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Conflict in Israel-Palestine reaches unprecedented levels

PC(USA) and global partners call for the cessation of violence

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

On Tuesday, pockets of violence erupted in Bethlehem. (Photo by Douglas Dicks)

LOUISVILLE — As violence continues to ignite between Israel and Palestine, hopes for an immediate de-escalation of the conflict grow dim.

Communities there are seeing the worst violence since 2017. Air strikes cause growing devastation and death. Israel plans to evict families from homes in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Israeli police and Palestinian protestors clash daily.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) urgently called on Israel’s government to enable humanitarian supplies and its staff timely access to Gaza in accordance with its obligations under international law. UNRWA is concerned that Israel has not permitted the evacuation of eight non-essential UN staff. While the Kerem Shalom Crossing was temporarily opened Tuesday for the first time since the beginning of hostilities, only five of the 24 humanitarian trucks scheduled for that day entered Gaza; no food entered.

UNRWA reported that extensive military strikes have caused damage to the central laboratory for COVID testing in Gaza and solar panels on UNRWA schools. In addition, there appears to be an unexploded deep-buried bomb in one of UNRWA’s schools.

Tuesday’s edition of Haaretz, Israel’s leading newspaper. (Photo by Douglas Dicks)

Also Tuesday, Palestinians called for a general strike by the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel to protest the ongoing violence. The strike was backed by the Lawyers Syndicate, the General Union of Teachers and the Higher Committee of the Public Transportation.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has asked for prayers for a just and equitable solution to the current situation and for international community to intervene to ensure that international humanitarian law be applied to the occupied Palestinian Territories.

In his May 13 statement, Nelson said, “No country can, nor should, tolerate random acts of violence against its citizens by those wishing to take the law into their own hands. Yet one cannot ignore the structures that currently exist in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, where a well-orchestrated, planned and calculated system has been engineered to subject one group of people to a system that has now been likened to apartheid, while allowing another group of people to dominate.”

He called on Congress and the current U.S. administration to take a more active role in calming the unrest and to urge a more proactive role in the future in helping to resolve — not just manage — the conflict that continues to divide Israelis and Palestinians.

Mission co-worker Douglas Dicks, who has lived and worked in the Holy Land for more than 20 years, said the level of violence he is seeing is unprecedented.

“The sheer hatred and outright rage that both peoples are visiting upon one another, especially in what was considered the ‘mixed cities,’ where Arab and Jewish co-existence was by and large accepted and tolerated, has been shocking,” Dicks said. “But the thin veneer of tolerance and co-existence has now been exposed. Individuals and gangs have been taking the law into their own hands, carrying out extreme acts of hatred and violence towards the other. It’s as if a civil war has erupted in the streets. People are shocked and frightened as this situation continues to unfold and play itself out.”

The al-Aqsa Mosque, with the Mount of Olives in the background, at right. (Photo by Douglas Dicks)

A major incident igniting the conflict happened at the al-Aqsa Mosque, where Palestinians were confronted by Israeli police while worshiping during the holy month of Ramadan. Tensions had already mounted over the planned expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to make room for Israeli settlements, illegal under international law.

Roni Ben Efrat, an Israeli colleague of Dicks who lives in Tel Aviv and works with PC(USA) global partners Sindyanna of Galilee and Maan, said in a posting that all her adult life she has been warned of this moment.

“We don’t have the luxury to stop struggling for reason and justice,” she wrote recently. “We struggle not because we are sure we will win, but because we have no choice. This cannot be a zero-sum game! A source of hope comes from Washington, where a serious attempt is under way to mend the fabric of American society. We too have years of injustice to mend.”

The interior of the al-Aqsa Mosque. (Photo by Douglas Dicks)

In a recent PC(USA) webinar, Hagai El-Ad, executive director of B’Tselem بتسيلم בצלם – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories said:

“There is a single principle that this regime applies everywhere under its control and that principle is one of advancing and solidifying the supremacy of one group of people over another. So, on one hand we have demographic parity, but the regime manages the reality here that enshrines and perpetuates the supremacy of one-half of the population over the other. That is the reality we have been living with. And there’s a word to describe this reality and that is apartheid.”

This photo depicts multiple tear gas cannisters being fired upon Palestinians in Bethlehem. (Photo by Douglas Dicks)

According to Reuters News Service, which cites Gaza medical officials, 215 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children and 36 women, and more than 1,400 wounded. Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children. Gaza is a densely packed strip of ground with more than two million residents.

PCUSA global partner Sindyanna of Galilee is a unique nonprofit organization led by a team of Arab and Jewish women working to create social change from the ground up. They too are pleading for peace.

“In this dark time of violence and hatred that sweeps our country, the Arab and Jewish women of Sindyanna are committed to our unity and are resolved more than ever to fight for humanity and sisterhood beyond national and religious borders,” the organization said in a statement. “We feel stronger in this position with your friendship, the solidarity of our fair-trade movement, and the support of our partners and friends around the globe.”

The PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. is asking Presbyterians to write their representatives and ask for a cessation of all violence using some of the following language.

“I urge you to take action to end U.S. complicity in the continued violation of Palestinian human rights by supporting the passage of H.R. 2590 introduced by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, which calls for the promotion and protection of the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.”

 The full text of H.R. 2590 can be found here.

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