At the Wednesday delegate session of the MCUSA biennial conference in Orlando last week, The Mennonite Church USA voted near unanimously (98%) on a resolution entitled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine.” The resolution was the product of years of deliberations, self-reflection, meeting and video conferences and engagement with representative voices, which included many Mennonites participating in “Come and See” tours in Israel-Palestine. Offering encouragement and support for the resolution before the vote were Alex Awad, a Palestinian pastor and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, and Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.
One of the primary impetuses for this resolution was a desire to respond to the call of Palestinian Christians particularly found in the Kairos Palestine Document (a study guide for this document was also put out by the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network [MennoPIN] which can be downloaded here). The final resolution, throughout, desires a just peace for all people. I encourage everyone to read the document for themselves. It should be read on its own. Here I will not summarize so much as offer a couple points and note that there is a mandate within it for Mennonite congregations.
Mennonite Church USA joins with the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and others who have taken economic action in recent years to support justice for Palestinians.
The document is broken into two sections: “Opposing Military Occupation and Seeking a Just Peace” and “Opposing Antisemitism and Seeking Right Relationship with Jewish Communities.” For each section there are not only calls for actions but also confessions and laments for any ways that Mennonites may have contributed to violence in Israel and Palestine as well as any complicity in antisemitism.
The first section states:
“We hear our Palestinian and Israeli partners in peacemaking tell us that fifty years of Israeli military occupation is a major contributor to the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Occupation includes land confiscation, rapidly expanding Israeli settlements, home demolitions, checkpoints, walls, travel restrictions, extended administrative detention, arrest of children, and extra judicial killings.”
Specific recommendations for action for the denomination, church agencies, and congregations include:
- Partnering with Palestinian and Israeli Peacemakers
- Understanding the Realities of Occupation – This includes congregations studying the Kairos document (linked above)
- Engaging Christian Zionism – Our previous lack of attention to Christian Zionism having already been lamented in the resolution
- Advocating with the U. S. Government
- Avoiding Economic Support for Occupation while Investing in Peace and Justice – This will for many be the standout recommendation as it calls for Everence to divest in companies that benefit from occupation.
- Strengthening Relationship with Muslim and Palestinian-American Communities
The second section recognizes situations in which Mennonites have been complicit in harm to the Jewish people. The resolution recommends these specific steps for the denomination and congregations:
- Examining the Legacy of Anti-Semitism – MCUSA has set aside funds for conferences on Mennonite involvement in the Holocaust and how we read Scripture in light of the Holocaust and have encouraged Mennonite schools to continue that work as well.
- Building Relationships with Jewish Communities – specific goals in the resolution.
Unfortunately, there are those who have accused the Mennonite Church of antisemitism, equating opposing policies of the Israeli government with hatred towards the Jewish people themselves. An article in the Jerusalem Press for instance (which also has a neat, but not representative, picture of an Amish man riding a horse and buggy at the top of the article) includes this quotation about the resolution:
“On the one hand, it purports to oppose antisemitism,” he said. “But on the other hand, it supports antisemitic divestment in what it erroneously calls ‘occupied territories.’ Israel is the only free and democratic country in the Middle East. Israel has more legitimate and historical right to its land than any country in the world. Israel is thousands of years old. Jews have lived in the land for millennia.”
Unfortunately, it is this sort of rhetoric that leaves us at an impasse. If the land only belongs to Israel, it is hard to imagine how land confiscation and people displaced for Jewish settlements will not be viewed as merely just and right restoration. We hope and pray for peace and hope for those whose land is being confiscated, homes demolished, farms burned, travel restricted, children arrested, etc. We pray that the cycles of violence will cease and that there can be a lasting and just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
- Mennonite Church Statement
- The Resolution: “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine”
- The Kairos Palestine Document
- Study guide for the Kairos Palestine Document
- Mennonite Palestine Israel Network
- Human Rights Watch and Israeli Settlements