I recently returned from a study trip to Israel dedicated to conflict-resolution and peacemaking, with the goal of helping participants better understand the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The trip was designed to expose participants to a wide variety of viewpoints, and to see that there is not just one narrative, nor two, but many. The goal was not to convince the participant of the inherent value of one narrative over another, but to realize that a first step is in understanding those narratives. Great lengths were taken to ensure that we were exposed to as many viewpoints as possible, ranging from the Israeli government officials, Israeli leftist NGOs, Israeli-Arab activists, settlers, Palestinian activists, women peace activists. And more. There was no effort to brainwash.
I had not been back in the US for five hours when I came across an Interfaith trip being sponsored by one of the Presbyterian Groups highly active in the battles over BDS and divestment. Presbyterian Peace Fellowship was co-sponsoring a trip called “Interfaith Network for Justice Palestine”, in conjunction with two major BDS organizations: Jewish Voices for Peace (the anti-Zionist and anti-Israel group) and American Muslims for Palestine (the pro-Palestinian group whose leaders had been accused of being a front for Hamas and which funds Students for Justice in Palestine).
The trip they are organizing is specifically “designed to provide direct experience for a multi-religious group of US participants committed to direct advocacy and nonviolent direct action for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel.” The trip claims to be interfaith-based, but that is really a front, as it’s description is crystal clear. The goal is to create activists, and it explicitly draws on the belief that justice for Palestinians is tied into the currently vogue argument of intersectionality.
The trip’s organizers hope to attract individuals
interested in deepening their understanding of the realities of Palestinian life under occupation and inside of Israel as part of a multifaith delegation. The delegation will include people of spirit and conscience who are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and people of other faiths. Delegates are not required to be a part of or actively engaged in a particular religious community. Priority will be given to Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color to ensure this delegation centers the experiences of those targeted by systemic racism, displacement and occupation.
This is not a study trip designed to help participants understand the complex narratives that underlie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but instead a trip driven by ONE narrative and one narrative only: Israeli occupation and ways of taking nonviolent direct action for peace and justice in Palestine.” Heck, there is no point in saying Palestine/Israel — they pretty much mean just “Palestine.” The underlying assumption is that of intersectionality, the idea that all forms of “oppression” are one and the same.
But the part that really gets me is the graphic that Presbyterian Peace Fellowship uses to advertise the trip: containing the slogan Co-Resistance before Co-Existence.
Resistance is a loaded word. Groups committed to the destruction of Israel and violence directed at Israeli citizens describe their actions as “resistance.” Hamas and Hezbollah describe their efforts to eradicate Israel as “resistance.” Campaigns such as the “knife intifada” are described as “resistance” by their advocates. “Resistance” represents denial of a conflict which requires commitment from both Palestinians and Israelis to end. The graphic also contains the words “Free the People of Palestine”. Israel has offered Palestinians freedom in return for peace for decades, and Palestinians have failed to reach consensus on this simple bargain. This graphic denies this fundamental fact. The zeal to resist injustice results in aligning themselves with positions that ultimately promote terror.
What about putting “resistance” before coexistence? There is no goal of reconciliation between the sides, instead they want to become partners in “resistance”. What does that mean, partners in supporting terror attacks on civilians and border police? Or less extreme, does it mean advocating that the solution the conflict does not come from trying to bring both sides together? Is it a clear rejection of a two state solution, where two states for two peoples would be the outcome? It does not take a lot of work to see the end game here. Indeed, calls for co-resistance is a part of the call for the BDS Movement, and is repeated frequently by the movement’s founder, Omar Barhouti. But for an entity of the Presbyterian Church USA, a Christian church dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ, this seems to be taking the notion of social justice and flipping it on its head. Jesus taught about reconciliation. It is a major tenet in Christian theology. It is central to everything Jesus taught.
But Presbyterian Peace Fellowship seems to have no interest in reconciliation nor in bringing the sides to the conflict together. It has no interest in helping the people on the ground understand “the other.” Instead, the focus is on “co-resistance.” Free the People of Palestine. Co-resist.
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship seems to be so blinded by its singular focus on justice for Palestinians, that it has somehow forgotten the middle word in its name: PEACE. Peace and reconciliation go hand in hand. Efforts at co-existence and building a shared society within Israel and between Israelis and Palestinians is essential for the long term stability of any resolution to the conflict. They apparently believe that co-existence is merely “normalizing” the occupation. It is utter garbage, but it fits their narrative. I’d hazard a guess their leaders have spent no actual time engaged in study of the groups and individuals who do the critical people to people work essential to shared societies and co-existence. They’ve never talked to people whose lives have been changed by getting to know the other, and to see the world in the other’s shoes.
For them to do that would challenge the BDS narrative they have embraced for so long. Their “Jewish” partner is Jewish Voices for Peace — the far-left group of anti-Zionists who seek to delegitimize Israel, and whose common mantra is “From the River to the Sea Palestine Will Be Free.” Sorry, but even basic geography illustrates the real goal of such a statement. The river is the Jordan, the sea is the Mediterranean. What is in between? Oh, snap… that’s right, Israel is. Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and other BDS activists have no desire for co-existence or building the framework for shared society. They simply want to see Israel gone, and for Palestine to replace it.
I am not sure there is much “Christian” in that. And it is a distortion of interfaith work by any definition. I am embarrassed that this group somehow speaks as an entity of the denomination I am affiliated with. It goes against the actions of the last Presbyterian General Assembly that reiterated support for both Israelis and Palestinians to self-determination and for a two state solution. Presbyterians should be ashamed by this brazen call for resistance.