Palestinians, Christians and Politics of Compassion

By Dallas Darling

Even now as Presbyterian leaders prophetically issue statements calling for the U.S. to end its military aid to Israel unless Tel Aviv stops it settlement activities in occupied land that belongs to Palestinians, they might want to recall what Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer wrote in his book “The Politics of Compassion.” Nelson-Pallmeyer believed that most Christians and denominations in the U.S.-who by virtue of their affluence, power, privilege, and isolation-are not only entirely separated from the true biblical message, but isolated from the people in whom that message is most clearly embodied today. Clearly, it is the experiences of the poor and the oppressed, including their poverty, repression, forced migration, resistance, endurance, suffering, and hope, that better enables one to understand the Good News of salvation and liberation from unjust political, economic and social structures.(1)

While discussing the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Christian delegates and members of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church affirmed their previous position that the U.S. should withhold aid if Israel builds new West Bank settlements. Like other Christians and international organizations, the Presbyterian Church has also repeatedly claimed Israel is violating international law by expanding its settlements in occupied Palestinian land and in al-Quds. Earlier, Presbyterians voted to authorize “phased selective divestment in global businesses operating in Israel” due to Israel’s discriminatory policies toward Palestinians, a stance that has been softened because of pressure from pro-Israeli lobbies operating in the U.S. Still, the Presbyterian Church has made a courageous move claiming the U.S. must stop its annually multi-billion dollar military assistance to Israel.

Now that Tel Aviv announced it plans to construct 2,700 new settlement units in the West Bank, how will Presbyterians and Christians actually fulfill the Good News in preventing U.S. arms and weapons from reaching Israel? Will declarations and divestment strategies be enough? “Christians in North America, particularly those who are relatively affluent or comfortable,” wrote Nelson-Pallmeyer, “will understand the message of Jesus only if they let the poor be their teachers.” They can also “hope for a world with more justice and less hunger only if they understand history, economics and theology from the vantage point of the poor.”(2) If the misery of the poor are rooted in unjust political, economic and social structures, including international ones, and if the voice of God is heard within the poor and their suffering, Christians must respond with compassionate actions when they hear the poor and oppressed. But what is compassionate action?

For Presbyterians and Christians, it is imperative to construct a political, economic and theological mindset, including coalitions, that are rooted in justice.(3) Nelson-Pallmeyer tells a parable about Christians from the U.S. wanting to do something about worsening hunger and violence against Palestinians. A Christian family went to church each Sunday, prayed daily, and studied the Bible regularly. They heard about the Palestinians, but were too busy with their religious life to respond. Another Christian heard about the injustices towards Palestinians, even including them in prayers, but the Palestinians remained hungry and continued to live under an oppressive system. Next, several wealthy executives were concerned about the plight of the Palestinians and made monthly tax-deductible pledges. However, they canceled their pledges when the agency they supported spoke-out against the manufacturing of weapons-in which they had major investments in-that were sent to Israel and the brutal tactics of the Israeli Defense Forces.

A pastoral team from a large church spoke with a woman who had recently returned from occupied Gaza and the West Bank. But they decided not to burden their church, because it was too controversial. After all, they were in the midst of a building spree and fund-raising drives to keep their mega-church broadcasting via television. Meanwhile, humanitarian aid flotillas were turned back and children continued to die. Activists too were killed trying to establish reform, justice and basic human rights. A retired military general, president of his local congregation, dropped a check in the mail for the Palestinians on his way to testify to a congressional hearing on military assistance to Israel. He favored increasing military aid to Israel and its repressive regime, because he mistakenly believed it was fighting Islamic extremism. Palestinians remained hungry. Those protesting were arrested and tortured.

A woman who was active in the social concerns committee of her church was filled with compassion when she heard about the situation of hunger and oppression in Gaza and the West Bank. She organized a fund raiser for Palestinian relief and development. She also encouraged her church to become a sanctuary for Palestinian refugees, lobbied political officials to block military aid to Israel, participated in demonstrations, staged mass sit-ins at manufacturing plants sending weapons to Israel, and withheld some of her income tax to protest U.S. support of a repressive government. After sailing with a flotilla that finally reached Gaza with humanitarian aid-due to international pressure and outcry-Palestinians received food and medical supplies. They were filled with hope at the persistence of this woman as she challenged the politics of hunger, oppression and militarism.(4)

Nelson-Pallmeyer asks: “Who showed compassion to the Palestinians?”(5)

– Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for You can read more of Dallas’ writings at and He contributed this article to


(1) Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack. The Politics of Compassion, Hunger…the Arms Race…U.S. Policy in Central America. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988., p. 3.
(2) Ibid., p. 3 & 4.
(3) Ibid., p. 5.
(4) Ibid., p. 39 & 40. (Note: I am substituting Palestinians, Gaza, and the West Bank for Guatemala and Guatemalans.)
(5) Ibid., p. 40.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out