After several hours of debate Monday, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) Committee on Middle East Issues recommended approval of a lengthy report re-evaluating the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s historic support of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
However, the recommendation of approval of the report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy came with an added comment affirming a preference for a two-state solution and a desire to stay in conversation with partners in Israel who are working for peace.
The document, “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” says the PC(USA) “should advance those efforts that best accord with its values . . . including but not limited to that of two sovereign states—Israel and Palestine.” It passed 58- 18, and will be taken up by the full assembly later this week.
The committee voted down a substitute motion that would have referred the paper to the Presbyterian Mission Agency for further study and editing, to be brought back to the 223rd General Assembly (2018). Also rejected was an amendment that would have stated unequivocally that approval of the report does not mean the PC(USA) is aligned with the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The committee approved, unanimously and without debate, an overture urging continuing support for the people of the Middle East. It calls for actions to encourage Christian presence, counter religious radicalism, promote economic development and promote long-term stability in the region.
The overture concerning children asserts that they “suffer widespread and systematic patterns of ill treatment and torture within the Israeli military detention system.” It affirms the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and directs the Presbyterian Mission Agency, through the Office of Public Witness, “to advocate and witness for the human rights of the children of Palestine and Israel.”
Overture advocate Katherine Cunningham, of Palisades Presbytery, told the committee that the number of Palestinian children in military detention is the highest it has been since 2008. Another overture advocate, Nahida Gordon, of the Synod of the Covenant, described a typical scenario of child detention: Israeli soldiers knock on a family’s front door in the middle of the night. They take pictures of each child and ask them, “Have you thrown any stones?” Later they come again in the middle of the night and detain the children using blindfolds and tying their hands behind their backs. The children are separated from their parents for months and denied due process. Sometimes their confessions are coerced.
Time permitted only 10 of the 48 people who signed up to speak during the open hearing on this overture. Opponents said both Israeli and Palestinian children suffer from bombings and violence. Several speakers cited the increasing number of attacks on Israelis by Palestinian children under 18.
In response to these concerns, the committee amended the overture, adding the following recommendation: “Call on the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel to denounce and cease incitement of violence against children or at the hands of children.”
The day’s business session began on a positive note, with a report on the Presbyterian Foundation’s positive investments in Israel/Palestine. Foundation President and CEO Tom Taylor said a Transformational Investment Program was developed as directed by the 2012 General Assembly.
Taylor said the Foundation is investing in five areas:
- A solar energy facility outside Jericho
- Microfinance through a bank in Ramallah that provides low-interest loans to entrepreneurs, 76 percent of them women
- New Generation Technologies, a firm in Nazareth
- An effort to expand tourism at the site of Jesus’ baptism in Jordan
- Education, through support of Dar Al-Kalima College in Bethlehem
Taylor said these investments are advancing peace and making a difference in the region. “This is probably the most meaningful work I’ve done in my entire life,” he said. “It really makes me proud to be Presbyterian.”