By Stuart Littlewood
So the Albuquerque Episcopalians got jumpy and ‘disinvited’ the Friends of Sabeel who had booked their cathedral for a conference.
Sabeel is an international peace movement which calls itself the Voice of Palestinian Christians.
Why would one Christian group snub another? The excuse for turning away the conference was concocted by the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. J. Mark Goodman. "We said our prayers and deliberated thoughtfully and purposefully," he explained.
It seems he and his Episcopalian colleagues didn’t like the way the conference would be dealing with "a political issue that has polarized people in ways that we felt were unhelpful. We did not want to introduce a polarized issue into the life of the Cathedral that would have the potential to divide rather than unite. Our decision was not based upon anti-Palestinian positions. In fact, many on the Vestry [i.e. the church directors] are very sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people, yet they were concerned about the rhetoric of the literature from Sabeel."
He denied they were put under pressure from Zionists. Nevertheless they had invited a local rabbi to come and speak to the Vestry, a rather odd thing to do when, presumably, they were all acquainted with the endless crimes committed by the Jewish State against the Christian communities in the Holy Land. Do they usually turn to rabbis for advice?
Goodman also said Vestry members had attended his recent Forum classes, after which they had misgivings about serving as conference hosts.
"This summer at General Convention, I served on a committee that dealt in a focused way with resolutions about the conflict between Israel and Palestinians,” he went on. “It was my personal prayer that we would craft resolutions that were balanced and offered a way forward with positive engagement with each side, seeking a way forward that would bring security, dignity and peace to a region that has known strife for too long. I believe we succeeded."
Note the reliance on “positive engagement”. What exactly does that mean – more interfaith dialogue? “We succeeded”, he says. But how does he measure success? And why is he not pressing for the enforcement of international and humanitarian law and the implementation of UN resolutions, the only route to justice? The Episcopalian approach implies that some sort of equivalence, or level playing field, already exists between the powerful aggressor and the weak victim, the robber and the robbed, the armed occupier and his unarmed dispossessed prisoner.
How did these churchmen, far removed from the rotten reality, become experts on “security, dignity and peace” in the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom? Have they been there, rolled up their sleeves and immersed themselves in the snakepit that the Holy Land has been allowed to become? What makes him and his mates think they’ve found a way forward while Palestine remains under brutal occupation?
The mission statement provided by Goodman’s church says: "The Cathedral continues to honor its responsibility to be a good steward and shepherd in the community and the world." A huge and worthy commitment indeed. However, the cathedral’s own relatively peaceful community and inconsequential little world have been rudely rocked by scandal following claims that it was headed for bankruptcy and members were deserting. The cathedral accountant blew the whistle and allegations were made about the misuse of collection money, liberal imbibing of expensive wine and Vestry members "trashing the cathedral’s endowment by $2 million through complacency, and of not disciplining the dean".
The regional bishop moved quickly to hush it up in an operation that local church workers said was "like a quiet version of the Spanish Inquisition".
If only this sort of tomfoolery were all that Christian churches in the Holy Land had to worry about. Unfortunately the Episcopalians seem pretty confused, or downright ignorant, about the depths of evil to which the Israeli occupation has sunk. This is from their official report ‘Israel-Palestine: Convention supports positive investment – Bishops agree to postpone indefinitely debate on corporate engagement’,
“Bishop John Tarrant of South Dakota urged opposition to Resolution C060 [which calls on the church to engage “in corporate social responsibility by more vigorous and public corporate engagement with companies in the church’s investment portfolio that contribute to the infrastructure of the Occupation”]. He spoke about the town of Rawabi, currently under construction north of Ramallah in the West Bank, that will provide opportunities for affordable home ownership, employment and education. Tarrant said that the project, envisioned by a group of Palestinian businessmen, would inject about $80 million into the Israeli economy.
“‘It gave me the sense that there are Palestinians that understand the importance of mutuality if the two states are going to exist side by side,’ he said.
“He reminded the house of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s charge for Episcopalians ‘to go as emissaries…to go into the world of God’s dream’. ‘I believe there are Palestinians and Israelis now that are going into the world with God’s dream.’”
Has Bishop Schori been to the world of God’s dream and seen what’s there?
And why would Bishop Tarrant want to inject all those $millions into the Israeli economy when Israel has been strangling the Palestinian economy to death, seizing its land and water and withholding Palestine’s tax revenues?
Bishop Charles Bennison of Pennsylvania said the movement to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel was unwise. “We need more, not fewer, economic ties to Israel. The more isolated Israel becomes the more dangerous the situation becomes.”
It turns out that Episcopalians are against boycott and divestment. Instead the bishops have supported a resolution on positive investment in the Palestinian Territories, as if that will do the slightest good while the illegal occupation and blockade continue. Meanwhile they agreed to postpone indefinitely the conversation on corporate engagement.
To them, it seems, going as emissaries into God’s dream involves kicking the can down the road like the rest of wretched Christendom (with a few honourable exceptions). Was anybody at the Convention truly concerned with right versus wrong, good versus evil, the rule of international law versus the rule of the gun-butt, the F-16, the helicopter gun-ship, the tank shell, illegal detention and the hard-to-get permit to go anywhere.
Their Own Bishop Victim of Israel’s Apartheid Policies
The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem himself is a classic victim of the machinations of the cruel occupation. Suheil Dawani is Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, which is a part of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and The Middle East. This covers Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. He was installed in April 2007, but in March 2011 Israel cancelled his residency permit making it well nigh impossible for him to carry out his duties. As a non-Israeli he needs a temporary residence permit. The Israelis played fast and loose, granting a permit initially then turning him down.
Here’s the explanation: "The bishop is a native of the Holy Land and has spent most of his life and ministry there, but cannot obtain either citizenship or legal residence in Israel, since he was born in Nablus, in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967, but has not been annexed to Israel. East Jerusalem, on the other hand, where the Anglican Cathedral and Diocesan offices are situated, was also occupied at the same time, but Israel annexed it and considers it part of its national territory (although no other country in the world recognizes this annexation). Therefore, Bishop Dawani is considered by Israel to be a foreigner who can only visit – let alone live in – East Jerusalem with a special permit, which the Israeli authorities can either grant or deny at their sole discretion."
There’s a religious war going on in the Holy Land and Dawani was wide open to this sort of dirty trick. After six months of aggravation and international pressure, during which Israel’s Interior Ministry accused him of "improper" land dealings on behalf of the church and the Palestinian Authority, the illegal occupiers granted residency permits to the bishop and his family.
But here’s the catch… those permits will have to be renewed when they expire, whenever that may be or whenever the Israelis choose.
So the Israelis have the bishop’s balls in a vice. Keep quiet Dawani and all you Anglicans/Episcopalians while we carry on with our ethnic cleansing. Keep quiet while we trash the Palestinian economy, confiscate their lands and water resources, continue the blockade, erase their culture and humiliate their families, drive out the Christians and Muslims and disrupt the religious life of those who stubbornly remain.
Keep quiet or we’ll revoke your permit again.
The Catholics similarly walk on eggshells and are mercilessly bullied in their homeland. Their priests are harassed and obstructed and often prevented from going about their pastoral duties. Many are ‘imprisoned’ in their parish – if they leave it to visit relatives or holiday in another part of the Occupied Territories or in neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon, the Israelis may not let them back in.
So imagine what it’s like for the Muslims.
The simple truth is that the Jewish State is the world leader in rampant lawlessness and interfaith bullying, while the wet and wimpish Anglicans respond with their clapped-out formula of interfaith dialogue and other verbal diarrhoea. For 64 years it has got us and our Palestinian brothers and sisters precisely nowhere.
The good folks of Sabeel must now be wondering what they’ve done to deserve same-faith friends like the Albuquerque Episcopalians.
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.