Letters in the Church Times

Well done to our Church of England campaign group who had two letters published in the Church Times on Friday 17th November, and Friday 22nd December.

17th November 2023:

The House of Bishops statement and Gaza’s future 

From Charlotte Marshall, Miranda Pinch, and Lynn McAllister

Sir, — Several readers have commented in the past two weeks on the statement by the House of Bishops concerning Gaza. We commend Dr Jonathan Chaplin’s critical analysis (Letters, 10 November) of the Bishops’ failure to condemn the attacks on civilians by Israel as violations of international law, and potential war crimes, and the total lack of contextual analysis by the Bishops regarding 75 years of historical injustices against the Pales­tinian people.

Another question that has not been openly addressed by the Church, and barely the media, is what happens to Gaza once Israel feels satisfied that it has fulfilled its goals? Even were the physical manifestation of Hamas to be obliterated, it must be remembered that Hamas is based on an ideology formed through a long injustice towards the Palestinian people. Israel has openly denied Palestinians a state of their own and seems intent on annexing the whole of the West Bank, as it has already done in East Jerusalem. We are now told that Israel wants to take military control of Gaza as it has done in Area C of the West Bank.

In forming the current government, Mr Netanyahu’s coalition agreement, although not legally binding, stated that “the Jewish people have an exclusive right on all the land” between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. It doesn’t mention the Palestinians. The Israeli government rhetoric concerning Gaza has been equally damning. Pictures of Israeli soldiers celebrating their “retaking” of Gaza beaches have been widely circulated.

It is hard to imagine any child who survives what some are calling “genocide” to hold any but feelings of hatred toward those who have blockaded, imprisoned, and bombed them over the past 16 years. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, fear is palpable amongst Palestinians, as Jewish Israeli settlers (not specifically labelled as such in the Bishops’ statement, lending itself to confusion over who “inhabitants of settlements” really are) run rampage. People without hope become the most dangerous, as we learn from history. As in Iraq, the danger is that an even more dangerous entity will be created.

It is time that the Church of England recognised the disparity in its attitude toward the rights and lives of Israelis and Palestinians and called for a solution that includes the recognition that all are equal in the eyes of God. If it continues in its current trajectory, it is serving only itself with its balanced and careful words that do not speak truth to power or hold the lives of Palestinians as sacred as Israelis’.

We would refer readers to “A Call for Repentance: An Open Letter from Palestinian Christians to Western Church Leaders and Theologians”, in which they say in the last paragraph: “Finally, and we say it with a broken heart, we hold western church leaders and theologians who rally behind Israel’s wars accountable for their theological and political complicity in the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, which have been committed over the last 75 years. We call upon them to reexamine their positions and to change their direction, remembering that God ‘will judge the world in justice’ (Acts 17:31).”

CHARLOTTE MARSHALL, Director of Sabeel-Kairos UK; MIRANDA PINCH, LYNN McALLISTER, representing the Sabeel-Kairos C of E campaign group

Sabeel-Kairos UK
PO Box 18336
Birmingham B31 9FY

You can also read the letter here on the Church Times website

22nd December, 2023:

Political background to the Israel-Gaza crisis

From Charlotte Marshall, Miranda Pinch, and Lynn McAllister

Sir, — In his letter (1 December) accusing us of propaganda, the Revd Dr Ian Duffield makes three points that we would like to address.

First, Dr Duffield suggests that we imply that Israel does not have the right to self-determination. It is important to distinguish between the internationally recognised borders of Israel and the land that it belligerently occupies. No one is suggesting that the area recognised as Israel (within the “Green Line”) should not have self-determination and security for all its citizens (including, of course, the 20 per cent Arab citizens of Israel); but why is the same right denied to the Palestinians? Wanting self-determination for one people should never be at the expense of another.

Second, he suggests that it is the Palestinians’ fault that they do not have a state of their own, having rejected several proposals for one. Peter Shambrook’s book Policy of Deceit contains records of all British parliamentary debate and relevant correspondence, where it is shown that Palestinians were promised self-determination on all the land then called Palestine. In 1937, with the Peel Commission, the British reneged on this offer and proceeded to put forward partition plans for the land. Quoting the late British author and journalist Arthur Koestler: “One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”

In 1947, another partition plan was proposed by the United Nations. At that time, 68 per cent of the total population was Arab and 32 per cent Jewish, and yet 55 per cent of historic Palestine was granted for a Jewish state and 45 per cent for a non-contiguous Arab state. Is it surprising that Palestinians rejected a plan that took away significant amounts of their land and resources?

Dr Duffield fails to mention the Oslo Accords of 1993, when the Palestinians agreed to a state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine, in itself a huge concession. Israel reneged on its commitments, and, six years after the agreement, there were more Israeli settlements (the settler population increased from 110,000 to 185,000 between 1993 and 2000), which undermined rather than facilitated a Palestinian state. Palestinian lives were restricted and controlled in every way, and this resulted in worsening economic conditions and despair across the West Bank and Gaza.

The 2001 “offer” did not address the concerns of the Palestinians in relation to the above, and also sought to reverse some of the interim steps leading to a Palestinian state as agreed in the Oslo Accords.

Third, Dr Duffield suggests that we are excusing the anti-Semitic and “Islamo-fascist” charter of Hamas to give them a “get-out-of-jail-free card”. We would like to point out, first, that we have unequivocally condemned the attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas in all our statements since 7 October. It is, however, now common knowledge that Hamas was created and funded to destabilise Palestinian politics and suppress Palestinian statehood aspirations, and that Israel also bears responsibility for creating the conditions that led up to 7 October (see the article in The Times of Israel: “For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces”, by Tal Schneider, 8 October). Israel’s 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has left 80 per cent of the population reliant on humanitarian aid, one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and conditions impossible for any governing body to cope with have contributed to the situation we see today.

Whatever one’s political views concerning Israel/Palestine, this should not stop the House of Bishops or anyone else unequivocally and explicitly condemning the current atrocities inflicted on the innocent men, women, and children of Gaza. The current desperate attempts by the UN to call on the international community to act and avert a humanitarian catastrophe should be a wake-up call to everyone, before we find ourselves on the wrong side of history once more.

Sabeel-Kairos UK, PO Box 18336
Birmingham B31 9FY

You can read the letter on the Church Times website here: Letters to the Editor (churchtimes.co.uk)

Sabeel-Kairos is the operating name of Friends of Sabeel UK (FOSUK) Ltd, Charity number 1116817, Company Number 5595112

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