A MESSAGE FROM OUR MODERATOR
In the flurry of executive orders coming out of the White House, all the back and forth about how big the inaugural crowd was, and the attempts by White House staff to begin shutting down the free flow of information from governmental agencies, I have been trying to focus on the Keep Hope Alive olive tree planting trip I am leading to Palestine next week. Things are happening so fast, I have had to go back and update this letter since writing it a couple of days ago.
In the past week we have been witnessing orders from the President regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has affected, and now will continue to affect the Native American community at Standing Rock.
We have watched concerns raised at what became an international women’s march on the day after the inauguration. Now we are watching demonstrations in airports across the nation in response to a recent executive order to ban visitors from Muslim majority nations, and worse than that, to delay or even ban the entry of refugees into the U.S. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada just announced that his nation will accept those that we send away. It is embarrassing when you have to look to leadership in other nations to show forth the values of your faith.
We also support the recent statement by our Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, and his strong stand in support of refugees now declared outcasts by an American President. We are gratified by the faithful stance of the director of our Office of Public Witness, Rev. Jimmie Ray Hawkins, insisting that as people of faith we are called to welcome refugees.
The President keeps threatening to march troops into Chicago to clean house, and we are well aware of the fact that whether or not it actually happens, some of the justice groups he is trying to intimidate are those who support the platform of the Movement for Black Lives. That includes IPMN, by the way.
Our hearts are with our Hispanic brothers and sisters at the prospect of that “wall” to be built on the southern border of our nation. And Jesus said: Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who are hungry now… Blessed are you who weep now… Blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and revile you… But woe to you who are rich…to you who are full now…to you who are laughing now… (Luke 6)
As a mission network we stand in support of our brothers and sisters in the Syria/Lebanon Mission Network standing in support of those looking for safe haven, those who are afraid and at the same time feel hope in the work of the ACLU’s efforts to stop this madness in its tracks.
We also stand with those in the Cuba Mission Network as the Trump Administration makes threats about closing the door that President Obama recently opened. We stand with so many more PC(USA) mission networks working for justice among those who are unnamed and unseen in the march of human history and yet are children of God, just like us. There is much that must concern us in what we recognize to be an intersectional agenda for human rights and justice in the United States and across the world. IPMN is no longer a silo unto itself, as no justice group can be. Justice for one is justice for all and justice for all is justice for one. Amidst all our networks and organizations, we are one Presbyterian Church (USA).
With all that said, right now I am mostly thinking about the conversations I am going to have with Palestinian people very soon. I will be with Palestinian friends in both Israel and Palestine whom I have personally come to know from previous trips. I will meet new Israelis and Palestinians. I will be among an international gathering of Palestinian justice seekers from Europe, the U.K., Australia and elsewhere. As an American I am wondering what I am going to say when the subject of President Trump comes up. As a Presbyterian I know that I will be seeking to speak the language of solidarity with my gracious hosts.
As with you, I am presently very concerned about President Trump’s choice of David Friedman to be the ambassador to Israel, and for all the talk about moving the United States embassy to Jerusalem. I am very concerned that Mr. Friedman does not think that there is anything wrong with building settlements in Palestine, which flies in the face of international law and all U.S. administrations I remember ever speaking to the issue. I am aware that even for many Israelis he is considered to be the most intolerable of hardliners. I am concerned that by talking about putting the embassy in Jerusalem we are insuring that violence instead of peace will rage on in Israel and Palestine because that is the only thing one can realistically expect in an apartheid state.
On this end, I am not sure I know what to expect to see when I get there. In October 2015 when we were there for the Keep Hope Alive (KHA) olive harvest program, we saw peaceful Palestinian protests violently interrupted by Israeli police or soldiers in both Nazareth (we marched in that one) and Bethlehem. When we visited the Church of the Multiplication, we saw the blackened walls, the result of firebombing by Israeli religious fanatics. In Bethlehem our eyes and sinuses were accosted by the tear gas used to disperse peaceful protesters. Later we consoled our friend Muchanad, director of the KHA olive campaign, because a childhood friend observing the same protest we were watching was hit by a rubber bullet and killed.
The 2015 protests we witnessed were happening in a world where policies regarding Israel and Palestine were under the direction of the Obama Administration. The Palestinians with whom we spoke at the time had figured President Obama out and knew that he was not going to be much help. What he did before leaving office was too little, too late; and now it sounds like even his release, by executive order, of $221M to the Palestinian Authority will not be carried out by the new administration (why didn’t he do it earlier to insure it got there?) So I wonder if Obama's policies did not give hope to Palestinians in either Israel or Palestine, causing them to express impatience during his administration, what will we find when we get there as President Trump’s words and actions send a clear signal that it is only going to get worse?
Even with all of this swimming around in my mind and heart, I do still know why I am going and participating in the Keep Hope Alive program next week: All I can do is offer the hope of justice by engaging in just acts…by being part of an international gathering of justice seekers who, because of our place and status in the world, are unafraid to stand in the presence of Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers who do not want us planting olive trees in those Palestinian fields. All I can do is go and seek to be in solidarity with people who are experiencing an erosion of culture, livelihood and dignity that I cannot personally fathom. Just as I have in my previous trips, I am going to get on a plane and come home after a couple of weeks. Security at Ben Gurion may or may not hassle me on the way out like they have in the past, but I will still get home and back to my normal, comfortable life.
But I will also come back to the work of IPMN and a powerfully committed team of leaders and members; and for this I am continually grateful. I will come back to intersectional relationships with justice seekers for Palestinians and others who are simply trying to live lives of hope, peace, dignity and love. I will come back to an ever increasing challenge to counteract false narratives that promote fear and exclusion rather than a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine. In the past decade, during most of which I was serving as the chairperson of Advocacy for IPMN, I thought the hardest thing I might ever accomplish in my life would be to help move the PC(USA) to places where we recognized the importance of embracing boycott, divestment and sanctions as non-violent means of resistance to oppression in Palestine. Now that we have actually added language about all three to our denominational policies, in some ways I feel like things have only gotten harder.
This struggle is far from over, even though we have gotten pretty good at passing important overtures at General Assembly meetings. The struggle is going to become even harder given the present stance of the Trump administration. I ask that you continue to remain prayerful, committed and dialed into the struggle that lies ahead, because I really do not know what’s coming next. I hope to get a feel for that on this trip. I will report back to you about what I see, hear and experience.