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Counterpoint: United Church defends a controversial report on the Middle East (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) David Giuliano 05/15/12)Source: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/15/counterpoint-united-church-defends-a-controversial-report-on-the-middle-east/ NATIONAL POST NATIONAL POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The United Church Working Group’s report on Israel/Palestine policy has raised significant debate and some misunderstanding — including in this newspaper (“Church to vote on Israel boycott,” National Post news story, May 2; and “How the Israel-haters lost,” National Post editorial, May 2).

As chair of the working group, I recognize that there are many strong opinions related to the issues addressed in our report. Over the past two years we met with countless Canadians, Israelis and Palestinians, all of whom are passionate about the views they hold.

Dignity for all the people of the region is a core theme for the policy directions in the report. It is also what has led to a significant and regrettable misunderstanding.

The concept of dignity, as used by the working group, goes to the heart of our understanding of human identity as people cherished, loved and called by God, and who have an innate right to respect and justice.

The report’s focus on dignity challenges what is referred to as the “new” anti-semitism, which seeks to undermine and delegitimize the State of Israel. It also informs the report’s advice that applying the language of apartheid to Israel should be avoided.

Dignity is the cornerstone of the United Church’s continued affirmation of Israel as a Jewish state, which the report understands as “a homeland for Jewish people, and a democratic state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender.”

Dignity is also the principle behind our critique of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. To be very clear, the report does not recommend a boycott of Israel.

The call to respect the dignity of both peoples is also found in the section of the report that upholds the Palestinian Right of Return as an internationally recognized human right that needs to be resolved through negotiation in such a way that protects the demographic integrity of Israel.

The report takes seriously the threats that have been part of Israel’s reality from the beginning; the history of war, suicide bombings, the present acts of violence such as rockets fired from Gaza, the loss of Israeli life, and the stated desire of a number of nearby regimes to eliminate the State of Israel altogether.

The report makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Israeli settlements. It also takes seriously that there is a military occupation, the longest such occupation in living memory. It is an occupation that the working group and many others in the United Church and beyond have seen first-hand and know to be harsh and oppressive.

It is here that the call to respect the dignity of Palestinians becomes central. To demonize Palestinians is wrong. To suggest that the occupation is the Palestinians’ fault is unjust. To dismiss as merely “unfortunate” their stories and suffering, the loss of life and land, inadequate supplies of water, the destruction of olive groves, the demolition of houses, the separation of families, and much more is a profound assault on human dignity.

To claim that Palestinians are a manufactured people with no claim to the land is false. To do so flies in the face of international law and the national policies of many countries, including Canada, which clearly state the reality of the occupation and the illegality of the settlements.

In other words, the report takes seriously what is undisputed by most countries in the world — that there is an occupation, that the Green Line does exist, and that the settlements are violations of international law. Because of these realities, the report recommends economic action against settlement products.

The working group is very concerned to see its focus on human dignity interpreted, as it has been by some, as a diminishment of the profound atrocity of the Holocaust. We recognize that the wording used in this section of our report has led to misunderstanding our intent, and we deeply regret that. The report will be edited to address this concern and to ensure that this misunderstanding does not detract from the report’s recommendations. This revision, and any other editorial corrections that may be needed, will be made before the report is submitted to our governing body, the General Council, for decision in August. The complete text of the working group’s report is available at Gc41.ca/background-material.

National Post

The Very Rev. David Giuliano is immediate past moderator of The United Church of Canada. (© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. 05/15/12)


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