Executive Council resumes Middle East peace advocacy

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 27, 2013

Editors’ note: This story was corrected Feb. 28 to remove reference to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network having issued “A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council.” The network only publicized the document.

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Feb. 27 began its part in the church’s 2013-2015 triennial advocacy for peace with justice in the Middle East.

Council passed a resolution, by a voice vote with two members dissenting, affirming what it called General Convention’s “prophetic witness” expressed in Resolution B019 that bishops and deputies passed in July.

Resolution B019 reaffirmed the church’s official policy, based on resolutions passed at previous conventions, committing to a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized state of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people, with a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both.

A section of the controversial Israeli barrier is seen between the Shuafat refugee camp (right), in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and Pisgat Zeev (rear), in an area Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war. Reuters photo/Ammar Awad

A section of the controversial Israeli barrier is seen between the Shuafat refugee camp (right), in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and Pisgat Zeev (rear), in an area Israel annexed to Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war. Reuters photo/Ammar Awad

It also affirmed positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories. It called on the church to support “Jewish, Muslim, and Christian study on peace with justice in the Middle East,” and produce an annotated bibliography of resources.

Resolution B019 was assigned to council’s Advocacy and Networking committee (A&N), as well as the church’s Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee.

A&N committee chair Lelanda Lee of Colorado told her colleagues while proposing council’s resolution that it was only the first time they would engage what she called “the difficult subject” of Middle East conflict.

Council’s resolution also:

* “affirms and celebrates” the recent recommendation of the Executive Council Economic Justice Loan Committee to invest $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine. That decision was made in response to B019’s call for “positive investment as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The resolution said the decision is the first such positive investment made by the Episcopal Church in the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the resolution urges dioceses and other church entities “prayerfully to consider similar investments;”

* affirms that it is the church’s policy to engage in the constructive corporate engagement policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict adopted by the Executive Council in October 2005 and implemented by its Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility since;

* affirms that the church does not support boycott, divestment and economic sanctions against the state of Israel nor any application of the church’s corporate engagement policies toward such ends;

* affirms that it is the church’s policy that all foreign aid given by the U.S. government – including aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority – should be “comprehensively and transparently accounted to the American people and held to the same standards of compliance with all applicable laws,” as advocated during the last two triennia through more than a dozen letters to the Congress sent by the Presiding Bishop and other bishops of this church and the Office of Government Relations, and embodied in the Feb. 2, 2009 “Religious Statement on Foreign Assistance Reform,” adopted by an interreligious coalition co-chaired by the Episcopal Church and repeatedly communicated to the President and the Congress in the intervening years.

* affirms that the foreign-aid accountability policy “should be applied through such advocacy toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others;” and

* calls for a B019 coordinating committee be appointed by March 15 to assure the effective and thorough implementation of the policies the resolution advocates.

Council’s action came after extensive conversation in A&N and World Mission, that included participation by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings.

In mid-January 14 Episcopalians and Anglicans issued what they called “a prophetic challenge to Executive Council,” pressing council to intervene in the implementation of the church’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Specifically, the signers of the letter challenged council to “immediately move forward with our church’s corporate engagement policy so that our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation.” Secondly, it asked council to “immediately tell the U.S. Congress that the church supports an Oct. 5, 2012, letter from 15 ecumenical voices who called for “accountability of Israel’s use of foreign aid from our government.”

Jefferts Schori and Jennings said at the time that the letter was extremely unhelpful and disregards due legislative processes.

A number of people later signed on to an accompanying “petition of support.”

During her comments to the committee meeting on Feb. 26, Lee said that the council resolution arose out of its responsibility to carry out General Convention’s policies and, especially, to respond to a convention resolution assigned to it. She noted that the committee had received the challenge and petition, as well as a Diocese of North Carolina convention resolution.

Lee did not allow representatives of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Israel Palestine Network, the group that hosted the council challenge, to speak during the committee meetings and they did not address the full council.

She told the council Feb. 27 that her committee did not take testimony or comments from visitors because it determined that indeed we are not General Convention and we are not a legislative committee that holds legislative hearings; that we are not the appropriate place to have one set of representatives or another set of representatives come and make presentations to us,” she said. Instead, the members talked among ourselves as the board of directors of the [Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society],” she said.

The committee discussions included a presentation from Harry Van Buren, a consultant to council’s corporate social responsibility committee. He explained how the committee has had a dialogue in the past with multiple companies whose activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been cited as problematic by some observers. Van Buren also discussed shareholder resolutions that that committee has initiated or joined at the council’s behest.

Donna Hicks, convener of the Palestine Israel Network’s advocacy work group Israel/Palestine Action Group, and network member Newland Smith attended the committee meetings and council’s plenary sessions. Smith served on the General Convention committee that drafted B019 and said he objected to that resolution.

Hicks said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by council’s resolution “because there’s a tension between the way [the leadership] of the Episcopal Church is seeing Palestine-Israel and the way numbers of us who are more activist see the issues.”

For instance, she said, B019’s called for education, pilgrimage and interfaith dialogue are part of the “patchwork quilt of doing the work” but, Hicks said she does not hold out much hope for those activities.

“I don’t see how that’s going to help end the occupation and for me that’s the key,” she said.

Smith said he wished council’s resolution had responded directly to his group’s challenge.

He and Hicks “have felt really isolated” during council’s three-day meeting and he hoped that future conversations “would truly be open and that all would be welcome at the table.”

During this triennium, Hicks said the church ought to encourage the sorts of pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine that will “open people to the political side of things.” She said she hoped the church would specifically support pilgrimages by young people, people of color and those people who have not been to the Middle East. Education, interfaith dialogue and the development of the bibliography ought to be encouraged for those people who are interested in those activities, Hicks added.

For those who want to be take a more activist position, “I would invite the wide church not to try to silence us and shut us down,” she said.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (13)


    The E church is wrong-headed in its near complete support of Palestine at the expense of Israel. They fail to remember that the Palestinians support terrorist activities throughout the world against Jews and Israel. It is Israel that continually seeks peace and its Palestiinian neighbors who reign terrror. How many agreements in the direction of peace have been scutlled by the Palastinians with their aggressive actions?
    F. W. Thewalt

    1. Florence Solomon says:

      Palestinians DO NOT hate jews, they hate what the brutal occupation is doing to them. Assasinations, murders, torture, kidnappings, bombings, continuous harrassment and degregation of the Palestinian people. They do not even have basic human rights, it is much worst than apartheid. Their land is stollen again and again, their homes are bulldozed, their olive groves and farms are uprooted or burnt only to make their lives worst and worst. Oh but Israel wants peace, so far all that Israel is getting is another PIECE of land not PEACE. It is to Israel’s benefit to stop this maddness and really act like they want peace, not just talk about it. If you love Israel then end the occupation.

    2. Lynn Coulthard says:

      Dear Mr. Thewalt,
      From your response, it’s obvious you have not done your homework Have you visited the West Bank, read any books about the conflict, talked to any Palestinians about their life under the Occupation? You should.
      Lynn Coulthard

  2. Yesh Prabhu says:

    If only Israel had observed the commonsense commandment: Thou shall not covet another’s land – it would not have found itself in the shameful predicament in which it now finds itself. Ever since it began to illegally annex Palestinian ancestral lands, and build illegal settlements in the occupied Palestine, it has isolated itself from civilized society, and now it is shunned, and rightfully so, by almost the entire world. Germany, France, the UK and the EU are fed up with Israel and are on the verge of enforcing sanctions against it. I am wondering what happened to the Israel dreamed about by Israel’s founding fathers such as David Ben-Gurion? Why do Israelis keep reelecting reprehensible, greedy, corrupt and morally blind politicians to lead their country? Do the right thing for a change: End the occupation, give the Palestinians their freedom, and always remember that there can be no peace without justice. And yes, read the Torah again. May be you will open your eyes and minds and learn something new.
    Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania

  3. Leon Spencer says:

    It is interesting to me that ENS, when it refers to the “prophetic witness” letter from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Israel Palestine Network, does not name some of “the signers of the letter,” people like former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, former President of the Episcopal Church House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson, long-time Peace and Justice Officer Brian Grieves, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and New Zealand’s Jenny Te Paa. And, given these weighty voices, it is disappointing that our Presiding Bishop’s response was simply that this important letter was “extremely unhelpful.” It reminds me of Bishop Stacy Sauls’ critique at General Convention of the crucial Kairos Palestine document, saying – without explication as far as I can tell, and I have searched for it – that it was “theologically problematic.”

    No doubt the great Old Testament prophets were dismissed by the powers-that-be as saying things that were “extremely unhelpful” and “theologically problematic.” The thrust of the biblical witness, however, is to urge us to be on the side of the prophets.

  4. Rev. Vicki Gray says:

    Vicki Gray
    Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills
    the prophets and stones those who are
    sent to it!

    It’s good to be home. As most of you know, I’ve been on the road these past few weeks, visiting Ecuador…from the Amazon to the Andes…and, beyond, to the Galapagos. And, in Panama, I got to visit a century-old Canal and the isolated San Blas Islands. In both countries I got to know the indigenous people – the Hourani, Quiche, and Kuna – and the meztisos – black, and white and brown – who share in equal measure the blood and culture of Spain and Africa and those same indigenous people. And I got to experience – and celebrate – the wildest, widest diversity of flora, fauna, birds, and animals imaginable…thousands upon thousands, the good God made them all. They are experiences I long to share…stories I long to tell. Maybe after Lent.
    Today, however, I want to talk about another part of the world. I want to talk about Israel and Palestine…and Jerusalem, the city that is the capital of both, the city that continues to kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to it seeking peace. It is another place I have visited recently and often. And I feel compelled to talk about it not just because Jesus does in Luke today, but because we at Christ the Lord have undertaken to share the love of Christ with the world…the whole world; because, in this, the holiest corner of the world, there is an acute shortage of love; and because, this month, we face another potential make-or-break point in the decades-long search for peace in the Holy Land.

    For, in a few weeks, the President will arrive in Jerusalem. He does so, bearing an olive branch, talking reconciliation, and seeking the Shalom that is the peace that rests on justice. But he does so as injustice continues to be heaped upon injustice and as so many – Palestinians and Jews alike – have given up on the dream of two states living side by side in peace. We can only pray that he is not rebuffed by a stiff-necked and unwilling people and stoned like so many others sent to it preaching justice and seeking peace.

    Such was the brutal fate endured by Jesus, scorned and killed by the Romans and Jews – occupiers and occupied – he sought to reconcile, the children he sought to gather together “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” So it was in the time of Jeremiah, when Israel, threatened from the north, placed its faith, not in God and righteousness, but – foolishly, we know from history – in worldly military might. Such is the foolishness of hubris. It is the hubris that Jeremiah railed against, as Assyrians and Babylonians prepared their siege ramps against the walls of Jerusalem and that Jesus warned against as he wept over the city, saying, later in Luke, “If you…had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.”

    And this is not just an ancient story confined to Biblical times. For in our times – my lifetime – too many prophets, sent to Jerusalem seeking peace, have been killed within its walls or because they made the journey. In 1948 Count Bernadotte of Sweden was gunned down by Jewish terrorists as he sought to broker a cease-fire in Israel’s war of independence. In 1951 Jordan’s King Abdullah I was killed by Arab terrorists as he prayed at the Al Agsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. In 1977 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat travelled to Jerusalem where he proposed peace to the Israeli Knesset. Two years later he signed the Camp David Agreement that cemented that peace…and, in 1981, paid the price Jerusalem always seems to demand of peacemakers… gunned down in Cairo by Egyptian extremists. In 1994 Itzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shared the Nobel Prize for signing the Oslo Agreement that set in motion what we know as the “peace process.” The next year, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist as he spoke at an election rally in Jerusalem. And, a decade later, Arafat was poisoned by God knows whom.

    And, now, yet another decade later, the “peace process” they started lies dead in the water. The blood continues to flow. And the new young leaders in Jerusalem seem heedless to the lessons of history, numbed to injustice, and deaf to the voices of prophets both old and new. Puffed up again with their seeming military prowess, they find hidden to them those “things that make for peace.” Heaping further injustice and indignity upon their Palestinian brothers and sisters whose land they’ve occupied for half a century, they wonder why peace eludes them and court the condemnation of present-day prophets who, like Jeremiah, warn that “This is the city that must be punished; there is nothing but oppression within her.”

    But it is not pre-ordained that this must continue. Jesus today speaks not of punishment, but of his continued desire to gather together all the children of Jerusalem, indeed, all God’s people, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” He speaks not in anger, but in sadness…and in hope…in the hope that those who rule in Jerusalem might turn from oppression and reliance on military might and seek, instead, justice and the ways of peace. And he speaks not just in a particular time and place, not just to Herod, but for all time and to all who have wandered from that path. And, as has become clear to the most casual observers, the current rulers in Jerusalem have strayed dangerously far from the path of justice and peace. There is an urgent need for them to hear the sadness and longing in Christ’s voice and to heed the warning implicit in his message.

    It is time for the church to speak in that voice and to deliver to the leaders of Israel the prophetic message they must hear. It is time for the friends of Israel to cease being enablers and to speak with love the truth that brings salvation.

    Unfortunately, at this critical moment, the church – our church – has lost its voice and hunkered down in fearful, shameful silence. Last July, at General Convention, it was urged to condemn the illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank and to boycott their products. It refused to do so. At the urging of the Presiding Bishop, it also refused to listen to the voice of Palestinian Christians in their 2009 Kairos Document or even to undertake a study of their plight. And her signature was conspicuously absent from the October letter from the leaders of fifteen churches – Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, UCC and others – urging Congress to hold Israel accountable for its actions.

    Dismayed, a dozen leaders of the Episcopal Church – a pantheon of my spiritual heroes…bishops like Ed Browning, Steven Charleston, Leo Frade, and Gene Robinson; our National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall; and dear Bonnie Anderson, our most recent Past President of the House of Deputies – used Martin Luther King’s Birthday to issue a “Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.” Supported by South Africa’s Desmond Tutu and New Zealand’s Jenny Te Paa, they urged our Executive Council to join the other fifteen churches in seeking accountability from Israel for the $3.1 billion it receives annually from the United States. That letter, now signed by over four hundred Episcopalians, myself included, was presented to the Executive Council on Thursday. I’ve posted the full letter on the bulletin board and will make it available electronically so that you might read it in its entirety. Let me now read the few paragraphs that are the powerful prophetic heart of its message:

    “Just as this church stood with South Africa and Namibia during the dark days of Apartheid, so we recognize that we need to be standing with our sister and brother Palestinians who have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa. All peoples who have experienced oppression, including indigenous peoples
    who have known what it is to be dispossessed of their land, understand the Palestinian issue.
    Israel must be held accountable for allowing an occupation for 45 years that suffocates the dreams of freedom that Palestinians hold every bit as much as African Americans sought on that day when Dr. King told the world that he had a dream. Occupation cannot be justified as a tool of security. Occupation is its own form of violence, a prescription for frustration and rage among those shackled under its harsh restraints….

    As elected leaders of The Episcopal Church, we ask Executive Council to:

    • Immediately send a message to Congress that the Episcopal Church supports our 15 ecumenical colleagues, who include the church leadership of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ denominations, that wrote to Congress October 5, 2012, calling for accountability of Israel’s use of foreign aid from our government. The voice of The Episcopal Church is woefully missing in the request our colleagues made to Congress.

    • Immediately move forward with our Church’s corporate engagement policy so that our financial resources are not being used to support the infrastructure of this suffocating occupation.

    • We respectfully ask for a public accounting of the Executive Council’s work on these matters no later than the meeting of Council June 8-10, 2013.

    The Executive Council, which will meet next week, has placed the letter on its agenda. I pray that it will heed its call.

    That said, I recognize that not all of you may agree it or with me. Not all of you may be convinced that the Palestinians’ dreams of freedom are being suffocated or that the church needs to be standing with them. Having stood in their midst and having experienced the conditions under which they live, however, I am convinced. But I cannot command your conviction or expect you to be persuaded by this or any sermon.

    I can, however, expect you to look anew at the situation in Israel/Palestine with fresh eyes – with the “open hearts, open minds” we envision ourselves as having. I can ask you to read, not just this letter, but also the plea of Palestinian Christians in their Kairos Document. I can suggest that you check out the study guide – Steadfast Hope – prepared by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship…and perhaps consider forming a study group. Some of you might even be moved to consider a trip to the Holy Land – to Israel and Palestine. I would love to introduce you to some of my friends there – Christians, Jews, and Muslims – who are working for peace. I would love to walk the cobbled streets of Jerusalem with you and show you not just the holy sites, but also the settlements, the refugee camps, and the Wall that separates Jerusalem from Bethlehem…that separates the city where Jesus was born from the one where he was killed.

    At that intersection of past and present, you too might cry out in despair “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” You might despair of those who put their faith in “Iron Domes” and targeted assassinations and cannot see the humanity of the Other.

    But, in that very humanity – of both peoples – and, indeed, in the city’s very stones, I think you would find the stuff of hope…hope for a better future. Jerusalem, after all, was not just the city where Jesus was killed. It was the city where Christ was resurrected.


    1. Yesh Prabhu says:

      Dear Rev, Vicky Gray,
      I was so happy, delighted, pleased, and almost ecstatic to read your inspiring letter. I am so glad that people like you are a part of the Episcopal Church, and I hope people who opposed the views expressed by you will finally open their minds and eyes, and see the light. Right now I suppose, their minds are dark. Please keep up your good work. God bless.
      Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania

    2. Janet Jones says:

      Thank you Vicky Gray for your continuing efforts and potent words on behalf of the oppressed. I am dismayed at my church’s decisions. Peace without justice is no peace, but support of oppression, keeping the prisoners quiet. Resolutions about billions of our taxes that are used to support military occupation and daily terrorism by government and settlers are useless without stonger measures. The thefts of land and water, and other actions destroying hope of normal life in their own homeland continued despite peace talks. More is needed. I have visited both apartheid South Africa and Israel/Occupied Territories and this is worse because of US approval and the demonizing of anyone who objects.

  5. Linda L. Gaither says:

    I would like to correct several serious misrepresentations in this ENS article. First, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, in particular EPF’s Palestine-Israel Network, had no hand in and no fore- knowledge of the Voices of Conscience Letter to Executive Council, Jan. 21, 2013. The letter expresses only and entirely voices of the signers: Canon Bonnie Anderson, Owanah Anderson, The Rt. Rev. Edmond L. Browning, Patti Browning, The Rt. Rev. Steve Charleston, The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, The Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Diane B. Pollard, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, The Rev. Canon Edward Rodman, The Rev. Winnie Varghese, Dr. Jenny Te Poa, and The Most Rev. Desmond Tutu. It is this group’s voice that the Presiding Bishop called “not helpful,” not the voices of the Palestine Israel Network or the over 400 signers of a petition supporting the VOC letter to Council (delivered to Council members at their meeting this week).

    Second, although you state correctly that “Lee did not allow representatives of the Palestine Israel Network to speak during the committee meetings and they did not address the full council,” you omit the fact that Bp. Steve Charleston and The Rev. Winnie Varghese had petitioned the Committee to be allowed to testify on behalf of the writers of the VOC letter to Council and were refused. The refusal to allow testimony effectively limits the interpretation of TEC policy to Church Center Staff; this is painfully true with respect to U.S. aid to Israel, expressed in Resolutions reaching back to 1989, a point at issue in the VOC letter to Council.

    Finally, your article presupposes that B019 is the only Resolution on TEC’s Middle East policy that G.C. 2012 produced. This is not true to fact. Resolution A105 speaks directly to the issue of U.S. foreign aid to Israel, reaffirming A149 (1991) … the very strand of TEC’s policy onthe basis of which the VOC letter hoped to challenge Council to act.
    Linda Gaither, chair, National Executive Council, Episcopal Peace Fellowship

  6. martha knight says:

    Thank you Linda Gaither for your comments in clarifying the Resolutions in regards to the Middle East-Palestinian conflict. You are exactly correct in the signers of the document of which I, a passionate member of EPF signed. We cannot close our eyes to the suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters particularly those being tortured and held unjustly in Israeli jails. Families are being dispossessed. It is horrific that my beloved EC can close its eyes to such suffering. I do feel a ray of hope that EC is examining its role in this conflict. May we only look this holy Lent at our Lord Jesus who never shirked confrontation.

    1. Donna Hicks says:

      And thanks to you Martha Knight and the over 400 others who signed the EPF PIN petition in support of the Voices of Conscience Letter.

  7. Cotton Fite says:

    Well, this is a lively conversation! A movement is growing in the Episcopal Church and will, I trust, eventually foster an open conversation where there will be honest differences among people of good will and openings for new awareness, new vision. I think it best not to claim the work of the Holy Spirit in any aspect of our deliberations – as it was at our General Convention. We can only pray for the Spirit’s guidance.

    It is difficult for me to understand why anyone who has seen the brutal reality of the Occupation, who is witness to Mr. Netanyahu’s flagrant disregard of American calls to stop the growth of settlements on the West Bank can doubt that replaying calls for a two state solution and refusing to sanction Israeli policy in any manner is a “prophetic witness”. To label the caring call of prominent Episcopalians and a sizable number of fellow Episcopalians in support of their call “extremely unhelpful” is reflective of authority that has stopped listening and, apparently, will use every tool to prevent the airing of differences. Open conversation, not shut down by “legislative processes”, is the only way we will find a more truly prophetic witness. Resorting to these tools to quiet dissent suggests weakness, not strength.

    The Rev. Dr. Cotton Fite
    EPF/PIN convener

  8. Robert T. (Tim) Yeager says:

    The news article stated that “[a] number of people later signed on to an accompanying ‘petition of support.'” I think readers would have been interested to know that the petition signers numbered approximately four hundred. That, combined with not indicating the among the 14 Episcopalians who presented the “Voice of Conscience” letter included a former Presiding Bishop, a former President of the House of Deputies, and a Nobel Prize laureate, makes me critical of the level of journalism reflected in this piece. Surely ENS can do better.

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