The General Council denounced violence and hatred on both sides
To denounce something is to publicly declare it to be wrong or evil. â€œDenounceâ€ is a strong word. Last month, it was the word that commissioners to the 41st General Council of the United Church of Canada chose to describe the violence and incitement of hatred by people on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I am one of those commissioners.
While media attention focused on the churchâ€™s support for economic action against products made in the West Bank Israeli settlements, the motion that passed also included some very significant affirmations saying that the church â€œdenounces all questions of Israelâ€™s right to exist or that seek to undermine its legitimacy as a state.â€
In choosing the term â€œeconomic actionâ€ over the more charged â€œboycott,â€ the church is trying to walk a middle path, while denouncing the violence and hatred perpetrated on both sides.
It is important to read the actual motion that was passed â€” it can be found at gc41.ca â€” as well as the hundreds of other actions we took. The motion calling on the church to act was the result of a strong report written by the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy, commissioned at the last General Council three years ago
That report names the settlements as an illegal occupation (based on the United Nations Fourth Geneva Convention, and the view of the Canadian government). It reported the stories of Palestinian farmers who could no longer get to their ancestral land, their olive groves or even the water in their wells. It reported that the Christian community living in the territory had asked us to help raise the unheard voices of those on all sides who are victims of violence, often against each other.
The 353 elected church members who attended the General Council â€” a gathering held every three years, a week of prayer, meetings, policy-making and election of a new church moderator â€” were moved by the reportâ€™s findings.
We heard from Dr. Victor Goldbloom, chair of the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation, and from Palestinian Christian Ramzi Zananiri, executive director of the Near East Council of Churches in Jerusalem.
We listened prayerfully and carefully reflected on our mutual desire to contribute to building peace.
In the end, I believe that the motion is a balanced and clear statement.
It affirms non-violent resistance. It challenges some Christian theologies that seek to justify the occupation. It encourages United Church members to participate in ethical travel, peace projects and study that strengthen our relationships with both the Jewish and Muslim communities. And it calls on United Church members to join the existing economic action campaign started by partners in the area.
We are choosing not to support the economies of illegal settlements. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches in the United States have taken similar action against settlement-produced products.
A recent survey commissioned by Faithful Witness (a group of United Church clergy and members who oppose the recommendations of the working group) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs found that a majority of United Church folk believe that the church should speak out but remain strictly neutral between the two sides in this long-standing dispute. As an elected commissioner to this General Council, that is exactly the position I saw the church struggling faithfully to take. I also saw a church trying to follow the call of God through the prophet Micah, the call to seek justice, to love kindness and at the same time to walk humbly. But we cannot seek justice for those being abused, love kindness for all our neighbours and walk humbly if we remain strictly neutral. We will be silenced and frozen by the nuances in a fruitless effort to attain the perfect balance.
Instead, we are denouncing the violence and hatred on both sides that impede solutions for a just peace. We must continue to listen with open hearts and stand beside those who live in fear. We must attempt to find the peaceful path and invite others to join us on that path.
In calling for economic action, Barbara White, a member of the reporting team, notes: â€œHow else can our church convey to Jewish and Israeli colleagues that something has to happen to allow justice for Palestinian people and a healthy unfolding of a Jewish state for Israelis?â€
What has emerged from this report are the voices of those who need to be heard. The debate has engaged thousands of people in a thoughtful, prayerful process toward peace, not only within the United Church of Canada but across many sectors of Canadian society.
A new statement by the United Church of Canada on the churchâ€™s policy toward Israel and Palestine can be found under News and Info at united-church.ca.
Cathy Hamilton is president of the Montreal and Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada and was a commissioner to the churchÂ´s 41st General Council. She serves as minister at Christ Church United in Deux Montagnes.