On Thursday, June 14th, I pulled into the St. Louis convention center, my home for the next week and a half; and a home it was indeed. As the IPMN advocacy chair of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I’d like to share with the network some of the homes we made this GA.
Our first home was the hotel suite we rented out for the week and a half I was there in St. Louis. Though the room smelled like smoke and the pull-out couch left room for improvement, this became our main strategizing space before the assembly began. We had bagels from St. Louis Bread Co., ever-flowing coffee, and tea I bought from a market in Galilee. Representatives from The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Adalah Justice Project, and Friends of Sabeel North America brought years of relationship between IPMN and their national organizations, and local activists from the St. Louis chapters of American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee showed up to bring in their breadth of experience and skills with community organizing. Along with the OAs of our overtures, we broke bread and laughed and talked about our personal stories from Palestine. Our first home.
Our next home was our booth. Each day had free coffee (which always ran out the first two hours of the day). Educational booth talks taught us how to justly travel to the Holy Land and why we should start HP-Free Church campaigns at the congregational level, and wisdom emanated from editor talks on publications like Why Palestine Matters and Palestine is our Home. We spiced up the booth decor, with keffiyehs from Hebron and floor seating, complete with rugs and lamps brought from home. Arabic letter worksheets, books on Palestinian liberation theology, and an intersectional exhibit from Adalah Justice Project lined our booth. We created a little home there in the exhibit hall; and people learned about the hospitality of Palestinians, the struggle for justice, and intersectional peacemaking through the conversations we held there during the week.
Home three (and mine primarily for the week) was committee 12: Middle East issues. There were a slew of amazing commissioners on the M.E committee with ears to hear the message of truth and justice. Our open hearing representatives were deeply rooted in cross-movement work and intersectional peacemaking. Our partners, many of whom call St. Louis their home, showed up to speak prophetically to the assembly through weeks of advocacy calls prior to arriving in St. Louis, concentrated strategy meetings in the days preceding the assembly, and during the week, accompanying the body of Presbyterians listening to the Spirit speak at its 223rd General Assembly. Their voices were so prophetic that overtures like the one opposing Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem and its discriminatory practices against Palestinians, and the one meant to discredit our prophetic work in Why Palestine Matters, among others, were sent to the plenary on the consent agenda.
I spoke to two overtures at open hearings. You can see above what I said for overture 12-02, an overture written by IPMNer Nahida Halaby Gordon that advocated on behalf of all Palestinian citizens of Israel. I was counselled by Sandra, from Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian Quaker who brought her expertise and her wisdom to every interaction, supporting our work each day through one-on-one conversation and encouragement. Throughout the committee work, we as a network were continuously supported by so many voices in the room:
There were Emma and Bryce, two prophetic young people on the Middle East committee, who did their homework, asked pointed questions, and called for resource people and the question like it was no one’s business.
There was Rachel of the St. Louis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, who had given birth that month, but still made it a priority to show up to speak prophetically to the Jewish-Christian dialogue overture encouraging Presbyterians in interfaith relationships to be bold in recognizing systemic inequality and a mutual commitment to work together for justice.
There was Madeline of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, who, as someone working in real estate, spoke up about the ethical imperative of the overture urging RE/MAX to stop facilitating property sales in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.
There was Rochelle of FOSNA, who told the committee about Esther Koontz, a Kansas math teacher who both lost her employment but then won her injunction in the fight for free speech. Her story helped to frame the conversation for the committee the overture calling for opposing anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) legislation.
There was Mina, who, after speaking at open hearings, joined us as we left the work in the Middle East committee and marched at the invitation of the Stated Clerk to end the cash bail system of inequality in St. Louis and around the country.
There was Yael, an Israeli woman who moved to the U.S. in protest of Israel’s colonial behavior, who spoke on the importance of honoring Palestinians’ voice and right to resist through receiving the call from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine. She was joined by our beloved Muna, who we flew in from Jerusalem to urge us to do the same as a Palestinian. Accompanying Muna all week was her baby daughter, Xena; Xena exhibiting to all the world with her radiant smile that indeed, Palestinians teach life.
When we made it to the plenary, we made our last home—the observer bleachers in the back of the assembly hall. The M.E. committee’s report was moved until the wee hours of Saturday morning, but we were still surrounded by our amazing advocacy partners late into the night. After months of tirelessly helping IPMN’s organizational and strategic work, Anna of US Campaign, raced over sit with us as our work was deliberated. The committee’s work was quickly approved by the plenary, with some necessary amendments, and at the end of the report, J. Herbert Nelson announced: “We just accomplished something I don’t think has ever happened in the history of this church: 35 mins to deal with the Middle East.” In the back, Neveen--a St. Louis Palestinian, local student, and leader from American Muslims for Palestine--who had taken off work repeatedly to speak in open hearings, advise us on our work, and sit with us all day and into the night to be witness to the work of the plenary, rejoiced with her AMP cohort.
When we took down the booth, I put all of the keffiyehs in a bag and people wore them for the rest of the week, in those plenary bleachers, at the march to end cash bail, around St. Louis at mealtimes…when they were returned to me, I felt like they had changed—each one was imbibed with the spirit of advocacy of the person wearing it. I brought them back to my home in Chicago, grateful for those who had worn them, and for the way each person used their unique voice to speak up for Palestine.
This was my fifth time attending a GA, but my first running advocacy for IPMN. My call for the network was to answer: What does it look like for a church to continue our radical work protecting the prophetic in Palestine, post-divestment? What does it look like? It looks like a home—inviting, hospitable, eager to educate, and diverse in experience and skillset. It looks cross-movement oriented and intersectional. It looks like GA 223.