From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Delegation considers hardships imposed on Palestinians
Fri, 2 Aug 2002 14:12:48 -0500
Aug. 2, 2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212) 870-38037New York
NOTE: For more coverage of the United Methodist delegation's visit to the
Middle East, see UMNS story #317.
By United Methodist News Service
Assaults on Israeli citizens during the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict
are documented almost daily in news reports, while less is generally known
about the extent of hardships imposed on the Palestinian people at large.
That is why a 13-member delegation sponsored by the United Methodist Board
of Church and Society and Board of Global Ministries visited the Middle East
July 19-29. The group, consisting largely of peace with justice educators,
wants to alert church members to the depth of the problems there.
The group expressed concern about the violence affecting both sides in the
conflict. Two days after the delegation left the region, a bomb blast at
Hebrew University in Jerusalem killed five Americans and two Israelis. That
was followed by military action on Aug. 2 in which five Palestinians were
The main issue is one of basic human rights, according to the delegation.
Nelda Reid of Dallas said she now more fully understands the abuses that
occur as Palestinian crops are destroyed to make way for Israeli settlements
and roads, as soldiers take nocturnal potshots at tanks that then leak
precious water, as curfews keep people trapped in their homes and
communities for days on end.
"Their lives are on hold, at the command of the Israeli Army," she said.
Bob Hughes of Seattle said that he sometimes heard the word "suffocation"
used by Palestinians as they described their daily living conditions. "It's
collective punishment for an entire community," he explained.
Outside the urban areas, conditions are just as bad, according to Hughes,
who along with other delegation members spent the night of July 27 in the
homes of Palestinian farmers. "Almost nothing has been said of the villages,
which is where we were," he said. "They have been victimized in the name of
A Sunday morning walk taken by six delegation members and five farmers came
to a standstill when the group was stopped by an assortment of Israeli
police, soldiers and private security guards. The United Methodists were
viewing the fields and orchards that had belonged to the farmers' families
before the property was confiscated by Israel.
Les Solomon of Alexandria, Va., noted that despite his extensive travels to
other parts of the world, "I have never experienced the levels of repression
on a people that I experienced during the visit. The repression is economic,
it is in violation of basic human rights, and it is psychological. Its basic
intent is to break the will of the Palestinian people by breaking their
The Rev. Janet Horman, a Church and Society executive and leader of the
delegation with David Wildman, a Global Ministries executive, reported that
the hopelessness, fear and despair being experienced by Palestinians was
particularly evident when they arrived in Gaza about 30 hours after an
Israeli warplane had fired a missile into an apartment complex. Although the
specific target was a Hamas leader wanted by Israel, nine of the 15 people
killed in the attack were children. The militant Hamas group said that its
bombing of Hebrew University was in retaliation for the Gaza attack.
Horman said she spoke with about a half dozen women at a medical clinic in
Gaza who were horrified over the realization that they could be bombed in
their beds. "They were terrified for the sake of their children," she added.
"Our hearts are terribly saddened by the loss of any life over there," she
said. "We grieve for all the Israeli children and families and the
Palestinian families who live in fear."
The delegation made positive connections as well, meeting with church and
peace movement leaders, visiting with teen-age boys who still managed to get
to vocational school, carting cement blocks and performing other chores with
Israeli volunteers rebuilding a demolished Palestinian home, talking with
farmers whose ancestors had been on the land for more than 200 years.
"They (Palestinians) expressed their appreciation time and again of our
coming," Hughes said.
The message delegation members took home is that ending the Israeli
occupation of the Palestinian territories is the only path to a negotiated
peace. They plan to strengthen the church's network of advocates for Middle
East peace, which not only involves providing information and educational
activities but also promoting political lobbying.
Officially, the United Methodist Church has long advocated for a peaceful
solution in the Middle East and upheld the basic rights of Palestinians and
Israelis. For example, the 2000 General Conference, the denomination's top
legislative body, requested that the U.S. and other governments urge Israel
to cease the confiscation of Palestinian lands and the building of
settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. It also called upon the United States
to accept the authority of U.N. resolutions dealing with the conflict.
Reid, who is the Dallas regional coordinator for Churches for Middle East
Peace, wants to arrange for high-level church officials to speak with
members of Congress. "The main problem with the United States is our
continuing aid (to Israel), which is largely military aid," she said. "To
get that to change, we've got to change the votes in Congress."
Solomon pointed out that the Palestinians do put responsibility on the
United States "because we have basically given the Israelis a blank check on
policy, weapons use and social responsibility." He hopes to offer courses on
the conflict and prepare an "End the Occupation" newsletter for church
Hughes agreed that U.S. citizens are in part responsible for the crisis
because of military and other aid, but he also cautioned "we in the United
States (must) not allow ourselves to fall into anti-Semitism as we criticize
our U.S. government policies and the policies of the Israeli government."
Horman stressed the importance of other groups making the trip to visit with
Palestinian Christians and other communities of Palestinians. She encouraged
church members to contact the United Methodist missionaries based in the
United States "and find ways to be in touch through them."
More information is available by contacting Horman at (202) 488-5647 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or Wildman at email@example.com.
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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