Thursday, March 10, 2011

The World Council of Churches: What Does It Really Care about Palestinian Christians?

by Malcolm F. Lowe

Ostensibly, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is very much concerned for the well-being of Palestinian Christians. In practice, however, as an ardent promoter of the Palestinian aspirations, the WCC is most evidently interested in the mobilization of Palestinian Christians for that cause -- cost what it may for Palestinian Christians themselves.

The WCC's Jerusalem offshoot, the :Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre," [JIC] with a local Christian, Yusuf Daher, as its executive secretary was instrumental in the creation of the so-called Kairos Palestine Document in December 2009. Although it claims to be "the Christian Palestinians' word to the world about what is happening in Palestine," according to its dedicated website, it is, in fact, a pseudo-theological justification for worldwide campaigns of Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel in the name of "Christian love," its authors were a number of low-level clerics and laity, including Daher himself, together with a familiar has-been (former Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah) and an archbishop who was recently (2007) disciplined by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The only genuine church leader listed among the authors was Arab Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, but he hastily called for his signature to be removed.

A few days later in December 2009, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem published a brief reaction to the document in which they avoided its inflammatory language. They appealed, on the one hand, for political leaders to redouble peace efforts and, on the other, for the local Christians to concentrate on building up their communities. This was obviously a delicate attempt to steer the faithful away from dragging the churches into political confrontations. But the WCC rushed to claim that the Heads of Churches had endorsed this call for BDS. The dedicated website thereupon combined the two documents into one, such that the unwary reader gets the impression that the campaign for BDS was an initiative from the highest levels of the local churches. In this form, the WCC promoted the document all over the world.

With all this promotion of Palestinian interests, for which unlimited funds seem to be available, the WCC seems never to have asked itself a simple question. Could it have a negative impact on the local churches themselves in their dealings with Israel?

Consider a few basic facts. First, there are three or four times as many Arab Christians living in the State of Israel as under the Palestinian Authority (PA). Second, a large number of other Christians immigrated to Israel in recent years as family members of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Third, the jurisdictions of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem include Israel as well as the PA territories. Fourth, there are all kinds of ways in which a good relationship with the Israeli important for the churches: tax exemptions, help for their schools and other charitable activities, the procurement of visas for expatriate clergy to come and work in the local churches, etc.

None of this matters for the WCC in its relentless systematic creation of instruments of pro-Palestinian agitation. Moreover, it claims to do this in the name of all the world's Christians, excepting only the Catholics. With the Kairos Palestine Document, it has succeeded in branding even the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem as proponents of BDS.

So is it just a coincidence that during the last ten years, in which the WCC started all the above-mentioned initiatives, the local churches are encountering increasing problems in their dealings with Israeli institutions? Take the issue of residence permits. Obtaining visas for expatriates has definitely got more difficult. In the year since the WCC began promoting the Kairos Palestine Document, however, a new phenomenon has appeared: Palestinian Christians whose origins are in the West Bank have been losing residence permits to be in Jerusalem.

This is the context in which Ecumenical News International recently disseminated a report about the most prominent such case, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani. The report appears, e.g., here.

The bishop's residence permit in Jerusalem was revoked in connection with a land deal in which he was alleged to have sold Jewish-owned land to a Palestinian. The bishop denies involvement in any such deal, irrespective of whether his name was invoked. For its part, the Israeli Interior Ministry has denied that it is seeking to expel the bishop, but insists that the matter must be clarified in court.

It does seem, however, that the ministry is taking a harder line than was customary in the past in dealing with a Head of Church in Jerusalem. All the more so, as there are elements in the Palestinian Anglican Church that have an interest in giving Bishop Suheil a bad name, by whatever means. Since he entered office in 2007, he himself has been pursuing a case in the Israeli courts against his predecessor, who is alleged to have misappropriated church property and income.

The WCC is the main sponsor also of the Geneva-based ENI and this ENI report consists mainly of an interview with none other than Yusuf Daher, the WCC's man in Jerusalem. Not that any of them would ask themselves whether chickens sometimes come home to roost.

The WCC therefore sponsors the "Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum" (PIEF), which it describes as "a platform that rallies churches together enabling them to coordinate their efforts and initiatives for a just peace in Palestine-Israel." Its "aim is to bring an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine in accordance with UN resolutions, and demonstrate commitment for inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all the peoples of the region."

As an instrument for this purpose, the WCC set up the JIC; its most important function is defined as "the centre's contribution to the implementation of the international community's long-standing plans for a peaceful and equitable resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as expressed through the United Nations." To this end, the JIC "hosts the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as a much-needed local-global accompaniment program."

As for the EAPPI, it "brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions." Existing since October 2001, this WCC scheme has already trained hundreds of agitators for the Palestinian cause in churches all round the world.

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Malcolm F. Lowe

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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