Episcopal Church joins call for end to Gaza violence and measures to protect Palestinians

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Apr 12, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited Gaza City days before protests began along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, has added the Episcopal Church’s name to a joint statement protesting Israel’s deadly response to the violence.

The 15 denominations and Christian agencies say that they “cannot be silent” as Gazans have been killed or injured during the first two weeks of protests that are expected to occur until May 15. That is the day when Palestinians mark the “Nakba,” which is Arabic for “catastrophe,” and commemorates the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced off their land during the war that followed Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence from the British mandate of Palestine. That day is expected to be particularly fraught this year because it falls near the day when President Donald Trump plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial shift in U.S. policy.

Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition into crowds of Palestinian protesters, killing 15 and injuring some 1,000 others during the first day of protests March 30, which was the eve of Passover. Some of those injured later died. Close to 30,000 Palestinians had gathered near the fence for what organizers call the “March of Return.”

A Palestinian hurls stones at Israeli troops during clashes, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, as Palestinians demanded the right to return to their homeland, the southern Gaza Strip March 30. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

While the majority of protesters were said to have not engaged in violence, some reportedly used slingshots to shoot stones at Israeli soldiers, lobbed Molotov cocktails over the fence line and sent burning tires rolling to the fence. Israeli Defense Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said March 30 that Palestinians were attempting to cross or harm the fence and “IDF troops returned precise fire.” He added that live ammunition was used only against those attempting to harm the fence. The IDF has said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, is exploiting the demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

Violence broke out again a week later on April 6. Seven Palestinians were killed and about 1,400 injured, including nearly 400 with gunshot wounds, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said it found that, in all, 26 people died, including three children, and 445 children were among the injured. OCHA said no Israeli casualties have been reported.

The churches and agencies said in their April 12 statement that they “support the Palestinian people as they courageously stand up for their rights.”

“We have worked in our own context in the cause of justice, peace, and equality, and continue to do so even as we recognize we have too often fallen short in these efforts. We reject the use of violence by individuals, groups or states,” they said. “In the wake of demonstrations that have resulted in tragedy and death, and anticipating the continuation of Palestinian protests over the coming weeks, we cannot be silent.”

The statement outlines a series of steps the groups would like to see taken:

  • An end to the use of deadly force by the Israeli military, and support for the call by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, to Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot.
  • An investigation into the deaths and injuries suffered resulting from the use of force.
  • A censure by the United States, and particularly Trump and members of Congress, of “the violent and indiscriminate actions of the State of Israel” and holding Israel “appropriately accountable, ensuring that U.S. aid isn’t used in ways that contravene established U.S. and international laws.”
  • U.S. support for the rights of refugees, including Palestinian refugees, based on international law and conventions.
  • A decision by the United States to resume its full funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which supports schools, hospitals and other essential services for Palestinian refugees. The U.S. recently announced that it would provide $60 million to UNRWA with no assurance of further funding for 2018, an 83 percent funding cut from the 2017 contribution of $365 million.
  • A call for the international community, including the U.S. government, to insist on an end to the blockade of Gaza, “which has resulted in uninhabitable conditions for the people there, including poverty and lack of sufficient access to clean water, food, medicine and medical supplies, electricity, fuel, and construction equipment.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, left, and Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani walk March 26 through the barren area between an Israel checkpoint and Gaza City. They were on their way to visit the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Their journey took place five days before violence broke out along the fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Sharon Jones

The statement said the Palestinians’ efforts to call the world’s attention to their struggle to “recover, their rights — rights as refugees, to demonstrate, and to live in dignity” were met with “an immediate and tragic rejection of those rights.” The denominations and agencies declare themselves “people of hope” who, in the Easter season, believe that those rights will ultimately prevail.

“In this time, we pray fervently, speak clearly, and act diligently in support of peace, justice, and equality,” they conclude.

The signers include the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., National Council of Churches, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, and the United Church of Christ.

After the first violence on March 30 and the day before the second round, Churches for Middle East Peace, or CMEP, a coalition of 27 U.S. denominations and organizations of which the Episcopal Church is a member, said, “we fully affirm the right of the Palestinian people to engage in nonviolent resistance.”

The organization said, “Resorting to live fire against unarmed demonstrators is a negligent and inexcusable response that failed to distinguish between those who came to protest peacefully and those with more malicious intentions.”

In a related move earlier this week, Curry signed onto a CMEP letter to Trump calling on the administration to “protect the vulnerable Christian communities in the Holy Land” and oppose official Israeli efforts that it said would financially harm churches.

The letter refers to Jerusalem Municipality’s plan to collect taxes on all church property not used exclusively as houses of worship. Including back taxes, the churches were told to pay approximately $186 million, according to the letter. The Israeli Knesset is also considering legislation that would permit Israel to retroactively expropriate land sold by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches since 2010.

The Times of Israel recently reported that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has been hit with a bill of the equivalent of nearly $2 million. Curry learned during his Holy Week trip to the Holy Land that Muslim religious groups would owe $120 million. Even though the controversial plan was put on hold early in March, the diocese’s accounts are still frozen.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (37)

  1. Yvonne Byron says:

    The U.S. response is usually completely one-sided giving Israel the go-ahead in these sef-destructive actions by the Israeli government. Thank Goodness the religious communities and others are getting involved – the Palestinians have been dealt a raw deal for a very long time.

  2. Maureen Shea says:

    Thank you Bishop Curry. This is an important statement.

  3. Donald Heacock says:

    Hamas who run Guza has in there charter the destruction of the Jewish State. They continue to do things like building tunnels into Israel. As long as Hamas runs Gaza there will be no peace. It is time to end this idea of a separate state on the west Bank. Egypt should take over Gaza & Jordan should take the rest of the West Bank. Israel should sign peace treaties stop building of more settlements. It is up to these stable countries to.handle the foreign policy & military policy for them. It’s time for a final peace with the Arab world. Put an end of this silly notion of right of return. The middle east has changed. Saudi Arabia needs Israeli help with Iran. Israel is here to stay & Iran is the real enemy for all these parties. Let’s bury this problem once and for all!

  4. mike geibel says:

    Noticeable by its absence is any request for “steps” to be taken by Hamas or Palestinians to insure peaceful protest and to avoid the violence that puts the lives of non-violent protesters in danger. If the protesters don’t throw stones and hurl fire bombs, no one gets shot.

    The Statement is decidedly biased and anti-Israel which is consistent with the TEC’s politics. This evident bias means the accuracy and completeness of the factual accounts in the article cannot be trusted. “Justice” and self-preservation for the Jews in Israel does not exist in the vocabulary of the TEC leadership. Jewish Lives matter, too.

  5. PJ Cabbiness says:

    I will pray for the safety of the IDF in their tireless effort to protect Israel from the endless waves of Palestinian terrorism. The term “non-violent Palestian protestor” is an oxymoron. Palestine is a region. It never has been nor will it ever be a nation. The fact that the people living in the region of Palestine allow themselves to be used as pawns in an effort to harass and ultimately attempt to destroy the legitimate state of Israel is simply a tragic historical fact. I am alarmed and deeply troubled by the current anti-semitic drift of our church.

  6. Jerry Emerson says:

    So the Israels raise vegetables while the Palestinians raise craters from indiscriminate rocket firings and tunnels funded by monies intended to feed and help their people. You want to open borders so the Palestinian terrorist can fulfill their threats to start another Holocaust. It appears to me that everyone is reacting to current episodes of violence while missing the historical context. The Balfour Declaration granted the Israelis land from the Suez to Jordan, and from the Med to the Golan Heights. In order to seek peace the Israels have granted the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and part of the heights back to the Palestinians, while also granting citizenship to non-Israels. And for this Israel continues to have to live with terror. Have we forgotten the attacks on hospitals, medical transports and in shopping malls (non-violent resistance)? Trump’s movement of the Embassy was not a change of policy, the past three administrations were afraid to implement the policy already created by law. Our Church needs to rethink this statement. As Christians should we be on the side that seeks peace or the side that once again demands destruction of a race, and God’s chosen at that. Sorry Bishop Curry, but methinks you should be the last to go along with the CEMP crowd. What if Jesus, Martin L., Wilberforce, or Dietrich went along with the crowd?

  7. Charles Banks says:

    The suffering of the Palestinian in Gaza is agonizing to all of us, but what about the suffering of the Israelis who are the victims of random, murderous Palestinian (especially Hamas) aggression?

  8. Donna Hicks says:

    I’m with Maureen Shea – this is indeed an important statement.
    I would add that it’s Palestinian civil society which organized these actions and Hamas has merely hopped on while the PA in the West Bank continues security coordination with Israel. This is an unequal ‘conflict’ between Palestine and Israel and if demands are made of Palestinian entities to be nonviolent, the same demands should be made of Israeli entities. What are rocks and slingshots and Molotov cocktails and burning tires opposed to 100 Israeli snipers, mechanized drones dispensing tear gas, and fighter bombers? While Israel has a right to defend itself, Palestinians have a right to resist oppression, although I cannot support the violence on any side.

  9. mike geibel says:

    Dear Ms. Hicks:
    “If demands are made of Palestinian entities to be nonviolent, the same demands should be made of Israeli entities.” That is exactly the point. The CEMP denounced Israel and announced non-violent “steps” the Israel’s must take, but demanded nothing of the Palestinians.

    Yes, it is an unequal contest–and indiscriminate firing into a crowd should be condemned. But I doubt that “Israeli snipers” indiscriminately fired into the crowd, nor do I think fighter bombers strafed the protesters. Tear gas is an appropriate non-lethal weapon–that is what our own police do to disperse violent mobs but rarely use against peaceful protests. I don’t think it makes much sense to argue for an “equal contest” where if a protester throws a Molotov cocktail at the Israeli police, that the Israeli police should throw a Molotov cocktail into the crowd of protesters. An equal contest means the two sides will set about killing and destroying each other with innocent civilians comprising the majority of casualties.

    Peace in the region is a Gordian Knot, but the practice of the TEC of condemning Israel at every opportunity is counterproductive and shortsighted since it convinces many Jewish people that the Episcopal Church is just one more enemy which desires its destruction. No one will accept a peace mediator who is biased against them.

    The only reason Israel exists today is because of their people’s proven ability to defend themselves against the overwhelming armies of the surrounding nations which have sworn to exterminate every Jew in sight. They live under the constant threat of terrorist attacks, and total annihilation if Iran develops an operations nuclear bomb.

    As for the complaint about removing the tax exempt status of Christian churches, the churches survive under the protection of the Israeli police and army, and use the roads, utilities, and infrastructure built and paid for by Israeli citizens. In return, all they hear from the Christian leaders is condemnations of the state of Israel as evil occupiers and oppressors. It is not surprising that the municipal leaders want to break from tradition and remove the tax exempt status so that these openly anti-Israel Churches start paying a fair share for public services. If the TEC truly wants to support the Anglican Churches in the Holy City of Jerusalem, it should sell some of its vacant churches it now owns in the U.S. and use the money to pay those taxes.

  10. Lisa Dodge says:

    I applaud Bishop Curry’s visit to Gaza and this article. For too long the rights of the Palestinians have been abrogated, apparently it is inherent in humans to so do as demonstrated by our own country’s decimating of Native Americans and then forced removal to “reservations”. One thing I am sure of, God’s promise of the land to the children of Abraham includes Arabs.

  11. Thomas Bias says:

    In 1960 South African troops fired on unarmed anti-apartheid demonstrators in Sharpeville, South Africa (near Johannesburg). What the Israelis are doing is a 2018 parallel to that massacre. Episcopalians need to be forthright and say what is: when people move into a country and tell the people who live there that it’s not their country any more there will be violence. If there is to be peace, that’s where it has to start. The descendants of Jewish settlers and the descendants of the original Arab inhabitants can and must live together in peace in the Holy Land, with equal rights and responsibilities. If they do, two states will not be necessary. If they do not, two states will not bring peace.

  12. The Rev. Carol Carruthers Sims says:

    Thank you, Bp. Curry, for our Church supporting the Palestinians in their land and their strive for freedom from the years of oppression and flagrant human rights violations.
    I spent two weeks, along with a team of 15 doctors and a nurse, visiting hospitals hosted by the Palestinian Medical Society. The group was sponsored by Harvard’s Kennedy School.
    Six of us were sent to Gaza where we were shot at and tear gassed after visiting Al Ahli Arab hospital, so three decided to return to Jerusalem. I stayed for two nights going to the refugee camp, Jabalia, the Red Cresent, an underground dental clinic, and another hospital. I saw a school child beaten by Six Israeli soldiers in the school yard and children shot in the knees with rubber bullets. I witnessed many more atrocities there and in others areas of Occupied Palestine that I reported to the American Counsel before returning home. This was in 1990 and continues today, a travesty that our Country must recognize and strongly condemn. The Episcopal Church reflects the Gospel, God’s truth and justice, by naming this injustice and calling Israel to accountability.
    Thank you.

  13. John Heermans says:

    Thank you Bishop Curry for standing up to the powerful Israeli lobby and calling for a right of return to Palestinians, and a right to dignity. Let’s be clear, this was a massacre. When soldiers fire on unarmed civilians who are protesting a blockade that cuts them off from the rest of the world in what has been named as “the largest open air prison camp in the world”….history has defined such actions as massacres. Finally, the churches are speaking out and informing the world of what the nakhba means to the Palestinians who continue to be subjected to human rights abuses and indignities on a daily basis.

  14. Doug Desper says:

    Regarding the Palestinian Arabs, first of all, many are not originally Palestinians at all. They are immigrants who came to Israel from all over the Arab world during the British Mandate in order to find employment in the cities and on the farms the Jews had built after they were given Israel by the U.N. resolution. These immigrants have names such as “Al Hurani (from Huran in southern Syria)”, “Al Tzurani (from Tyre in Southern Lebanon)”, “Al Zrakawi (from Mazraka in Jordan),” “Al Maztri (the Egyptian)” and many other names that point to the actual origins of the so-called Palestinians.

    Varied reading indicates that significant parts of the larger Arab and Muslim world is convinced that the “Palestinians” do not want even want a state of their own. After all, if that state is established, the world will cease to donate enormous sums to them as “refugees” and they’ll have to create their own country and build by their own ingenuity. How much have we seen that elsewhere? It is profitable to claim a victim status, hoping that no one asks too many probing questions.

    One Middle Eastern scholar who has lived in this situation for decades, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, indicates that many in the Muslim Arab world know that there is no solution that will be accepted by the Arab Palestinians, no matter how much land partitioned for Israel is given away. Many of these families have turned “refugee-ism” into an inter-generational profession since their families first crossed into Israel from their countries of origin. Who is Dr. Kedar? He is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse and the Arab mass media. He’s not merely visiting….he’s living in it and paying careful attention to the entire body of discourse going on among the Arabs themselves. Forget what Israel or the “powerful Israeli lobby” says. Listen to what the Arabs say among themselves about themselves. Be ready to listen to all of it, not just the bumper sticker version.

  15. Jerry Emerson says:

    Uhmm – – – Did somebody forget their Koran and Old Testament? Their were two temples, one destroyed by the Babylonians and one by the Romans. And then General Ben Grunion retook the temple mount (Western Wall), after the ARABS STARTED the war, and who today is resting on the Mount and forbids Jews to enter? So whose homeland was/is this? Interesting also that the Israel’s allow their persecutors (note I didn’t say enemies) to use their own place of worship, even though captured from a war which the Jews did not start. Know I’m being repetitive, however, no one seems to understand, or for that matter reads the Holy Scriptures. There is so much “Been there done that.”

  16. Joe Prasad says:

    It is not a proper comparison. Nothing uncommon about a superior power to encourage the weaker power to go to war often thru agents planted amongst the latter. Having said this, it will be good if both sides Israel and Palestinians find a way to move towards peace.

  17. william dailey says:

    Bishop Curry has apparently sided with those who call Jews “monkeys” and who vow to exterminate all Jews and kafirs (which by the way includes Episcopalians). A fact apparently missed by the Bishop. It should be noted as well that Jerusalem is NEVER mentioned in the Koran. All those who raise historical facts about Jerusalem that support Israel should realize that none of it matters to HAMAS supporters. There will never be peace until HAMAS is understood for what it is–a medieval militant violent movement to destroy all unbelievers ( in addition to enriching their leaders at the expense of those they pretend to protect and represent ). I’m struggling to find some relationship to the mission of the church set forth on p. 855 of the BCP and the Bishops sentiments supporting HAMAS.

  18. mike geibel says:

    The Temple Mount is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Israelis took control of the Temple Mount as a result of the 1967 war and it remains within their sovereignty, but Israel has agreed that only Muslims are allowed to enter the Mosque. Security and protection for the site, including entry to visitors and worshippers, rests with Israeli security forces, and the Mosque is governed by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

    In September 2015 false rumors spread that the Israelis planned to change the status of the Mosque, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas incited the “stabbing intifada,” where innocent civilians were stabbed in the streets, by stating on Palestinian television: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem” and, as to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jews “have no right to dirty it with their filthy feet.”

  19. Kenneth Knapp says:

    I don’t know about the other 14 denominations and Christian agencies, but “cannot be silent” is a pretty good description of the Episcopal Church!

  20. Joe Prasad says:

    When situations are complicated that often result in violence and bloodshed, there is nothing wrong in the Episcopal Church doing what it can to bring peace and understanding between the warring parties. There is Hamas now, at one time there was Irgun. Palestinians want to live in dignity with a state of their own, Israel needs proper security to exist. Perhaps, there is too much outside interest to keep these issues alive.

  21. Carole Reed says:

    The Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homeland by incoming European Jews seeking a place to live. They were told that “Palestine is a land without people for a people without land.” Zionist propaganda falsely propagated that myth. Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, lost their homes without compensation and the occupation and land seizure continues today.

  22. mike geibel says:

    So justice requires that all the jews be exiled, to where? Or just exterminated?

  23. Carole Reed says:

    The Palestinians did not cause the holocaust and the loss of their land has no justification. Perhaps the European Jews could have been resettled in the U.S. or another welcoming country. Their extermination would be certainly not be a solution.

  24. mike geibel says:

    The first wave of Jews immigrating to Palestine, known as the “First Aliyah,” took place prior to political Zionism, in the late 1800s. Most of these new immigrants came from Russia and Yemen. The Second Aliyah, prior to World War I, was almost exclusively made up of Russian Jews. After World War I and until 1923, the Third Aliyah came to Israel, again mostly from Russia, but they arrived after the establishment of the British Mandate over Palestine and the Balfour Declaration and created a Jewish agricultural economy. The Fourth Aliyah, from 1924 to 1929, was mostly made up of Jews seeking to escape anti-Semitism in Poland and Hungary. Many of these immigrants were made up of middle-class families who established small businesses.

    The Fifth Aliyah coincided with the rise of Nazism in Germany and included the largest number of immigrants — one quarter of a million Jews entered Mandate Palestine between 1929 and the beginning of World War II. This group of immigrants included professionals, doctors, lawyers and artists. Most arrived prior to 1936, when the British began imposing harsh restrictions on Jewish immigration as a result of increasing anger and violence in the Palestinian Arab community. In 1939, the British issued the White Paper of 1939, which severely restricted Jewish immigration.

    WW II ended in 1945. European Jews after the Holocaust were welcomed by no country, and Illegal immigration was dangerous. The United Nations agreed to split Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, but the Arab states decided to wipe out all Jews in Palestine. When war broke out in 1948, many of the Jews living in Arab countries fled to Israel under threat of persecution. As anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism increased in the Arab world, Jewish emigration continued until the early 1970s. Many were forced to abandon their properties and belongings before leaving. Today, there are only a few very small Jewish communities remaining in the Middle East outside of Israel.

    Ethiopian Jews (members of the Beta Israel tribe) began moving to Israel in masse in the late 1970s-early 1980s due to persecution. By 1984, thousands of Ethiopian Jews had fled to Sudan, braving extremely dangerous conditions- it is estimated that 4,000 died along the way. In 1991, in Operation Solomon, Israel managed to evacuate over 14,000 Ethiopians in planes in over 36 hours saving them from death. During the Cold War, Jews in the Soviet Union were not allowed to practice their religion. Under Mikhail Gorbachev in the early 1990s, Jews were allowed to emigrate and they did so en masse- nearly 1 million Russian Jews moved to Israel in the 1990’s.

  25. Joe Prasad says:

    Sad commentary of how Jews were treated in the countries (mainly Christian nations) and had to flee. It is good that Jews finally have a homeland of their own. Hope Israel and Arabs can resolve their differences peacefully to the extent possible.

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