even though the situation begs it. It is doubtful whether it is possible to complain when an outside observer, especially a former U.S. president who is well versed in international affairs, sees in the system of separate roads for Jews and Arabs, the lack of freedom of movement, Israel's control over Palestinian lands and their confiscation, and especially the continued settlement activity, which contravenes all promises Israel made and signed, a matter that cannot be accepted.

Jewish journalist Tony Karon, who lived with apartheid in South Africa before moving to New York, writes on his blog, Rootless Cosmopolitan, that Carter may have been "tempting fate" by meeting with Hamas. After all, says Karon,
his entirely appropriate evocation of apartheid in reference to the regime Israel has created on the West Bank earned him the label "Holocaust-denier" from the more demented end of the American Zionist spectrum. But Carter . . . [is] making the rather straightforward adult argument that has eluded so much of the U.S. political mainstream that the only way to achieve peace is to talk to all of those whose consent it requires.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar wrote in the Washington Post: "President Jimmy Carter's sensible plan to visit the Hamas leadership this week brings honesty and pragmatism to the Middle East while underscoring the fact that American policy has reached its dead end."

In the same issue, however, the Post repudiated its guest columnist, saying that the article by al-Zahar "drips with hatred for Israel, and with praise for former president Jimmy Carter."

Carter maintains that Hamas is worthy to be included in peace talks not because its leaders are paragons of virtue, but for the obvious reason that there can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians that does not include all of the involved political parties. It is that reality that led Ha'aretz to conclude that "Carter's method, which says that it is necessary to talk with every one, has still not proven to be any less successful than the method that calls for boycotts and air strikes. In terms of results, at the end of the day, Carter beats out any of those who ostracize him."

James M. Wall is senior contributing editor at the Century.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Christian Leaders' Declaration on the 60th Anniversary of Israel's Declaration of Independence

The Declaration
We, the undersigned, church leaders and representatives of our different denominations and organisations, join together on the 60th anniversary of the Israeli state to offer a contribution to that which makes for peace.

We recognise that today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel (Yom Ha'atzmaut). For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people’s ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust. Additionally, it is an opportunity to celebrate the wealth of cultural, economic and scientific achievements of Israeli society, in all its vitality and diversity.

We also recognise that this same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora, will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed (al-Nakba). For them, this day is not just about the remembrance of a past catastrophic dispossession, dispersal, and loss; it is also a reminder that their struggle for self-determination and restitution is ongoing.

To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy. But it is vital if a peaceful way forward is to be forged, and is central to the Biblical call to “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). We acknowledge with sorrow that for the last 60 years, while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress.

To acknowledge and respect these dual histories is not, by itself, sufficient, but does offer a paradigm for building a peaceful future. Many lives have been lost, and there has been much suffering. The weak are exploited by the strong, while fear and bitterness stunt the imagination and cripple the capacity for forgiveness.

We therefore urge all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that “will produce lasting peace and security” (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples’ shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.
“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (Micah 4:4)

What they are saying...
“A just peace between Israelis and Palestinians is both vital and possible. So is global solidarity to that end. This declaration joins human and Christian compassion for two wounded people's with the political passion to see right prevail. It is timely and essential.” Simon Barrow, Co-director of Ekklesia

“The Lord our God has always valued love and justice more than land and prosperity. ‘But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows…’ As His people, we must agree with Him and stand for justice for all in the Middle East.” Lynn Green, International Chairman of YWAM

“A necessary and timely reminder that for 60 years Israel's ‘celebration’ of statehood has come at a high price for millions of refugees and occupied residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel's ‘60th anniversary’ could become a moment for profound introspection and self-examination for a state that wishes to be known for democracy and justice in the Middle East. It is not without reason that Palestinians call 1948 – Israel’s birth – the ‘catastrophe.’” Gary Burge

Background to the Declaration
As Israel marks its 60th anniversary this May, for Israelis and Palestinians the conflict and the suffering continues. We believe that this landmark is an important opportunity for Christian leaders around the world to add their voices to a special call for a justice-based peace.

The statement acknowledges the pain of both peoples – and the rights of both peoples to security and dignity. Grounded in biblical truth and supported by pastors, professors, heads of organizations and editors across denominational, national and political lines, this historic statement will be a prophetic cry and a powerful witness.

On May 8, Israeli Independence Day, the joint statement and a full list of signatories will be published on this blog and sent to the national press in the US and UK. To add your name to the list of signatories, or to get a copy of the statement as a Word document, email Philip or Ben at the address below.

Spread the word - the more people who get behind this call for justice and peace, the more powerful an impact it will be able to make.

Blessings and peace.

Ben White & Philip Rizk, 18 March 2008