GA approves ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ report on Middle East
Bolbach says action taken on MESC document was ‘Presbyterians at our best’
The 219th General Assembly approved the recommendation of the Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee on Friday regarding the report “Breaking Down the Walls,” which spotlights the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The full Assembly action followed a unanimous decision by the committee to accept an amended version of the report, which came to it from the GA Middle East Study Committee (MESC).
The was a lot of heat coming in regarding this report, Cindy Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly, told members of the press gathered Friday. The committee worked hard to find an avenue on which the Assembly could agree, she said.
The action taken was “Presbyterians at our best,” said Bolbach.
The Assembly took its vote after hearing from committee moderator the Rev. Karen Dimon and various commissioners who rose to speak.
The committee was aware that the views of the church on this issue are diverse and passionate, Dimon told the Assembly. And the committee represented “a wide range of those views,” she added.
Yet I stand witness to “the Holy Spirit working in our committee,” said Dimon.
Among the amendments the committee made to the original MESC report were those calling for the Assembly to:
- Receive Part One of the MESC report, which contains eight individual letters to the ecumenical and interfaith community, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans, as rationale for recommendations only, not as policy.
- Reaffirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders.
- Authorize the creation of a seven-person monitoring group on the Middle East for the next two years. The group shall include at least one but no more than two members of the existing MESC.
- Commend for study the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) and endorse the document’s emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy and reconciliation. The Assembly lifts up for study the often-neglected voice of Palestinian Christians and directs the monitoring group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document.
- Call on the Israeli and Egyptian governments to limit their blockade of Gaza to military equipment and devices and to guarantee adequate levels of food, medicine, building supplies and other humanitarian supplies and to allow free commercial exchange in and out of Gaza. The Assembly would call on the United States government to end support for the blockade that interferes with the adequacy or exchange of such items.
- Delete a majority of Part Three – study materials to be used by individuals, groups and churches for further study – and ask the monitoring group to replace it with eight comparable narratives arising from “authentically” Palestinian (Christian and Muslim) and Israeli perspectives that are pro-justice and pro-peace. The appendices in the MESC report would remain.
Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly (2004), spoke on the Assembly floor on behalf of ten former Moderators who celebrate the unanimous vote of the committee.
“God’s healing presence has been at work,” said Ufford-Chase, executive director of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.
Additionally, the General Assembly used the action taken on the MESC report as their answer to other related items of business, so that neither of these items were approved:
- Call on the PC(USA) to defer from taking any positions or making policy statements on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- Call for the recognition that Israel’s laws, policies and practices constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people. The committee added the comment: “While we are deeply concerned with the policies implemented by Israel in relation to the Palestinian territories and Palestinians under its jurisdiction, we believe that dialogue is hampered by words like ‘apartheid.’”
The Assembly approved the item seeking compliance to U.S. government policy in the use of military aid in Israel and Palestine.