Some Perspectives on Israel, Palestine, and the Conflict
Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine
Diocese of Olympia
In preparation for the 2016 Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, the Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine prepared a book of essays, You Can’t Say We Didn’t Know: Some Perspectives on Israel, Palestine, and the Conflict. [Download the full PDF version here.]
These essays are presented here for the general reader. Each author takes full responsibility for what has been written. The material has been thoughtfully researched, and is offered in the spirit of seeking peace through understanding.
We humbly thank you for your interest in learning more about Israel and Palestine, and pray for our guidance toward a peaceful resolution.
This book was made possible through the efforts of many people. We would like to express our particular gratitude to but a few: (1) The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel, VIII Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, for his continuing support of the Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine; (2) Claude Soudah, who proposed commissioning papers to elaborate on some of the complex issues underlying the Palestine-Israel conflict; (3) the members of the Bishop’s Committee who supported this process; (4) the authors of the commissioned papers; (5) The Rev. John-Otto Liljenstolpe, Randolph Urmston, and Mary Segall who edited this booklet; (6) Alice Rothchild, who took time from her busy schedule to review the papers and provide feedback to the authors; (7) Rennie Coit, who did the final layout; and (8) Greg Hester, graphic designer of the cover of the booklet.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” We, the members of the Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine, Diocese of Olympia (the “Bishop’s Committee”), are very familiar with the choice to light that candle. The Bishop’s Committee was formed in 2000 at the request of Bishop Vincent Warner to support the presence and witness of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. The first chair of the Bishop’s Committee was The Rev. Stan Fowler succeeded by Brian Sellers-Peterson, Mary Pneuman, Warren Guykema, and Tim Hill. Randolph Urmston has served since 2011 as chair. [Continue reading here . . . ]
For many years the Diocese of Olympia has had a special relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Parishes in this Diocese have become sister parishes with parishes in Israel and the West Bank. In Israel, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza, there are Episcopal educational and medical institutions that people and parishes in our diocese not only financially support but also often visit. I have personally visited many of these institutions both in the West Bank and Gaza. Given this history, it should not surprise anyone that we have, in this Diocese, an Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine. [Continue reading here . . . ]
One hundred years ago, there were no countries in the Middle East. Palestine, like the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, was part of the Ottoman Empire, as it had been for 400 years. The law came from Constantinople and was administered locally by appointed governors and influential families. At that time, Palestine was inhabited by about 850,000 people, roughly 75% Muslim, 15% Christian, and 10% Jewish. Of the 85,000 Jews, about 50,000 were Palestinian, with the remaining 35,000 being recent immigrants from Europe, the vanguard of the Zionist movement. The majority of the population lived in the coastal valleys where water was relatively plentiful, far fewer lived in the rugged hills around Jerusalem. There was a generally stable coexistence among the various peoples and faiths, as there had been for centuries. [Continue reading here . . . ]
Zionism is variously looked at as a salvation or as a catastrophic power. Yet all agree that Zionism was and is at the center of the conflict that has now raged for over 100 years in the Land of Canaan. No lasting solution can be approached without an honest examination of the origin and consequences of this phenomenon that still shapes events, not only locally in Palestine/Israel, but in the region and the world. [Continue reading here . . . ]
Across the Holy Land, where Christianity was born and once made up around 20 percent of the population prior to the war of 1948, Christians now represent a tiny minority. In the West Bank, Christians now represent between 1–2% of the population and continue to decrease at an alarming rate as a reflection of ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Institute for Middle East Understanding estimates that approximately 51,000 Christians live in Palestine: 38,000 in the West Bank, 10,000 in East Jerusalem and 3,000 in Gaza. Approximately 161,000 Christians live in Israel, representing 1.1% of Israel’s population as of October 2015. [Continue reading here . . . ]
The immediate outlook for a peaceful settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict is not very encouraging. Peace talks have collapsed many times and in the shadow of the peace process stalemate, mutual trust and peaceful intentions are no longer there. Among Palestinians, the sense of frustration with the military occupation by Israel is matched by infuriation with their own leadership. Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas has stayed in office despite the fact that his term expired in 2009. He has ousted rivals, cracked down on dissidents and has not planned for a transition. According to a recent survey, 65% of Palestinians believe he should resign. The rupture between the moderate West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas continues unabated, and stands in the way of a democratic electoral process. In addition, the younger generation is fed-up with a high level of unemployment; they do not see prospects for the future nor do they believe that anything is going to change in the next generation. Recent violent actions attest to their frustration; the context in which these Palestinian violent responses are taken are not presented as a response to the extreme level of Israel state violence. [Continue reading here . . . ]
Since the 1950’s, the United States has provided substantial military support to the State of Israel. Israel claims its survival is threatened by several of its surrounding neighbors. The pro-Israel lobby in America has pressured Congress to provide armaments. Both Republicans and Democrats have responded favorably. This paper provides an overview of America’s military aid to Israel. [Continue reading here . . . ]
The Episcopal Bishop’s Committee for Israel/Palestine, Diocese of Olympia, has agreed that the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions — commonly known as “BDS” — in regard to Israel is a moral imperative. We are supporting this method of protest and political pressure because of what we have learned in Israel and in the West Bank from our fellow Episcopalians living there as well as from others, both Palestinians and Israelis. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and their documented discriminatory policies towards their own Arab citizens is harming the lives and well-being of many people in the Holy Land both Arabs and Jews. [Continue reading here . . . ]
Recently it occurred to me that in the midst of the distressing news we constantly read about Palestine-Israel, it would be heartening to discover something that offers encouragement regarding peace and justice in that land. As I researched current reconciliation efforts, I was struck by a surprisingly large number that feature Palestinians and Israelis working together to end the illegal occupation there. Of those, I was particularly drawn to an organization called Musalaha, whose very name means “reconciliation” in Arabic. [Continue reading here . . . ]