Christian leaders will not be cowed into silence about widespread human rights violations

Israel/Palestine
on 6 Comments

The following op-ed appeared in Haaretz under the title, “Christian leaders cannot be cowed into silence over Israel’s abuses of human rights.” Rabbi Brian Walt gave us permission to republish. –Ed

In his recent Haaretz op-ed, “Heading toward an irreparable rift between U.S. Jews and Protestants,” my colleague, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, sharply criticized the recent letter to Congress by leaders of Protestant churches that called for U.S. military aid to Israel to be contingent on Israeli compliance with American law. Nowhere in his article, however, did Yoffie mention the central concern of the Christian leaders’ letter: the overwhelming evidence of systematic human rights violations by the Israeli military against Palestinians.

Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of leading an interfaith delegation including several leaders of the civil rights movement, younger civil and human rights leaders, Christian clergy, academics, and several Jews, on a two-week trip to the West Bank.

We were all shocked by the widespread human rights violations that we saw with our own eyes and that we heard about from both Palestinians and Israelis. Several black members of our group, including those who participated actively in the civil rights movement, remarked that what they saw on the West Bank was “frighteningly familiar” to their own experience, a systemic pattern of discrimination that privileged one group (in this case, Jews) and denigrated another (Palestinians).

Together we walked down Shuhadah Street in Hebron, a street restricted to Jews and foreigners where Hebron’s Palestinians are mostly not allowed to walk, even those Palestinians who own houses or stores on the street. This street was once the center of a bustling Palestinian city. Now the area is a ghost town with all the Palestinian stores shut down by the Israeli military.

We visited several villages on the West Bank whose land has been expropriated by the Israeli government and where their nonviolent protests against this injustice are met with rubber bullets and tear gas (we saw with our own eyes many empty canisters of tear gas made in the U.S.). We witnessed a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, watching soldiers in armored cars launch tear gas and shoot rubber bullets against children who were throwing stones. In this village, soldiers routinely enter homes in the middle of the night to arrest children, who are handcuffed and blindfolded, and taken to interrogation without the right to the presence of a parent or of consultation with a lawyer. The shocking abuse of children that we heard about from several sources, including Israeli lawyers, was particularly disturbing.

Our delegation also saw the rubble of Palestinian houses demolished by the Israeli authorities and waited in long lines at check points as Jewish motorists were waved through or passed unimpeded through special settler checkpoints.

We met with a young Palestinian man who played the part of Martin Luther King Jr. in a play about Dr. King’s life written by one of the people on our trip. This young man (like over 140,000 other West Bank Palestinians) has lost his residency rights as he went to Europe to study acting. Despite the fact that his family has lived in Jerusalem for generations, he is now unable to live in the city in which he was born. Yet I, or any other Jew, could become a citizen of Israel overnight and live in Jerusalem while enjoying many privileges available only to Jews.

Every day we were on the West Bank, we saw this pattern of discrimination: a systemic privileging of one ethnic group over another. Every day we heard about egregious human rights violations: Administrative detainees held in prison for years without any right to due process (a Palestinian due to talk to our group about prisoners was arrested two days before the presentation and is still in prison), massive land confiscation, separate roads and grave restrictions on movement.

As the Christian leaders’ letter indicated, all the violations we witnessed are made possible by unconditional American aid, in violation of American law. Rabbi Yoffie predicted that this statement may cause “an irreparable rift between U.S. Jews and Protestants.” It may be more accurate to say it may cause a rift between the American Jewish establishment and the Christian leaders who have until now been cowed with the warning that the price for “interfaith dialogue” is silence on Israel’s human rights violations.

But after these past several weeks, as I read the courageous Christian leaders’ letter and stood side-by-side with my interfaith colleagues on this remarkable delegation, I sense a new form of interfaith cooperation – one based in our mutual sacred imperative to “seek peace and pursue it.”

Rabbi Brian Walt is the Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow of the Dorothy Cotton Institute. He was the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America from 2003-2008.

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6 Responses

  1. Rudolph
    November 4, 2012, 11:22 am

    The “irreparable rift” referred to in the article is primarily between American progressive Jewish and Christian groups and the (politically powerful, pro-Likud) Christian Right.
    Many in the US Christian Right regularly preach that Jews must rule the biblical land of Israel in order for Christ to return. However, they also believe but rarely state “that Jews who do not convert are damned and will be destroyed in the fiery, apocalyptic ending of the world.” Despite this blatant anti-Semitism, right-wing Jews embrace traditional evangelicals as such evangelicals lobby persistently for US financial, military and diplomatic support of Israel.
    “It is ironic that most US evangelicals have never demonstrated the slightest interest in the welfare of Palestinian Christians (or Muslims) who live under Israel’s harsh and illegal occupation. In contrast, in 2012 the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, voted to boycott products exported by Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The UCC resolutions also single out Israeli settlements as a principal obstacle to peace in the region, call on Israel to suspend settlement expansion, and express regret for previously asking Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

  2. NorthOfFortyNine
    November 4, 2012, 11:28 am

    To add emphasis to the rabbi’s point, pls see the following.

    This is a clip of an anti immigration protest in Tel aviv. The idea here is to influence the election.

    Shocking. Are these people that clueless? Or are they just so brazen that they feel norms of civilized behaviour don’t apply to them? Methinks the latter.

  3. yourstruly
    November 4, 2012, 12:14 pm

    with this emerging rift between the American Jewish establishment and Christian leaders, together with the expanding rift between said establishment and Jews who put equality and human rights before Jewish nationalism, looks like the establishment’s about to be outnumbered, outflanked and isolated. Israel into the dustbin of history then?

    • Taxi
      November 4, 2012, 12:58 pm

      Zionists. They just keep losing friends. Yeah I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat.

      • Mndwss
        November 4, 2012, 1:46 pm

        The Zio-cats are not grinning!

        “You Look Nervous as a Long-Tailed [Zio]Cat in a Room Full of Rocking Chairs”

      • Taxi
        November 5, 2012, 2:14 am

        Hahahaha Mndwss! Good’on!

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