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13 July 2012

A MOTION on Palestine and Israel which has caused dismay in sections of the Jewish community was carried by the General Synod on Monday afternoon, but with an unusually high number of abstentions after an attempt to remove criticised parts of it failed.

Introducing his private member's motion, Dr John Dinnen (Hereford) said that he was "not a starry-eyed idealist", and referred to his life in Northern Ireland, a "deeply divided community".

He wanted to encourage members to study the situation in Israel and Palestine, listen to Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim views, and pray for and support those who worked for peace and justice. He went on to outline the hardships faced by both Palestinians and Jews, including the claim that, since 1967, Israel had "demolished 27,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in violation of international law".

Clause (a) of his resolution called on the Church to support the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). It had been claimed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews that EAPPI was "anti-Israeli". The information on the website of the Board was "very misleading", he said.

He quoted Canon Paul Oestreicher, a cleric of Jewish origin, who had said that the attempt of the Board to "derail" the Synod motion "dishonours the memory of my Jewish grandmother and the many who died with her in the Holocaust". Jews had "suffered so long at Christian hands"; but Christian guilt would be "compounded" if the Church "now retreated into silence".

Dr Dinnen said that EAPPI was already supported by many of the other Christian denominations and organisations, and that the Church of England had already offered its support through its membership of the World Council of Churches and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Referring to the clause in his motion calling for support of Palestinian Christians and organisations that work for their continu- ing presence in the Holy Land, he warned that the number of Palestinian Christians had fallen "drastically" in recent years, owing to emigration.

The Church of England must "show that it cares for peace and justice, and not keel over and pass a truncated, feeble motion".

Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (Ripon & Leeds) encouraged members of the Synod to support the motion in its current form. The accompanying paper suggested that the C of E expressed its support through the ecumenical instruments, but this was "a cop-out". The situation in the Holy Land was "dismal"; could the Synod not speak into it?

The Revd Dr Alan McDonald (Church of Scotland) said that he had met a number of people who had worked with the EAPPI. All "spoke about the wonderful training, [and] opportunities to speak to Israelis and Palestinians", and to stand in "that gap" between people in a conflict zone, and try to bring some peace. "It would be seen as extraordinary by your partner Churches in these islands if you were not to declare your support for it."

The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, who chairs the Council of Christians and Jews, spoke to his amendments. He said that he wanted to support the "main thrust" of Dr Dinnen's motion: standing by Israelis and Palestinians to seek a just peace. The purpose of his amendment was "to strengthen that purpose by deleting the names of the organisations specifically mentioned."

Singling out organisations for special attention was "a departure from the General Synod motion of July 2002", which preferred recommending a category of organisation rather than specific organisations. The decision to name organisations in the motion "is already embroiling the Church of England in unhelp- ful controversy", and was "in danger of taking attention away from the motion's main and laudable purpose".

The EAPPI, Bishop McCulloch said, was "perceived by many Jews and Christians to be biased and partisan. So it seems odd to seek the imprimatur of Synod for this particular organisation." If the motion was carried in its present form, "relations between Jews and Christians in this country could be seriously impaired . . . The Jewish community would perceive the Church of England to be taking sides unfairly, when previously they feel we have tried to be fair, even though they may not always agree with our conclusions."

The Revd Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edsmundsbury & Ipswich) said that the Church was "going to sleep about Palestine": "We are forgetting that every day our brothers are going without. If EAPPI remind us of that, that's a good thing. . . We need the Israelis to tell us why they are so kind to us in parts of Israel and so unreasonable in others."

The Revd Jeremy Fletcher (York) highlighted the work of Machsom Watch, elderly Israeli women who monitored the work of border guards at checkpoints. "Many soldiers are teenagers, and you'd be careful if your granny was watching you. Scrutiny is welcome where the conduct is right."

He said that Israel regarded it as a "foreign-policy win" that the Palestinian question was off the world's agenda. "That the motion has attracted the attention it has is a win," he suggested.

Jennifer Humphreys (Bath & Wells) had received two emails urging her to support the motion. Although she had no "in-depth" knowledge, she had been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and had spent a day in Hebron with an EAPPI group. She would "quibble" with the idea that EAPPI was a "specific body", because they were "ecumenical", "global", and the Church of England was already involved through the World Council of Churches and other bodies. She endorsed the original motion, and asked the Synod to support it.

There were two amendments in the name of the Bishop of Manchester to clause (a) and clause (c). He formally moved his amendment to (a).

Dr Dinnen said that it would be a "shame" to drop the reference to the Families Forum, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury was one of the patrons. He wanted to "resist" that. With regard to concern about referring to EAPPI, he suggested that this was a "figleaf" and "almost cowardly". The Synod's not having previously referred to specific organisations did not mean that it never would do so. EAPPI was "not exactly a random organisation", but one already supported by the Church of England through other bodies. By not stating support for it, the Church was "standing out from other denominations".

Specific organisations had been singled out in the past, including Christian Aid, the Church Urban Fund, and the Jubilee Debt Campaign. He denied that ecumenical accompaniers were "anti-Israeli". It was important to "resist [this] strenu-ously" and "vote the whole thing straight through".

The Archbishop of Canterbury declared an interest as one of the patrons of the Families Forum. But he wanted to "pause" before the Synod turned down the amendment. He was "not disposed to be worried about the kind of campaign we have received", but he was "concerned" about the "effect on local dialogue with Jewish communities". He wanted to "understand" why they were "so worried" by the EAPPI and to "challenge where necessary".

The amendment could serve as a "holding action . . . a tactical solution which may help rather than hinder the engagement we need". Supporting the amendment would not deny the support the Church of England already gave to EAPPI, and would not involve the Church in accepting "misleading and negative characterisation" of it. Nor would it allow the Church to deny the "urgency" of the situation or the "severity" of the problems that faced all populations in the Holy Land.

Because the Church wanted a secure Israel, it had to be "concerned about behaviour that alienates and dehumanises Palestinians". Some forms of security, such as checkpoints, were "unsustainable". "We wish the State of Israel to be held accountable like all other states to constructive, legitimate behaviour."

It was important to "work with the creative grain of what is going on in the Holy Land along the lines that the motion says", but also to "reflect on the question why it is that the motion in its original form has caused such a problem, not just with those whose opinions we may very well decide we can ignore, but our neighbours we need to engage with".

Jacob Vince (Chichester) also spoke in favour of the amendment. He referred to the organisation Open Doors' handbook of prayer for the world Church, which listed the top 50 countries where Christians were most persecuted. Israel was not on the list, but the Palestinian territories were. Hamas in Gaza was "seen as the primary culprit", and also discrimination against Christians by those in the Palestinian territories themselves.

He had lived in the area in the late 1970s and early '80s, and after 20 years had participated in a "balanced tour" led by Canon Andrew White during the Second Intifada.

Against this background, he had long been struck, he said, by the "polarisation of views which appear to not adequately understand the situation on the ground". The amendment was based on a "thoroughly written paper" by the Mission and Public Affairs Council, which explored the criteria by which to judge organisations, including reputation.

He had had meetings with the co-ordinator of EAPPI teams in Jerusalem and with returning participants. Although they had been "sincere and committed to a better future", and did not, "on the face of it", bear "any ill-will to Jewish people", he suggested that "sincerity is not enough."

Both of the presentations he had seen from returning EAs had given an "unhelpfully one-sided picture": one was "vehemently anti-Israel" and "verging on anti-Semitic". Others had drawn similar conclusions after seeing presentations. Thus, he did not think that EAPPI met the reputation criteria, and approving the Measure unamended risked damaging the Church of England's reputation.

The Revd Dr John Perumbalath (Rochester) referred to appeals for balance, but argued: "There is nothing called neutrality; no one is neutral; neither am I, neither the Lord in whom I put my trust when it comes to questions of justice and human suffering. . . Let us not hide behind the idea of neutrality." Dr Perumbalath went on to say that Jewish members of the interfaith council he chaired "have told me I must support this motion".

Canon John Witcombe (Gloucester) said that he had been in Israel/Palestine last month, and had gone into the segregated area in Hebron. He noticed that EAPPI volunteers' cameras were "in a sense . . . their weapons". The "primary function" of the EAPPI was "to bear witness. . . If they appear to speak more of suffering on one side, that is to reflect the situation." The Bishop of Manchester's warnings of the dangers of controversy, and saying "that we should do what we can", made him sound "enthralled to those in positions of power".

Mary Judkins (Wakefield) said she was extremely disappointed that the Bishop of Manchester's amendment had failed, as the motion now did not acknowledge the work of other organisations, including that of Medical Aid to Palestinians. Her husband, a doctor, regularly volunteered for this NGO, which did far more than "accompany."

"The problem is that checkpoints and blockades become death sentences for those who need medical treatment. Seventy Palestinians have died since 2008 because their permit for treatment outside Gaza was delayed."

The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) said: "By definition, there aren't any Jewish speakers among us at a Christian Synod; and I hadn't understood what it is to be a Jew until I had visited Israel, until I visited Yad Vashem, and until I understood the severity of the security situation there."

He said Israel was a small country, about the size of Wales, with a population of just under eight million. Three-quarters of the population were Jewish, he said, "and they face an existential threat of the kind that we can't comprehend; at least, I myself hadn't understood.

"They are surrounded by neighbours who have repeatedly invaded their country with the declared intention of removing the State of Israel." This had begun the day after Israel had been founded, he said, and had continued to this day with a new threat of nuclear confrontation. He urged the Synod to understand the sensitivities of that situation, and to pause and hear from both sides.

A procedural motion from the Revd Jonathan Clarke (Ripon & Leeds) that the Synod move to next business was lost. He was concerned that the Synod would be misunderstood if it carried the motion without "hearing from the other side".

As Bishop McCulloch's amendments were lost, the Synod voted on the unamended motion, which was carried in all Houses: Bishops: 21 to 3, with 14 recorded abstentions; Clergy: 89 to 21, with 44 recorded abstentions; Laity: 91 to 30, with 35 recorded abstentions.

That this Synod affirm its support for: (a) the vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accom- paniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants;

(b) mission and other aid agencies working amongst Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere in the region;

(c) Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area, such as the Parents Circle - Families Forum; and

(d) Palestinian Christians and organisations that work to ensure their continuing presence in the Holy Land.

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