My name is Morgan, and I’m part of the Jewish Voice for Peace delegation to the Presbyterian (PCUSA) General Assembly. I’m also a member of Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
I’m not Jewish. Actually, I’m Lutheran, and I want to share my relationship, as a Christian, with JVP. Often I’m asked what brought me into a space of Jewish social justice activism, and I tell them it was my experience living and volunteering in Palestine that made me reach out for Jewish solidarity.
My first visit to Palestine/Israel lasted for three weeks, and I was so disheartened by what I saw: an entrenched military occupation that showed no signs of ever being lifted.
The roads and outposts and infrastructure I saw were for the benefit of Israeli settlers, at the expense of Palestinian communities. I could see no security justification for this oppression, actually it seemed obvious that this oppression made Israelis much less safe. I make the same criticisms of my own government’s policies, and yet I was afraid to speak out against the Israeli occupation.
When I returned home to the States, I reached out for an interfaith consensus on Palestinian rights. At the time, I wasn’t sure it existed. All I saw was controversy and tension, and it distressed me that I offended some of my Jewish friends when I talked about Palestinians struggling under Israeli occupation. Looking back, I put fear above my own values and my own witness, and I failed to remember controversial struggles for justice that came before me. It’s my privilege to forget. I am a privileged person.
But solidarity gave me strength, and Jewish solidarity was easy to find. I had met Israeli activists demonstrating against their own military with Palestinians in the West Bank. I found Rabbis Brant Rosen and Brian Walt, and their Jewish Fast for Gaza. I joined Jewish Voice for Peace. These voices gave me courage that I should have had all along.
On Monday, a member of the JVP delegation reminded the Middle East Peace committee that they don’t need Jewish permission to follow their conscience and divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. I can say from experience that this is easier recommended than accepted. I sought Jewish permission to speak out for Palestinian rights, and I’m not the only one.
When Christian delegations go to Palestine/Israel and visit Christian communities in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jerusalem, they tend to come back with a greater commitment to justice and solidarity with Palestinians. They come back with a deeper understanding of what it means to live under Israeli occupation than most Jewish delegations, which tend to stay in Israel.
I know that there are exceptions to this rule, but we can’t ignore the impact of witness, and where groups choose to travel if we’re going to address the disconnect between Christian and Jewish congregations on the issue of Palestine/Israel.
I’ve been to Jewish congregations that have reported from their trips, and I’ve been to Christian congregations that have reported from their trips. If there is a disconnect between Jews and Christians on how to address the Israeli occupation, it’s because Christian delegations spend time in the occupied Territories, and bring their witness back to their congregations, and General Assemblies.
Most members and supporters of Jewish Voice for Peace I’ve met have also witnessed the occupation first hand, and I come back to that simple fact when I get weary from hearing “this issue is too complicated” or “you’re not considering both sides.”
Have you seen both sides of the wall?
Look at the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the energy they brought back from their January delegation with Interfaith Peace-Builders. Read their testimonies and you can see how many organizations they interacted with, and the questions they asked about how to best support justice work on the ground. I know that when Lutherans travel to the Holy Land and engage with their Christian brothers and sisters, they come back ready to advocate for Palestinian rights. They come back with stories from Deheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, and the Tent of Nations farm, which recently had 1,500 of its trees uprooted by the Israeli military. They come back with stories of stolen land, stolen water, and people who are prohibited from going to Jerusalem, only minutes away.
Christian witnesses to the occupation are growing in number. So are Jewish witnesses. This is the reason why general assemblies are voting on divestment.
Presbyterians witnesses are bringing divestment forward as a way for the church to address structural injustices that prevent Palestinians from creating a viable economy and taking care of their basic needs. Without divestment, positive investment is a shallow gesture to people who are having their homes and livelihoods destroyed under Israeli occupation. I’ve seen this destruction with my own eyes, and I stand with my Presbyterian and Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters in supporting Overture 04-04, because it includes divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions. These companies maintain the oppressive infrastructures that make peaceful solutions impossible, and violence inevitable.
You will hear a lot of arguments against divestment in the next few days. You will hear that divestment will damage interfaith relations, that it’s too rash, and extreme, and will alienate our Jewish neighbors.
And yet, the letter signed by 1,700 rabbis against Presbyterian divestment, does not include the word occupation once. The writers of this letter should have mentioned it, so that Presbyterian witnesses to the occupation would take it seriously. I simply cannot.
That extreme Israeli policies would isolate American Jewish communities from an emerging interfaith consensus is not something to be celebrated. It’s a tragedy. That’s why I support the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace to educate, support and lift up Jewish voices of witness and compassion for both Israelis and Palestinians. The conversation is changing.
Fellow Christians, I ask that you follow your instinct for justice, and listen to interfaith voices in support of divestment. Our coalition is present at the Assembly, and each person wearing a purple and green stole carries an amazing story of witness. It has been a life-changing experience for me to meet new Presbyterian and Jewish partners for peace this week. I believe that these are the prophetic voices that are truly leading the way.