Archive for April, 2012

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to want.” Proverbs 22:16 (RSV)

Congregants prepare frond crosses for Palm Sunday in the Church of Saint Porphyrius, Gaza, Palestine

Congregants prepare frond crosses for Palm Sunday in the Church of Saint Porphyrius, Gaza, Palestine (Photo: Joe Catron)

As delegates to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2012 debate whether it is good and proper for their tithes and offering to sustain military contractors directly responsible for the subjugation, displacement, and killing of their fellow human beings in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and elsewhere, perhaps some will benefit from Wesley’s thoughts on the divestment struggle of his day:

Where is the justice of inflicting the severest evils on those that have done us no wrong? of depriving those that never injured us in word or deed, of every comfort of life? of tearing them from their native country, and depriving them of liberty itself … ?

You stumble at the threshold; I deny that villany is ever necessary. It is impossible that it should ever be necessary for any reasonable creature to violate all the laws of justice, mercy, and truth …

“Why, it is necessary to my gaining an hundred thousand pounds.” Perhaps so: But how is this necessary? It is very possible you might be both a better and a happier man, if you had not a quarter of it. I deny that your gaining one thousand is necessary either to your present or eternal happiness …

Better no trade, than trade procured by villany. It is far better to have no wealth, than to gain wealth at the expense of virtue. Better is honest poverty, than all the riches bought by the tears, and sweat, and blood, of our fellow-creatures.

John Wesley, “Thoughts upon Slavery” (1774)

Having spent most of my life in Hopewell, Virginia’s Wesley United Methodist Church before joining an Episcopal church in New York (and attending Gaza’s Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius today), I struggle to explain to my Palestinian friends of multiple faiths why American Christians traffic so cheaply in their tears, and sweat, and blood. Make me proud, UMC. Wesley’s vision was broad, comprehensive, and demanding:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

By comparison, this one’s practically a freebie. You face a simple question: Should a Christian denomination fund the infliction of misery and death on other people? Please don’t get the answer wrong.

Desmond Tutu knows it from experience. The Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and veteran leader of his own country’s anti-apartheid movement has entered the debate with an impassioned appeal calling church divestment from occupation profiteers “a moral position that I have no choice but to support, especially since I know of the effect that Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions had on the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

 

An earlier, oft-quoted statement by His Grace might also shed some light:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Another saint of the modern church, Martin Luther King Jr., similarly said:

I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.

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Following a weekly sit-in by the families of Palestinian political prisons inside Gaza’s International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), hundreds rallied outside to welcome former administrative detainee and hunger striker Hana Shalabi to Gaza.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

Shalabi, age 30, was exiled to the besieged Gaza Strip from her home in Burqin, Jenin for three years by Israel, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and following Israel’s denial of her access to legal counsel and medical advice, as part of an agreement ending her 43-day hunger strike.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

After her arrival, Shalabi told government officials, “I am in my country and among my family.” Today’s rally illustrated the broad support she and her hunger strike enjoy in Gaza, with visible participation by every major Palestinian party.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

In addition to praising Shalabi’s struggle against administrative detention and denouncing her exile, speakers addressed the urgent need to build Palestinian and international support for Ahmad Al-Hajj Ali, a 72-year-old Member of Parliament and administrative detainee now on the 14th day of his hunger strike, and to mobilize on April 17, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

As hundreds of Palestinians pressed toward the Beit Hanoun crossing Friday, braving Israeli gunfire that resulted in the death of 20-year-old Mahmoud Zaqout and the injuries of at least 30 others, thousands more rallied behind them, marking Land Day as part of the Global March to Jerusalem.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

Land Day is an annual commemoration of the Israeli state’s killing of six Palestinian citizens, who had joined a general strike protesting its expropriation of Palestinian land in the Galilee for “security and settlement purposes,” on March 30, 1976.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

This year it was marked by both a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Global Day of Action, held in Gaza and dozens of other locations, and the Global March to Jerusalem. The March drew tens of thousands of Palestinians and residents of neighboring countries to demand an end to displacement and racially discriminatory laws, access to Jerusalem and the protection of sacred sites, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

Before the Gaza event, dozens of its staff joined the midday jumu’ah prayer following an adhan broadcast from the empty stage.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

As buses began to arrive, both the stage and the area around it filled quickly, with the crowd eventually stretching further than the eye could see.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

International participants included supporters from Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Indonesia.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

Palestinians represented every age, background, and walk of life.

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)

(Photo: Joe Catron)