One word leaps to mind in considering the Nobel Committee’s announcement yesterday that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to President Barack Obama: premature. Alfred Nobel’s will was very clear on who could nominate someone for the peace prize (members of national parliaments or congresses, political science or philosophy faculty in universities, and persons who have already won the prize) and who would determine (in secret) the recipient (a committee formed by the Norwegian Storting or Parliament but whose members cannot include sitting members of the Storting or the Norwegian government). But Nobel’s will (largely because he wrote it without legal help, distrusting lawyers) is notoriously vague on the criteria for winning the Peace Prize. This has led to a wide variety of Nobel Peace Laureates in the century plus of the award–from pacifists and peace activists, human rights activists, to politicians and diplomats from many countries, to organizations that work for peace in a wide variety of ways. The award has been given for diplomatic efforts leading to the end of wars and to signing of peace treaties. It has been given for relief work in the midst of war (e.g., the International Red Cross and Crescent Societies, Doctors Without Borders, etc.), for aid to refugees. It has been given for efforts in arms reduction, or to nonviolent social movements, and for efforts to eliminate major causes of war and violence such as poverty, ethnic or religious conflict, or environmental threats.
But the vagueness of criteria for the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize has led to some very odd choices: most notoriously when former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s chief negotiator Lu Duc Tho (neither a person of peace) were awarded the Prize jointly for negotiations toward ending the Vietnam War. Lu Duc Tho became the only person in history to turn down the Nobel Peace Prize saying, rightly, that no peace had been achieved and that the talks were breaking down. Another time the Nobel Committee made an embarrassing choice designed to encourage a peace process was when they jointly awarded the prize to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat. Both Rabin and Arafat had previous histories as terrorists and some argued that Arafat had not yet abandoned that role. One member of the Nobel committee quit in protest.
The selection President Obama is not that bizarre. In fact, if his ambitious foreign policy agenda is successful at any of his peacemaking goals: a just two-state peace between Israel and Palestine, reversing the nuclear arms race, etc., then I fully expected that he might be a future Nobel Laureate. But this seems, at best, premature –even to Pres. Obama to judge from his reaction. Yes, he has stopped U.S. torture, although failing so far to hold any of the torturers accountable and pushing for the continuation of the practices of indefinite detention without trial (for some al Qaeda members that the administration believes guilty of crimes but cannot prosecute because the evidence was obtained by torture under the Bush regime) and rendition. But the prison at Guantanemo Bay is not yet closed and the “detainees” have not been either tried in regular courts or released. Yes, he has begun the slow ending of the occupation of Iraq, but most of our troops are still there. Yes, he wants to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace process, but has failed so far to get Israel to stop building new settlements or get Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other or stop stockpiling weapons for future attacks against Israel–nothing has yet happened. Yes, we are scheduled to have nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia–but they haven’t yet taken place. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan and started an undeclared one in Pakistan with predator drones. He wants a new engagement with Iran that leads to their abandoning of their nuclear weapons ambitions and, eventually, to the first resumption of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties since 1979–but no progress has yet been made and recently he seemed to imply a willingness to bomb suspected Iranian nuclear plants.
The hawkish Obama has proceeded apace, but the Obama who dreams of peacemaking has yet to move from hope to actual change. Thus, I call this award premature, and Obama himself calls it “a call to action.” That, I suggest, is how peace activists from around the world should react–not by mocking or condemning this choice, but by using it as moral leverage in encouraging real peacemaking from this administration. As filmmaker Michael Moore said yesterday, “Congratulations, Mr. President–now go out and earn it.” That should be the unanimous note of peace activists–encouraging this president to live into the award that he does not (yet) deserve.
Later this weekend, I will email the White House with this message and a list of suggested actions that Pres. Obama can take between now and the formal presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize in December that will act as steps toward fulfilling that “call to action.”
- Announce that the U.S. will “re-sign” the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty “unsigned” by former Pres. Bush. Since the legality of “unsigning” a ratified treaty is murky (and unprecedented!) under both U.S. and international law, I doubt that this would even need ratification by the U.S. Senate–but with 60 Democratic Senators, such ratification should be pro forma.
- Announce that the U.S. will “re-sign” the Treaty of Rome that authorized the creation of the International Criminal Court and will join the ICC instead of continuing the Bush-era attempts to evade the ICC’s jurisdiction. Joining will require Senate confirmation, and some will balk out of fear that the ICC might attempt to try members of the Bush admin. for war crimes related to torture and rendition if the U.S. does not prosecute them, but Obama should take that risk.
- Sign the International Treaty Banning Landmines. The U.S. is one of the few democratic holdouts even though American Jody Williams (who won the Nobel for her efforts) founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Even many famous generals around the globe support this since landmines are of limited military value in war, but continue to kill and maim civilians long after wars are officially over.
- Sign the Treaty Against Child Soldiers. Former Pres. Bush refused because he wanted the U.S. to still be able to have 17 year olds in the military–but out military will hardly crumble without them. And this treaty gives some teeth to efforts to stop the kidnapping and forced induction of adolescent and pre-adolescent children into both government and rebel armies–most notoriously by the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda.
- Announce an increased pace of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.
- Announce an end to use of the predator drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the enormous loss of civilian life.
- Deny General McChrystal’s request for additional troops in Afghanistan. Freeze at current levels while re-thinking Afghanistan–seeking a new way forward.
- Announce that the U.S. will unilaterally reduce its nuclear weapons by 10% across the board. We need MUCH deeper cuts around the globe, but this unilateral step could jump-start the talks with Russia and show the world that you are serious about reversing the nuclear arms race. It could be a transforming initiative that invites similar moves on the part of others.
Beyond these steps, the way grows harder and must include cooperation from both Congress and international partners. Grassroots peace and human rights organizations should do our part by supporting the actions the Obama administration takes for peace, praising them, and encouraging more and criticizing steps in the wrong direction. Also, not waiting for governments or prizes, we need to continue our own, independent, actions for peace.
Yes, I wrote that. No, I have not been a big fan of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and I was against Obama appointing her to Secretary of State. (Of course, I’m happy that my first choice, Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) was passed over, because it would have been far more embarrassing for him to back out of the S of S post due to Federal Elections investigations than it was when he removed himself from Commerce! Sheesh!) I have never shared the rightwing “Clinton hatred” (which has been shifted to Obama), but I was critical of her husband’s presidency (mostly as squandered potential for good) and her candidacy for the presidency.
But I think a “prophetic stance” that ONLY yells at politicians when they screw up is counterproductive. One should ALWAYS send notes and phone calls of appreciation when a politician, ANY politician, does something right. It greatly increases the chances they will continue to do so.
So, today, I sent Secretary Clinton a thank-you note because in Israel this week, she publicly criticized the government of Israel and the government of the city of Jerusalem for demolitions and planned demolitions of Palestinain homes in East Jerusalem. She rightly called it a violation of Israel’s agreements on the so-called “road map” to a two state peace. (She did not say, as she could have, that it was a violation of International Law and about a thousand UN resolutions, including many agreed to by several U.S. administrations of both parties, but she said something!) Make no mistake–as hard as it will be for my international readers to understand, in the U.S. context this is an act of political courage. Secretary Clinton will get TONS of hatemail and criticism from rightwing pro-Israel-no-matter-what groups and their well-financed media allies over this. ANY criticism, no matter how small, of Israel by an American politician carries a political price that it does not anywhere else–not even IN Israel.
So, peace folk and progressives, whatever we feel about Secretary Clinton overall–or the evolving Obama administration’s approach to Middle East peace–we need to put all that aside and have Secretary Clinton’s back on this one. Take time out, now, and email her and thank her for speaking out against Palestinian home demolitions. If you are one of my international readers, please join in this effort. If you want a different kind of U.S. presence in the world, you need to cheer us when we do the right thing (even baby steps) as well as criticize us when we do wrong. (You can also suggest other concrete steps for her to take. I urged her to speak out against the Israeli wall that eats up Palestinian land and turns the West Bank into a giant open air prison and I urged her to publicly call for Hamas to join a unity govt. with Fatah so that they could air their concerns to the U.S. through Fatah without the U.S. having to negotiate with a group it considers terrorist. Baby steps–but those get the ball rolling.)
Now, after emailing or phoning the Secretary and thanking her, send a copy of that email to President Obama, and (if you are a U.S. citizen) to your Congressperson and Senators–regardless of party. Then write your local newspaper and commend Secretary Clinton’s words in public. If you are a Christian minister or Jewish Rabbi, PLEASE take this last extra step–because the media will be flooded with condemnations of Clinton’s words by rightwing Jews and Christians who claim to speak for everyone of their faith. If you belong to a group like Churches for a Middle East Peace or Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, or Rabbis for Human Rights, etc., put that in your message. It will raise awareness of the diversity of views and, hopefully, change the nature of the debate in the media and Congress.
See the full text and video of his speech here.
This is not everything a Christian pacifist and nonviolent activist like myself could want, but it is a GREAT step in the right direction. He has adjusted the timeline: “Combat” troops out by August 2010; Residual force (mostly for training Iraqis) of 30-50,000 (seems large); ALL troops out by 2011–respecting the Status of Forces Agreement Bush made with Iraq. We’ve been in Iraq WAAAAY too long and if we in the peace movement can put pressure into stepping up the pace, we should. But ALL troops out is more than Obama would commit to as a candidate.
Some on the left and some peace folk are purists who are never satisfied when politicians make good steps. Others are “true believers” who never want to criticize their leader. I think both stances are a mistake. I have criticisms to make, but I want us to notice the good and celebrate it first:
- Obama was against the invasion of Iraq from the beginning. This is important to note because this marks a first in U.S. history: The very first time that a principled opponent of a particular war was elected president WHILE THAT WAR WAS STILL ONGOING–and while campaigning to end it.
- The economic crisis (recession, depression–who knows) helps him work to end it–we simply cannot afford this war any longer.
- The phase out will involve the United Nations and the surrounding countries–a huge change from Bush’s “go it alone” policies.
- Honoring the SOFU with Iraq, honoring Iraqi sovereignty, is a major step in rebuilding our compliance with international law.
- Obama’s withdrawal timetable now has the support of McCain and other Republicans! I know, this surprised me, too, especially since McCain spent the entire general election campaign last year calling Obama “naive” on foreign policy and suggesting that he wouldn’t care if we were in Iraq 100 years! But this bi-partisan support–even if the number of GOP supporters is few–will make it harder for the rightwing hawks (in and out of the military) to pressure Obama into slowing down the withdrawal or stopping it–or make political hay out of his keeping this campaign pledge.
- On the other hand, both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are expressing concern about the number of residual troops in Iraq and the speed of withdrawal. This is also good news on several levels: It shows Congress reasserting itself as a separate and EQUAL branch of government again (per the Constitution, remember?) even with the same party in charge of both houses of Congress and the presidency. It also gives us allies in pushing for quicker, more complete withdrawal. (Pelosi noted in that interview that the House voted to end the Iraq war repeatedly in ’07 and ’08, but a timetable got out of the Senate only once and Bush vetoed it. She did not say why she then kept impeachment off the table–since that could have ended the war sooner.)
Now for the major criticism: As we are winding down Iraq, we are increasing troops in Afghanistan–and without much national or Congressional debate, with no timeline, no clearly defined mission. I have mentioned before that I believe Afghanistan could be for Obama what Vietnam was for LBJ–the Achilles’ heal that undoes much of the good he tries to do domestically. We need to Get Afghanistan Right! and that means recognizing that there is no military solution–even if there theoretically was one when Bush largely abandoned Afghanistan to invade Iraq–a nation uninvolved with al-Qaeda or 9/11 and which was no threat to us!
Watch the video, sign the petition, and contact your members of Congress to Rethink Afghanistan! New polling suggests that the American people want to find a way out of Afghanistan, too–certainly by 2012 at the very latest.
Meanwhile, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), points out that the country needs to get ready for the return of these vets. We already have too many homeless and jobless vets and these returning soldiers will be coming back into the worst economy in decades. We aren’t prepared for their return and MUST get that way, quickly.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East next week to begin work on peace in the region and between Palestine and Israel particularly. It is my hope that she lays the groundwork for a full Middle East Peace Summit by July–with full participation by the Arab League, the EU, the UN, the US, etc.–and with Pres. Obama front and center in this process. (A July date gives time for planning, is during Congressional recess so Obama can’t work on more of his domestic challenges just then, and is hopefully soon enough that the hawks of the new Israeli cabinet will not be able to sabatouge things. Hawks from other groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, however don’t seem to operate on a predictable timetablee. Much to pray about here!)
Overall, these are positive developments. Now, as peacemakers and persons of faith, let’s do our part to keep things moving in these directions.
Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work. Simon and Schuster, 2009.
Full disclosure: 1. Jimmy Carter is one of my heroes. I voted for him when I turned 18 and took his loss to a B-grade movie actor almost as hard as he did. 2. Like Carter, I have a deep passion for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine–a just peace.
Those biases do not blind me, however. I recognize that Carter was only an average president (you have to win reelection to have a chance at being a great president, even though second terms are usually much rougher than first ones). Since his good diplomatic skills abroad were not matched with an ability to get even his own party to cooperate domestically, perhaps Carter would have made a better Secretary of State than president. Even his human rights policy wasn’t perfect–if he hadn’t backed the Shah, perhaps the Iranian revolution would not have turned in an anti-Western direction and history would have been very different. Carter’s great record in his post-presidency cannot make up for the average job he did as president.
I also know that the odds are stacked against a Middle East peace deal. In fact, the odds have been getting worse since 2001: After the collapse of the Clinton-backed talks, Ariel Sharon deliberately provoked the Second (more violent) Intifada and Arafat and the Palestinians played right into that. Whereas the first Intifada had been led by a nonviolent wing (allthough the Western media focused on those, like the stone throwing youths, who broke nonviolent discipline), the 2nd Intifada centered on suicide bombers–many of them women! Then came the Likud election of Netanyahu and then Sharon and things got continually bloodier while Bush didn’t care. Then came the re-occupation of the West Bank, Arafat a prisoner in his own compound, civilian deaths skyrocketed and the suicide bombings increased. Then Israel built its “security fence,” a huge wall that ate up miles of Palestinian land and turned large sections of the West Bank into giant open air prisons. Plus the constant bulldozing of Palestinian homes. Then, after Arafat’s death, the Palestinians became frustrated with a weakened Fatah in charge of the Palestinian Authority and elected Hamas–which led to an ever worse situation. Civil war broke out in the Territories and Fatah claimed the West Bank and Hamas got Gaza. The Hamas rocket attacks (even if mostly missing any targets) were designed to provoke a disproportionate response and they succeeded–With the Israeli total war against Gaza. Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, Israeli politics takes a sharp turn to the FAR Right. For although the Kamida Party won the most votes, they don’t have enough to form a government, not even in coalition with Labor. So, Netanyahu and Likud will return to power in coalition with rightwingers so extreme (like Avigdor Liebermann) that even the ISRAELI press likens them to “Jewish fascists.” In such a context, can any peace plan be realistic?
When Carter promoted his book and plan on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (my favorite cable news program, hosted by the only out-lesbian in U.S. broadcast journalism–a young Rhodes scholar with a D.Phil. in political science from Oxford and a veteran of the liberal radio network, Air America–and a quirky sense of humor), Maddow asked him if the (then-upcoming) Israeli elections would make a difference in the chances for peace. He said that the particular cabinet would mean more, although he was clear that a Likud victory would be a setback. But Carter puts his hope in several facts which give us a window (but narrow one) for a lasting peace:
- Despite all the negative events and crimes on both sides, vast majorities on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide (upward of 80%) still favor a two-state peace solution. No matter who is in power in either side, those numbers MUST push them to peace–especially if the U.S. and Europe prods them.
- The basic shape of a successful, lasting peace deal has been agreed to IN PRINCIPLE by all parties since the late ’70s: The Israel-Palestine borders return to the pre-1967 ones (these are the only borders that have been recognized by international law); Israel removes the Jewish settlements from Palestine and either removes the wall or moves it BACK to the border, NOT cutting off any Palestinian land; Palestine is an unarmed state except for police/security forces; Palestine gets a seaport; Jerusalem is a shared city. These are agreed to by ALL the major parties–the question is how to get there.
- A major sticking point is the problem of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Carter suggests removing only about 85% of them, leaving the settlements just outside Jerusalem. IN RETURN, Israel would trade Palestine an equal amount of land, acre by acre, to create a corridor that connects the West Bank and Gaza, making Palestine a far more viable nation state.
- Another major sticking point is the “right of return.” When Israel was founded in 1948, and again during the 1967 war, thousands of Palestinians lost their homes–some of which had been owned for 2000 years. Under international law, such refugees and their descendants are entitled to return to those homes. But if ALL the Palestinians returned to homes in Israel, they would outnumber Jewish Israelis, making a Jewish state impossible. Carter suggests that Palestine could accept in its borders the majority of returnees. Others could be compensated monetarily for lost homes.
- A solution of this kind has been proposed for years. A few years ago, the Arab League sweetened the deal for Israel: IF they would agree to such a two-state peace, then EVERY MEMBER of the Arab League would not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but cease harboring pro-Palestinian terrorist groups and open FULL DIPLOMATIC relations with Israel. This is something Israel has wanted for over 50 years: It would greatly strengthen its security and economy. To date, only Egypt and Jordan, out of the Arab League, recognize Israel–and the recent Gaza war has led many in their publics to call for cutting off these diplomatic ties.
- There are Arabic citizens of Israel, not just in Palestine. Because Israel’s birthrate is low and Diaspora Jews no longer are moving to Israel, the high-birth Arab Israelis are threatening to soon outnumber the Jewish Israelis. This would be sped up considerably if Israel simply tried to annex the Palestinian territories. This would mean the death of a Jewish state. This demographic clock (which all in Israel know about) pushes even the most hawkish Israeli to try to find a peaceful two state solution before it runs out and demographics destroy the Israeli experiment as 50 plus years of war never could.
- There is also a clock for Palestine: the desperation and despair of the youth. The rise in suicide bombings is a sign of a lack of hope for the future. Between the settlements and the Israeli army, Palestine could soon find it impossible to HAVE a viable state.
- The Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, is very interested in a two-state peace. Obama did not reveal just HOW MUCH he was interested in this until after the election. During the campaign he said far more about the imperative of U.S. protection of Israel than he ever did about the rights of Palestinians. It is now clear that he was keeping the pro-Israel Right from using his concern for a Middle East peace as a “wedge issue” to win the election and put the hawkish McCain in the White House. But since the election, and even more since inauguration, Obama has signalled that U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations are changing: He placed his first presidential overseas phone call to the head of the Palestinian Authority. He appointed George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East peace. (Mitchell, a former U. S. Senator, was instrumental in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. He also has street cred with both Palestinians and Israelis.) Obama has warned Israel against more Jewish settlements in the territories–even threatening to cut off U.S. military support.
So, while making peace in the Holy Land will be hard, it is not impossible. Carter’s book is a step-by-step plan to get it done and he has been advising Obama on this since the election. And Carter, we remember, negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords which led directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty– not one line of which has ever been violated.
It seems to me that the level of distrust between Palestinians and Israelis is the major obstacle to peace–and requires outside intervention. The U.S. must be a major player not because of any U.S. peace virtues (if we even HAVE any) but because we are the one nation Israel CANNOT ignore–they depend heavily upon us for economic and military support. The European Union and the Arab League must be deeply involved because Palestinians need them.
Like Carter, I have deep faith-based reasons to care deeply about this: Christians are to be peacemakers; we have a sense of solidarity with Palestinian Christians–many of whose communities date back to the very first generation of Christians; we have a sense of solidarity with Jews because our faith is the daughter of Judaism; we have (or should have) a sense of solidarity with mainstream Muslims because ours is a sister faith. We want a peaceful land that is Holy to all 3 of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths. We won’t agree on whether Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God (God has no children, say Muslims and the Trinity is disguised polytheism say Jews), but we have much else in common and deep reasons to see peace come to the Holy Land. For Carter this is the cause of his life because he believes it is the very will of God.
But American citizens, whether or not they share anything like Carter’s religious reasons for working for Middle East peace, have deep reasons of self interest to push for success here. 1)The plight of the Palestinians is the NUMBER ONE recruiting tool for extremist, anti-Western Islamist groups that promote violence and terrorism. Some of them, like Hezbollah, are sincere, but many are simply cynically using the Palestinians for their own ends. In any case, a two-state peace robs these groups of their single biggest recruiting tool. It robs Hezbollah of a reason to exist! As Arab League nations said to then-Sec. of State Colin Powell in 2002 when he was trying to recruit allies for the invasion of Iraq–it would be better to make peace between Israel and Palestine. Such a peace is the single-biggest blow to Islamist terorists possible. 2) The U.S.’ apparent one-sided support for Israel channels this concern for the Palestinians into a hatred of America if such hatred were not there previously. 3) The Israel/Palestine fued and series of wars and crises is a drain on U.S. resources: in terms of the level of military support to Israel (our largest % of foreign aid, of all types, is military aid to Israel) and in terms of constant drain on our diplomatic resources. 4) The constant humanitarian crises in Palestine is also a drain on our resources–an economically stable and peaceful Palestine would not need such support from either Europe or the U.S. 5) We get a constant influx of Palestinian refugees into the United States–it’s amazing that none of the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs types don’t rail against this. Our already over stressed social safety net (whose strength was eroded by GOP fiscal priorities long before the current economic crisis) doesn’t need the added burden–and it is inevitable that a few extremists come in with the legitimate refugees. 6) A prosperous and peaceful Israel and Palestine could import U.S. exports, helping us get out of recession.
So, there are many compelling pragmatic as well as moral reasons to invest heavily in Middle East peace. It won’t be easy–and the recent Israeli elections are the biggest obstacle since the Palestinians elected Hamas! But it CAN be done–and Jimmy Carter’s book outlines the way forward.
UPDATE: Even as he is forming his government, new PM Netanyahu is telling reporters that he will work with Obama for peace with Palestine. While his past record should make us skeptical, we should also see this as a hopeful sign that even Netanyahu realizes that the political context has changed. Now, if only Obama will push all parties equally instead of returning to the usual U.S. carrot and stick policy: all carrots for Israel and all sticks for Palestine.
Grief and pain over what is happening in Gaza has kept me from posting much on this, but I could not omit a link to this tragic story. We must get a cease-fire, NOW, and re-start the peace process and invest heavily in getting a just peace (2 state solution) in the near future. Too many decades of occupation and resistance (often using terror tactics) have perpetuated this and too many lives have been lost. This needs to be front burner.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun and leader of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, has outlined a great Strategy to End the Israel/Palestine Struggle One and for All. I recommend it and hope it circulates widely–and I hope people keep emailing it to the Obama transition team and to Speaker Pelosi, Sen. Majority Leader Reid, their GOP counterparts in the Minority and your own representative and senators. Also, send it to your local papers.
I know Rabbi Lerner slightly and have long admired his writings and leadership among progressive religious leaders. (We have met at a meeting of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America in ’06 when he was a guest speaker and from 2 gatherings of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.) This outline is not new. It builds on his book, Healing Israel/Healing Palestine.
While we pray for peace, let us work for peace in concrete, practical ways like proposed here.
UPDATE: Brian Kaylor has an article on Ethics Daily that gives descriptions the Gaza crisis from Baptist leaders in the region, including the Baptist pastor who is the only Protestant minister in Gaza. I am sure descriptions from other church leaders in the region would be similarly at odds with the ultra-pro-Israel blindness of most U.S. Christians.
UPDATE II: Kaylor has another Ethics Daily article that shows how a factually inaccurate story on Baptist Press has spread to other Christian news sources. This kind of thing is why U.S. Christians (and Americans generally) are so ill-informed about the Middle East. Then they let their prior theological commitment to Israel at all costs color their interpretation of what is happening in any current crisis.
In the not-t00-distant future I want to write a major blog post on why I am so strongly in favor of URGENT action for a just 2-state peace in Israel-Palestine. I just can’t do it, now. I am too anguished to do more than pray.
Suffice it for now to say this: Until the mid-’80s, even after I became a pacifist, I was a zionistic, mostly uncritical supporter of Israel. My next door neighbors growing up were elderly Jews with numbers tattooed on their arms–Holocaust survivors. And my first young awareness of Middle East issues was shaped by the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes by PLO terrorists at the Olympic Summer Games in Munich. That shaped my views. I was convinced that all Palestinians were terrorists and that liberal failure to support any actions Israel took was due to anti-Semitism. Even after becoming a pacifist in ’83, I thought all the blame was on the “Arab” side.
It wasn’t until I started meeting Palestinian Christians in the mid’80s that my views began to change–as I realized how one-sided the U.S. media is. I still deplore Palestinian terrorism (or anyone else’s terrorism), but the state-sponsored terrorism of Israel, including starving whole peoples, should not get a free pass. The Israeli press does NOT give a free pass. If you go to the English-language sites of the major Israeli newspapers, you will find a huge range of views–hawks to doves to pro-Palestinians–views that would be suicide for any U.S. editor to allow. There is more debate in the Israeli Knessett (Parliament) than among U.S. politicians–who outdo themselves working to try to be more pro-Israeli and hawkish on Palestinians than others. This DEEPLY distorts U.S. views, especially those of U.S. Christians.
I would say more, but I can’t just now. I am worried for my friends the Awad family (Palestinian Baptist Christians who are leaders of the nonviolent movement that gets ZERO attention in the U.S. press) even though they live in the West Bank, not Gaza. If Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders would all travel to Gaza to be nonviolent human shields and call for a cease fire, maybe we could stop the madness. I am no religious leader, but I will volunteer to be in any such delegation. We cannnot wait for governments. We must act NOW!
UPDATE: Renewed violence in Gaza, with Israel targetting Hamas leaders (and, as usual, hitting numerous civilians along the way) and promising an incursion “that will not be short,” and Hamas launching retaliatory rockets and calling for a renewal of suicide bomb attacks, calls such as these are needed more than before. Religious and other peace leaders from around the globe need to converge on Israel-Palestine and put themselves in harm’s way an unarmed human shields in order to stop the madness. We cannot have half-measures nor handwringing, but need bold, nonviolent action–NOW!
As Bob Cornwall notes, Christians from many denominations have written an open letter to U.S. president-elect Barack Obama calling for strong action in the new year for Middle East peace. The letter was generated by one of my favorite organizations, Christians for a Middle East Peace. You can add your signature here. Let me add: These are the kind of efforts Christians should be known for–and not just at Christmastide! Hopefully, this is a sign of far more peace and justice activity by U.S. Christians in the coming year–not gay bashing, warmongering, neglecting the environment or the poor, etc., but promoting peace and justice–and challenging elected officials to do more of the same. The text and initial signatories appear below:
The Honorable Barack Obama
President-elect of the United States
Presidential Transition Team
Washington, DC 20270
Dear President-elect Obama,
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long. It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists.
As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible. Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support a negotiated solution based on two secure and sovereign states as the best way to end this tragic conflict.
In order to achieve a durable peace, your Administration must provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final status agreement. Building on past discussions, we ask you to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace. [Emphasis added by MLW-W]
Your commitment to working for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel can help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. We believe that Jerusalem – home to two peoples and three religions – has the potential to become a powerful symbol of hope and coexistence for people across the region and the world.
We know the work for a just peace will not be easy. It will require great courage and resolve, but the risk of inaction is even greater. Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult. Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline.
We call on all Christians and people of goodwill to join us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and in supporting vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure Middle East peace. Mr. President, as you take up the many challenges facing the United States and the global community, we urge you to work for a better future for all the children of Abraham in the land that is holy to us all.
Rev. Fr. Mark Arey
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
The Most Rev. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of
Rt. Rev. Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in North America
Eastern University, St. Davids, PA
Sr. J. Lora Dambroski, OSF
President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Sr. Donna Graham, OSF
President, English Speaking Conference JPIC Council
Franciscan Friars (OFM)
President, Catholic Relief Services
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Minister for Mission and Ecumenism, Alliance of Baptists
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the
National Association of Evangelicals
Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim
Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church
for the Eastern USA
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
Reverend John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, The American Baptist Churches, USA.
Richard J. Mouw
President, Fuller Theological Seminary
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today
Stanley J. Noffsinger
Church of the Brethren
Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer
President, The Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church, (USA)
Very Rev. Thomas Picton, CSsR
President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Dr. Tyrone Pitts
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Bob Roberts, Jr.
Pastor, NorthWood Church, Keller, TX
Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding
Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba)
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
Rolando L. Santiago
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church
Dr. Chris Seiple
President, Institute for Global Engagement
Robert A. Seiple
Former Ambassador-at-Large for
International Religious Freedom
Ronald J. Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action
President, World Vision, United States
The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Constantine M. Triantafilou
Executive Director and CEO
International Orthodox Christian Charities
Friends Committee on National Legislation
The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Right Rev. John F. White
Ecumenical and Urban Affairs Officer
African Methodist Episcopal Church
American Christians nationwide are invited to add their names to the leaders’ call for Holy Land peace.
Deadline is Jan. 16, 2009.
Pres. Bush plans to call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference–but only wants to invite parties he considers “moderates” (but that won’t rule out the rightwing Likud Party in Israel!). That’s not going to work. We need all affected parties to have a stake in making the process work. So, a number of organizations have begun a petition to the U.S. Congress to call for a more comprehensive international conference for Middle East Peace. To read the petition, view current signatories, and/or sign yourself, click here.
As Sami Awad notes on his blog, Never Give Up, the nonviolent resistance of the West Bank town of Bil’in has met with a victory. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the so-called “security fence” (apartheid wall) must change its route and NOT cut off Bil’in from its farmland. Of course, the entire wall needs to come down and a two state solution must be negotiated soon. But it is this kind of nonviolent resistance, along with international pressure, which will create this new future. I hope those Palestinians who prefer violent resistance note this victory–a victory not one by Hamas’ methods. I also hope Israelis noticed and learned.
Many Palestinians in Bil’in were injured by Israeli soldiers during the nonviolent resistance. They must have been tempted to strike back. I am so glad they resisted not only the soldiers, but also their own impulses. Nonviolence takes discipline and courage and a willingness to suffer.
Pray for villagers of Bil’in and for a swift end to this wall.