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EPISCOPALIANS HOPE FOR DEEPER DIALOG

Editorial by The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, S.S.J.E.
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
Published in the Boston Globe on November 25, 2001
April 21, 2002

LETTERS, E-MAILS, AND TELEPHONE CALLS HAVE POURED INTO THE OFFICES OF THE EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF MASSACHUSETTS FOLLOWING THE PEACE WITNESS I AND MY FELLOW BISHOPS MADE BEFORE THE ISRAELI CONSULATE ON OCT. 30. BOTH THE VOLUME AND THE PASSION OF THESE COMMUNICATIONS CONFIRM THAT THE ISSUE IS OF VITAL IMPORTANCE. THE MAJORITY OF THE RESPONSES FAVOR THE STANCE WE HAVE TAKEN AS BISHOPS OF A CHURCH THAT HAS ARGUED FOR BOTH THE INTEGRITY OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL AND JUSTICE FOR THE PALESTINIANS.

With us on Oct. 30 were Jews, Muslims, other Christians, and Palestinians. Our message was this: Justice for Palestinians, as well as security for Israel, is a requirement for Mideast peace. Nancy Kaufman of the Jewish Community Relations Council said she was shocked because "there has never been any discussion about these issues of concern with these leaders." As the Protestant commentator Martin Marty replied on Nov. 12 in his newsletter Sightings, "That reaction must be shocking to Christian leaders who thought they'd been bringing up these concerns, concerns shared by many Jews, all along."

And indeed, the perception that we have not spoken about Israeli violence against Palestinians or that we have not deplored terrorist acts against Jews in Israel was the reason we took our public action. We have not been heard by some of our Jewish brothers and sisters. We agree with Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the journal Tikkun, who has written that it is necessary to confront Israel's "immoral policies toward the Palestinians in ways that would mobilize all ethically sensitive people."

We reject the charge that raising these issues is anti-Semitic. As Lerner writes in the same editorial: "You are not automatically anti-Semitic if you fight for social justice for Palestinians."

The Episcopal Church in Massachusetts and nationally has been on record in calling for an end to violence by both Palestinians and the State of Israel. The escalation of violence in the past year is of concern to all peace-seeking people. The president of the United States has called for withdrawal of Israel from occupied territories. So do we. And so does the World Council of Churches, which has termed the occupation of Palestinian territories a clear violation of international law. A number of UN Security Council resolutions have called for Israel to withdraw to the borders of June 4, 1967. The Episcopal Church supports the implementation of those resolutions.

In response, some have argued that the territories are not "occupied." An editorial in Boston's Jewish Advocate declares that "people who are simply Arabs living in this territory have developed an official-sounding attachment to land over which they never enjoyed sovereignty." Israel's presence in these territories is deemed a "reconquest of its hereditary lands." According to this editorial, Palestinians have a right to statehood only as "granted by Israel."

Such a stance offers no room for negotiation. The ongoing dispute over "facts on the ground" is not our primary concern, however. In the Abrahamic tradition, we are called to be advocates for those who are oppressed, whoever they are and wherever they are. It is unjust to treat all of those living in Palestine as potential assassins. It is unjust to deprive Palestinians of homes and jobs and security for their families. It is unjust to deprive them of basic human needs. It is unjust to destroy thousands of olive and fruit trees and other cropland on which Palestinians depend.

Our witness is the beginning of a deeper dialog with our Jewish partners in faith. That is our goal. We will be meeting with other Protestant and Jewish leaders in the near future to begin to talk about what has been a forbidden subject. But we also want to bring into this conversation our Muslim brothers and sisters who have only been the subject of our dialog. They must become part of it.

As the prophets of Israel knew, justice is not only talk. It is what we do. Isaiah writes in Chapter 58: "This is the fast that I desire: To let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to ignore the needs of your fellow human being."

 


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