Israel and the Palestinians: time for the Church to come off the fence

by
21 January 2009

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From Canon Paul Oestreicher and Professor Barbara Einhorn
Sir, — Ben White (Comment, 16 January) tells the Gaza story as it is. Having Jewish grandparents gives us the privilege of working with the British organisation Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP). In a full-page advertisement in The Times, more than 500 members gave expression to their deep shame at the policies of the State of Israel. Through the British Shalom-Salaam Trust, many are now giving sacrificially to Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) to help alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza.

But that is not enough. To quote Ben White: “There is no excuse for contrived neutrality while the Palestinians and Jewish Israelis who struggle against colonialism and occupation need our solidarity.” For years, militant Zionism has imposed a cruel occupation regime. A courageous, embattled Israeli minority is not afraid to go on to the streets and to be labelled as traitors. The media around the world ignores them. Among them are teenagers who refuse to be part of an occupation army and are in Israeli prisons. That Israeli opposition is the true voice of the prophets of Israel.

No longer has this state the right to shelter behind the Holocaust, the Shoah, in which our grandparents died, to render Israel immune from condemnation. The charge of anti-Semitism will not stick when levelled at patriots like the 85-year-old prophet of peace Yuri Avnery. No other nation that so persistently flaunts UN resolutions and so consistently breaks international law would be able to avoid international sanctions. Great blame for that must rest with the United States and its support for Israel, right or wrong.

What is now happening in Gaza tragically feeds the not-so-latent anti-Semitism in British society. We are not surprised at the need for police protection for our synagogues. That makes us weep.

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So, through your columns, we appeal to the Church of England, its Bishops and its people, to come off the fence, and to be seen to be on the side of those Jews within Israel and around the world who love their Palestinian neighbours and want nothing more than to live at peace with them.

The Arab states have long been offering the formula to make that possible. Had Israel accepted that earlier, it would not now be necessary to negotiate with a militant resistance movement.

As with apartheid South Africa, the time has come for economic sanctions. Brave Israelis who need our solidarity are asking for them, as did the opposition in South Africa.
PAUL OESTREICHER
BARBARA EINHORN
97 Furze Croft, Hove BN3 1PE

From Mrs Mary Roe
Sir, — “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” This is one of the basic tenets of the Law of Moses by which Jews, to this day, are required to order their lives. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that people who see the scenes of devastation in Gaza, including the destruction of schools, hospitals, and places of worship, and who learn that there have been 13 Israeli deaths and almost 1300 Palestinian deaths (and more bodies still being discovered in the rubble of family homes), have described Israel’s action as “disproportionate”.

Several representatives of the Israeli government and military forces have denied this, pointing out that numbers are not everything. This is true, of course; but we cannot ignore completely the disparity between the scale of suffering that can be inflicted by heavily armed forces, attacking from the air, sea, and land, and that achieved by amateur rockets that can be launched only from ground-level.

However much one may deplore the violence employed by both sides of the conflict, and however much one may sympathise with the aspirations of both sides, it would seem that the Gold Standard of the Law of Moses has been abandoned for the variable “currency” of “One Jewish life must be paid for by 100 Palestinians, including many children.” We have seen the same development in Iraq, where the life of one US soldier is deemed equal to those of 100 Iraqi civilians.

New Testament studies make it clear that when Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye’, but I say unto you . . . turn the other (cheek) also,” he was not superseding the Mosaic Law, but, indeed, fulfilling it. The restriction of taking only one eye for the loss of one eye, and one tooth for one tooth, was laid down to prevent the escalation of violence.

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As a pacifist, of course, I wish that all Christians might live by this teaching, following our Lord’s example; but, as a realist, I do not expect to see that in my lifetime. All three faiths of the book do claim to base their morality on the Laws of Moses (even, when it suits, adhering to the most anachronistic or irrelevant clauses). We would be well on the road to peace if the law of proportionality were restored to prominence.

We would also then be demonstrating to non-believers our assurance that God or Yahweh or Allah does indeed love all his children.
MARY ROE
Chairman of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
1 The North Lodge
Kings End
Bicester OX26 6NT

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