By Conference Minister Diane Weible
When I visited Palestine and Israel in 2017 I met members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). I was impressed with the work they were doing at the request of member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The two EAPPI guides I met had recently arrived and were just learning about the communities where they were working. They took us around and described how their job was to be a witness in the community and promote just peace in the region.
Recently, the work and witness of the EAPPI has been called into question in a published report and the WCC has responded.
First, the WCC was clear that since its founding it has denounced antisemitism as a sin against God. Second, WCC’s mission is to promote peace and human rights, seeking to address root causes and not only symptoms. This mission is a mission for all people.
When I read this article I was stunned. I was stunned because I have seen the work of the EAPPI first-hand. I was stunned because I believe in the World Council of Churches’ mission to work for human rights and peace throughout the world. I was stunned because I have seen the heartbreak and the oppression of the Palestinian people. I’ve seen the wall. I’ve seen the community conditions they are forced to live in.
It doesn’t make sense to me that we have reached a point in our nation’s narrative that we cannot agree that the conditions of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank is something that should not be tolerated. I could not figure out why it would ever be ok that the government could turn off water or electricity on a whim to some individuals living in a community while allowing water and electricity to flow to others—basing this decision purely on ethnicity.
Standing up to this kind of oppression is not anti-Semitic. It is human. To say this cannot be tolerated is not to attack Israel, it is to call on the Israeli government to treat all its citizens with human decency and to follow the international human rights agreements regarding occupation and its continued control of Palestinian land.
If no human rights violations are occurring in the region, the witness of the EAPPI guides should be welcomed, not feared and not criticized. Have we become so divided in this country that even the basic issues of human rights are topics to be politicized and fodder for media confusion that only heightens the sense that each side has to dig in its heels?
On Monday, the day that America remembered the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a member of one of our churches shared with me a link to the Democracy Now! website where a rediscovered 1964 King Speech on Civil Rights, Segregation & Apartheid South Africa was posted. This powerful speech that recites the history of the oppression of black people in this country as well as the testimony to the tireless work of people to end the violence and abuse includes a call to all of us today.
“And somewhere along the way it is necessary to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right. This is so vital, and this is so necessary.”
As we continue to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King this week, let us also not give up in fighting for the rights of all human beings to exist, whether it be people of color in this country or Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank or any others who are victims of power and privilege.