Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Praying for those in Authority

I have just returned from a week in Amman. Besides making several presentations on the Middle East conflict, I met Jordanian, Palestinian, Iraqi and expat Christians ranging from members of the Jordanian Parliament to clergy, NGO staff and refugees. They had one thing in common: a dread of what is happening in Syria and fear that it may spread to Jordan.

They were also unanimous in apportioning the blame. While none exonerated Syrian President Assad of some responsibility for the bloodshed,  they lay the primary blame on Saudi Arabia and Qatar for funding, training and equipping foreign mercenaries.

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent yesterday, warns of the consequences for the minorities in Syria and especially the Christians: For the minorities, even neutrality is unsafe

So today, amid Aleppo's torment, let us remember minorities. The Palestinians of Syria, more than half a million of them, and the 1.5 million Christians – the largest number of whom live in Aleppo – who are Syrian citizens and who now sit on the edge of the volcano.

Neither wish to "collaborate" with Bashar al-Assad's regime. But remaining neutral, you end up with no friends at all. You didn't have to sell a loaf of bread to a Nazi in occupied France to be a collaborator. But you were, to use an old German expression, "helping to give the wheel a shove". No, Bashar al-Assad is not Hitler, but God spare the Palestinians and the Christians of Syria during these terrible times...

The Christians are citizens of Syria whose religion certainly does not reflect a majority in any anti-Assad force. Bashar's stability – somewhat at doubt just now, to be sure – is preferable to the ghastly unknowns of a post-Assad regime. There are 47 churches and cathedrals in the Aleppo region alone. The Christians believe that Salafists fight amid the rebels. They are right.

Lessons for them, too. When that famous born-again Christian George W. Bush sent his legions into Iraq in 2003, the savage aftermath smashed one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East – the Iraqi Christians – to pieces. The Christian Coptic Pope Shenouda of Egypt supported his protector Mubarak until just two days before the dictator's downfall; Egypt's Muslims remember this. So what can the Christians of Syria do?
When the Maronite patriarch of Lebanon, the uninspiring Bechara Rai, said after the start of the Syrian uprising that Bashar should be given "more time", he enraged his country's Sunni Muslims.

But watch Syrian television and it's easy to cringe at the Christian performance.

Last week, it was the turn of the Maronite Bishop of Damascus to address Syrians. His first words? He wished to thank Syrian state television for allowing him to speak. He said how much Christians honoured Ramadan, how they learned to reinvigorate their own faith from that of Muslims in their holy month – a perfectly reasonable statement, though one clearly made when most of the good bishop's flock stand in fear of those very same Muslims.
And then came the killer line. At the end of his sermon, the bishop gave his blessing to all Syria's "civilians, officials and soldiers". The "officials", of course, were Bashar's officials. And the soldiers were the regime's soldiers. I suppose we might turn to the old Christian advice of rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. Another reminder: Bashar al-Assad is not Caesar.

But a Lebanese Christian writer got it right when he suggested that Syria's Christians were probably following the advice of Saint Paul (1 Timothy 2:1): "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made to all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…" And who but Bashar, for now, is the "authority" in Syria?
 Read his full article here

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Plight of Christians in Syria

Middle East Concern have published this update on the plight of Christians in Syria.
Syrian Christians have requested our prayers concerning the continuing violence in their country. 
Thousands of Syrians, including large numbers of Christians, have fled from their homes, especially in the Homs and Hama governorates and more recently Damascus and Aleppo. 
There have been reports of the targeting of Christians by both government and opposition sides. 
Several prominent Syrian Christians have been killed recently, including Defence Minister General Dawoud Rajha (assassinated in an attack on the National Security Offices in Damascus on 18th July) and Brigader-General Nabil Zougheib (assassinated along with his wife and son at their home in a Christian neighbourhood of Damascus on 21st July). 
Most Church leaders point out that any such targeting is not religiously motivated but is either politically motivated or is criminal activity for economic gain. Many Christians fear that radical Islamist groups are becoming more influential, and that this may lead to increased hostility towards Christians and other minorities. They fear that they may become more vulnerable to criminal activity, including kidnapping-for-ransom incidents. 
Throughout the ongoing unrest, Syrian Christians have faced a dilemma of allegiance. 
They regard the current regime as having been a protector for many years and fear that any replacement regime is likely to prove more hostile. Yet along with others in Syria, they know that open allegiance to either the government or to the opposition could bring retaliation from the other side. 
Syrian Christians request our prayers that: 
a. Christians will know the protection of the Father, the inner peace of Jesus and the daily guidance of the Spirit
b. Church leaders will know the Spirit’s guidance concerning public worship and private pastoral support of their congregations
c. The bereaved, wounded and traumatised will know the comfort, presence and healing touch of Jesus
d. There will be an end to violence by all parties, and that a just resolution and constructive reform will follow
e. Many will know the love and forgiveness of Jesus
f. In the long term, there will be greater religious freedom for all citizens.
Why on earth is the so called Christian West cooperating with Wahhabists and Salafist extremists to fund and train foreign mercenaries from Iraq and Libya in order to topple the Syrian government? If successful the outcome will be the destruction of the Christian community in Syria and the partition of the country. In whose interests is that?

Source: Middle East Concern

See also those interviews with Syrian Christian leaders:

Revd Haroutune Silimian

And an article by the Barnabas Fund critical of the treatment of Christians by the insurgents entitled, A Christian Family's plight in Syria

Comedian settles slander case with Palestinian grocer he labeled ‘terrorist’

On Sunday, Al Arabiya reported the case brought by a Christian grover from  Bethlehem against Baron Cohen for slander.

British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen has reached a settlement with an innocent Palestinian grocer whom he portrayed as a terrorist in his 2009 movie ‘Bruno,’ according to reports on Friday. 
Britain’s The Daily Mail reported that Ayman Abu Aita brought a slander suit against the movie star and against late night talk show host David Letterman.
In the comedy, Baron Cohen plays Austrian fashion journalist Bruno - aiming to make peace in the Middle East.
He interviews Abu Aita, who is labeled in a caption as a member of the West Bank-based militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.
Baron Cohen then went on the talk show with Letterman on U.S. TV channel CBS to describe his encounter with a ‘terrorist.’
A Christian and ‘a peace-loving person’ who lives near Bethlehem in the West Bank, Abu Aita has never been a part of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade or participated in any terrorist activity, according to his court complaint papers.
The Palestinian grocer said he agreed to the interview that appeared in ‘Bruno’ thinking that he will be discussing peace activism with a real journalist, the complaint further read.
The response from Baron Cohen and Letterman’s attorneys was that free speech rights protected the statements about Abu Aita in both the film and on the talk show.
Abu Aita’s ‘name or likeness was used in a newsworthy context in a documentary-style movie that conveys matters of legitimate public interest,’ Baron Cohen's lawyers said in papers filed last year.
Abu Aita said the movie prompted death threats against him, damaged his grocery business and made him fear for the safety of his family.
The suit sought millions of dollars in damages.
On Thursday, Abu Aita’s lawyer Peter Drennan said “the case is settled to the mutual satisfaction” of everyone involved.
Drennan however refused to disclose the terms of the deal. 
Comedian Baron Cohen is known for crafting outlandish characters and he often tricks people into interviews to film their reactions to his antics.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Syria: The Next Yugoslavia or maybe Somalia?

In Time this week there is an article on Syria’s Risky Arms Race,. Simon Shuster concludes with this pessimistic quote.
Part of the reason the West has not been willing to give the rebels heavy artillery is that if Assad is overthrown, "it's going to be ugly," says Joseph Holliday, a Syria expert at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. "No one really wants to precipitate a war right now. For those reasons you'll see a continued proxy conflict — the Gulf states vs. Russia and Iran, and the U.S. trying to play referee."
So until all sides can agree on a better option, the arms race in Syria is likely to continue — for this war and, perhaps even more worrying, for one yet to start. Abu Saddam, the Lebanese arms dealer, says his clients in Syria are stockpiling weapons not as much to overthrow Assad as to prepare for the carnage that his downfall would initiate. "That will be the real battle," he says. "The FSA will want to take control, the Salafists will want to take control, the Muslim Brotherhood will want to take control, and the CIA, the Saudis and the KGB will want a say in what happens. Libya and Iraq? They will be nothing compared to what will happen in Syria once Bashar falls."
Read more

Episcopal Church in Amman: 26-29 July

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Dome of the Rock and the Third Temple

Daud Abdullah asks in a MEMO article entitled, Israel ignites the tinderbox of religious conflict

"Has the struggle for occupied Jerusalem finally revealed its religious character? The recent claim by Israel's Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, that Al-Asqa Mosque is part of Israeli territory has drawn unprecedented condemnation from across the Islamic world. His assertion that Islam's third holiest mosque should be subject to Israeli law, including antiquities laws and laws regarding building and planning was seen as an obscene provocation. This twist marks a dangerous escalation by the Netanyahu government in an atmosphere already charged with rage and tension.
Surely, Weinstein's remarks did not emerge from a vacuum, nor were they coincidental. During the 2000 Camp David peace talks, Ehud Barak, the then Israeli Prime Minister and his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat, discussed for the first time the status of occupied east Jerusalem and its holy sites. Arafat famously rejected the Clinton proposal to divide the city so that Israel would have sovereignty in the area below the Aqsa sanctuary (Haram al Sharif) while the Muslims would have sovereignty over what is above. The talks collapsed and very soon after the Aqsa Intifada erupted.

On the face of it, Weinstein's remarks betray an Israeli attempt to exploit regional uncertainties. The Israelis believe that the neighbouring Arab states - Egypt, Syria and Jordan - are so preoccupied with their domestic political challenges that they have no time for Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa Mosque."
He suggests,
"Israel's obvious aim is to test the waters to see the public reaction and then proceed in accord with its customary stealth approach in such matters. Palestinians have long maintained that Israel's ultimate objective is to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque and build upon its ruins the so-called Third Temple. Everything they witness on the ground suggests that Israel is moving in this direction."
Read the article here

This is what Christians United for Israel have done to the Dome of the Rock...

See also The Coming Last Day's Temple: Read to Rebuild? 

The Jewish Temple in Contemporary Christian Zionism in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Contemporary Biblical Theology by Desmond Alexander and Simon Gathercole

and Richard Bartholomew's CUFI Nights

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Jane Moxon on Reconciliation in the Middle East

Jane Moxon visited Christ Church, Virginia Water and spoke about the history of CMJ - the Churches Ministry Among Jewish People and their ministry of reconciliation in Israel-Palestine. For more information visit their website.

Pro-Palestinian Ads Ignite Firestorm Of Controversy


A seemingly endless debate over politics, religion and territory is coming to a train station near you.

An explosive ad about Israel is now igniting a firestorm of controversy.

The display shows shrinking Palestinian territory in Israel over the years and refers to 4.7 million Palestinians there as refugees.

The ads are appearing in 50 Metro-North stations.

At the train station in White Plains, the politically-charged ad was raising eyebrows.

"That's quite amazing if you ask me," one man told CBS 2′s Scott Rapoport.

Some Jewish leaders said they were concerned.

"I think the ad is very offensive, it's certainly offensive to Jews," said Dovid Efune, the the editor of the Jewish newspaper "The Algemeiner."

Efune said the ad is anti-Semitic.

"It paints Jews as aggressors, as imperialists, as people that are stealing or taking land from others," Efune said.

Henry Clifford, the chairman of a group called the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine, spent $25,000 of his own money on the ads.

"The Palestinian people have lost most of their homeland and the map shows exactly what is happened to them," Clifford said.

When asked what he hopes to get out of the ad campaign, Clifford responded by saying he wants to "educate people."

"Simply to open their eyes and let them see what has happened on the map," he said.

The advertisements have caught the eye of commuters in White Plains as well.

"I thought it was all settled back in the 1970s with the 6 Day War," one man responded.

"My reaction is why is there an anti-Israel ad sitting here at the train station?" asked Cliff Argintar, of Hoboken, N.J.

Efune is calling for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to take the ads down. However, the MTA said it doesn't restrict ads on the basis of viewpoint and while it doesn't endorse the ad, the posters will remain up.

The Anti-Defamation League, for its part, called the ads "Deliberately misleading, biased and fundamentally anti-Israel."

Source: JewsOnTelevision

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Is Palestine Becoming Mainstream in British Politics?

On Wednesday, 4 July, a public meeting took place in the British Parliament’s Grand Committee room. Speaking on the panel of members of parliament were a Conservative former career soldier, a senior minister in two previous Labor governments, and a member of Labor Friends of Israel. What could they all possibly have had in common?
They had assembled to speak at a meeting about the reality of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. This followed a trip they had participated in, organized by the Council for Advancing Arab-British Understanding.
Here are some quotes from British MPs who spoke at the event.
“unless the settlements stop, there can be no chance whatever of a two-state solution, and the only alternative … is a one-state solution — one state where Jews and Palestinians recognize one another as equals. Surely that is not totally utopian.” Colonel Bob Stewart MP

The UK and EU should “move beyond the ritual criticism and condemnation that we always make of the Israeli authorities, and sue them for damages” because of their “illegal demolition of [Palestinian] infrastructure that has been built with British, UK, EU or international money.” Ben Bradshaw MP

“If all I am paying for now and all my constituents are paying for now is simply the maintenance of an occupation .. can I keep going back asking them for money? Surely there has to be an impulse for change … we are funding this occupation,”  John Denham MP

“Investigating the legal status of goods that are produced in the occupied territories … the government has actually, I think for the first time, today said something concrete about those types of actions in relation to specifically the occupied territories," Ian Lucas MP
Read more here

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Fulfilling a promise to Iraq’s Christians

Jenny Taylor puts a human face to Iraq’s countless forgotten refugees, and one small woman who is helping them.

The ‘Fingernail Factory’ is not the name of the latest salon to hit town, but the place where this Middle East country’s feared Mukhabarat allegedly re-arrange your cuticles if they think it might improve the story you’re telling them.

The nickname given by Iraq is to the secret police [General Intelligence Directorate] may be apocryphal, but it is true that they might ask you at any time to pay them a visit, and they sometimes use more than questions to get answers.

One young Christian described how he was kept last year (2010) for two days in a windowless concrete hole in temperatures above 40 degrees, and nearly died of asphyxiation. His crime was to be born to a Lebanese Christian mother and a Muslim father from the A------ tribe.

An unexpected invitation also arrived two years ago for RL – she cannot be named here for security reasons - who runs Hope and Trust, a small charity which feeds, protects and helps speed up the lengthy process of re-settlement for Iraqi families, some of whom have been hounded since the mid-1980s.

‘They play with your mind’, she says as we drive past the building where her interrogation happened. 'They have very clever ways of making you give them what they think they want.’

The secret police are menacingly unpredictable, and it casts a shadow over life in this otherwise surprisingly accommodating country. Uncertainty is the name of the game for everyone, but most especially for refugees who comprise half the population.

The Archbishop of Canterbury drew attention in a recent speech on the Middle East’s Christians to the ‘rule by security agencies that are free to bully and torture’, and ‘the culture of impunity.’

This is at root what has provoked the Arab Spring and the refugees are the most vulnerable to it.

The secret police monitor the churches that have, not surprisingly, increased in number.

Of the total 132,3250 total refugees, internally displaced people and even more worryingly stateless Iraqis in the world, 13 per cent are thought to be Christian, according to the UN’s latest forecast.  

There have been other waves of refugees before the Iraqis. A Palestinian shepherdess tends a small flock of goats, much like the Moabitess Ruth, having been born here after her parents fled Palestine in 1948. Abandoned by her husband for failing to produce children, she and her mother wander the stony hills with their sheepdog, reeking of wood smoke from the cooking fire, making a pretty picture for the huge tourism industry – but condemned by political circumstance to extreme poverty.

The tiny old woman sitting quietly in threadbare clothes with other ex-pats at her church’s Christmas dinner listening to the Bible quiz fled Sudan.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury drew particular attention in the same debate to the Assyrians – Iraq’s indigenous people. Even their treatment in Britain he described as ‘ludicrous and insulting’:

‘Syrian Orthodox children - this is a real instance - were told by teachers in a British school that they should not attend a Christian assembly because they must be Muslims if they are Syrians’ he told his fellow peers.

If it is bad for the indigenous believers who have existed in the region since the very beginning, it is worse for seekers and those who help them. The mukhabarat ‘discourages’ baptism which is viewed as especially provocative, on top of the country’s existing problems: power struggles among the local tribes; water scarcity and a massive black economy.

The Arab founder of a church and school for Iraqis was held for four days, accused of baptising new believers. They blindfolded him and held a gun to his head according to RL. It so shattered him that he left the country.

The church keeps going, and reaching out – despite mixed messages from the government. The school for 400 refugee children was closed by the government after a piece was published on it by a Saudi journalist.

RL suspects there is a mole in the UN, since the pastor’s detention happened after two Iraqis they knew who were of Muslim background requested religious asylum as newly baptised believers.

This kind of treatment is as arbitrary as the secret police occasionally sending out their trucks and rounding up from the shops the illegal workforce of refugees, who though registered with the UN have no official livelihood. This country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not allow for minimum wage-earning by refugees.

‘They have recently been deporting secretly,’ says RL who is herself a mixed-race migrant originally from Malaysia. ‘Our families go missing, and we can’t locate where they are. The wife gets a call sometime later and discovers her husband is back in Iraq.’

RL is 54, and has been an IS partner for 17 years, supported by an Anglican church in Malaysia.

‘I am equipped to help build up these people in order for them one day to go back to Iraq and build up the suffering church there.

‘But it is still not safe for Christians and Sabaeans [followers of John the Baptist] there. And on top of it we are getting Iraqi families who are fleeing again from Syria.’

RL runs a variety of programmes for different age groups, and receives a small amount of funds from an English charity, the Hope Fund, set up by the former Anglican chaplain here, Malcolm White of the Church Mission Society. With the money, she has been able to help get 15 families out of the country to the US, Canada and Australia since 2008, by working with the embassies that offer emigration services.

It is a teaspoon in the ocean, and she wants to encourage more prayer, interest and volunteers to speed up the service. Her team of four includes another IS partner – a Dutch doctor – who not only offer a clinic attached to an Arab church, but also help with convoluted UN form filling.

These need translating and is charged per page. Couriering papers from country to country is another cost.

‘We had a family that had applied 13 times for re-settlement and were rejected. We were able to sit down and work through with them their forms and today they are in Australia’ says RL proudly.

GREETING us energetically in a pool of sunlight in the front yard of their tiny concrete home, Georgis [not his real name] has a horrendous story, but for the kindness of strangers.

Originally from Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, he tells of identity problems for Assyrians (the original name for the indigenous non-Arab people of Iraq, many of whom worship in the Syrian Orthodox Church) in Saddam’s Iraq; of being forced to sign documents in the mid-1980s saying they were ‘Kurdish’ – and unwanted aliens therefore; of being forced into the military for three years; of fleeing in lorries to Ankara, being turned back at the border – and of fleeing once again during the first Gulf War.

Once in this country they had to rent a roofless concrete shack covered with nylon. There was water for one cup of tea a day; and husband and wife shared their mattress with their small daughter for two years.

They fled Kirkuk in 1991 and managed to register with the UN in 1996, but the UN closed their file without reason Georgis says in 1999. They re-opened it again in 2007 after the second Gulf War: ‘The UN was more pro-active then’ says RL.

While the family waits for their case to be processed – seemingly for ever – Georgis who is now 50, volunteers as he has done for the past six years at RL’s church, networking the staple food distribution service to 200 families, and improving his English. A tall, vigorous former electrical engineer and welder, he surprises me by his energy and warmth.

He has created a garden with a makeshift swing hung from the olive tree in the concrete front yard. The house with its worn furniture, recycled from other resettled Iraqi families, is cheerful with a festooned Christmas tree and pictures painted by a gifted Iraqi friend.

‘I have accepted this is my life for now. I pray a lot and fast,’ he says in explanation.

Fazaneh his wife says, through RL’s translation, that it is difficult for her to see her husband without proper work. ‘The children have no rights here, no right even to friendships,’ she adds.

They describe their feelings for RL and the link she’s providing. ‘She is like big sister. She is very very good woman’, Georgis manages to say directly to me in very broken English, and gives me the thumbs up – a sign that needs no translation.

THIS COUNTRY is the gateway to the future for so many; the land that launched the most famous refugees in history. Moses passed through here, sensing God’s promise. Jesus, a refugee just after his birth, began his ministry here – and archaeologists now agree they’ve found the actual spot.

It is humbling. When I return to London I will seek out those whose story echoes that of those who founded our civilization who were also homeless, insecure wanderers, and try to be a more active part of God’s promise to them. You could too, by praying, giving – and going.

Jenny Taylor founded Lapido Media in 2005, a consultancy specializing in religious literacy in world affairs. She now works with journalists to improve the coverage of the social and political impact of religion and provides education and training for opinion formers in political religion. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Escalator

The Escalator from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Life happens on escalators. This one is at Waterloo station in London

Ben White on Discrimination in Israel and the Occupied Territories

Ben White on Discrimination in Israel and the Occupied Territories from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

I met Ben White at Kings Cross Station on our way to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting at which Ben was speaking. I asked him about the discrimination experienced by the Bedouin in the Negev and how it compared with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Ben recently published a book, ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy

Check out his website here

Who is threatening whom?

US military bases in the Gulf region. See Stop the War Coalition

There is no question that climate change is happening: Sir David Attenborough

In today's Independent, Nick Harding interviews Sir David Attenborough 'This awful summer? We've only ourselves to blame...'
Sir David believes the washout summer may be down to climate change. As a credible explanation he points to research by the University of Sheffield which suggests melting Arctic ice has slowed the jet stream, causing it to break into loops which have ushered to the UK unseasonably cold and wet weather systems. And he is convinced humans are the main cause of this.
"There is no question that climate change is happening; the only arguable point is what part humans are playing in it," he says. "I would be absolutely astounded if population growth and industrialisation and all the stuff we are pumping into the atmosphere hadn't changed the climatic balance. Of course it has. There is no valid argument for denial."
Read more here

See also David Shukman's report on the BBC website, Why, oh why, does it keep raining?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Calvary Chapel Preach

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in Calvary Chapel, Woolacombe in Devon. The sermon was "Who is my Neighbour?" based on Luke 10.

On Sunday evening, Calvary Chapel Woolacombe co-sponsored the showing of With God on our Side with Brookdale Evangelical Church, Ilfracombe.

View some photos taken of Ilfracombe here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

EAPPI Advises British Government on Palestine

The following question was asked in the British Parliament yesterday, 10th July.

Israel and Palestine

Asked by The Lord Bishop of Exeter

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel and the work it undertakes to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in non-violent action." [HL1176]10 July 2012 : Column WA243

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford):

"The British Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) are in regular contact with the British Consulate-General in Jerusalem. The EAPPI provides a useful independent monitoring service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It issues reports on the situation on the ground in the West Bank, for example, on impending demolitions. It also provides statistics on movement and access through checkpoints around Jerusalem, which help the international community to monitor the impact of restrictions on the lives of ordinary Palestinians."

Going for Glory

Christ Church, the Community Church of Virginia Water

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Church of England backs EAPPI in spite of strong Israel lobby pressure

Ben White, writing for the Electronic Intifada, reports on the proceedings of the Anglican General Synod meeting in York this week, Church of England backs Palestine motion in spite of strong Israel lobby pressure
Today the Church of England General Synod — the church’s legislative body — overwhelmingly voted in favor of a Private Members Motion (PMM) on Palestine/Israel, in spite of pressure from pro-Israel organizations before and during the gathering.
In an embarrassing defeat for the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), both of whom had lobbied hard for Synod to reject the motion, members also rejected an amendment by the Bishop of Manchester which would have omitted support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
A huge majority

During the afternoon debate, speaker after speaker backed the PMM, and praised the work of EAPPI. When it came to the vote, which was done according to ‘house’, bishops voted 21 to 3 in favour (with 14 abstentions), clergy 89 to 21 (44 abstentions), and laity 91 to 30 (35 abstentions). In total, the unaltered motion received 201 votes, while only 54 members voted against.
Read the rest of his report here

For more on the work of EAPPI by Ben White, see here

See also:

The Jewish Chronicle Church Synod vote in support of EAPPI motion

Council of Christians and Jews CCJ advises caution on General Synod motion

George Conger, Church of England Newspaper Jewish leaders urge Synod to reject Palestine motion:

UK Charity BibleLands Calls On General Synod To Affirm Its Support For Agencies Working For A Just Peace In Israel-Palestine

Shine TV Interview

The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is often portrayed in the international media as one of constant hostile recriminations, on both sides. But is that really a true reflection of life for people who live in those areas? The Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer says the news reports don't show us how bad things really are for the Palestinians - and he's even accused Israel of setting up an apartheid state. So it's probably not surprising that his visit to New Zealand a few weeks back sparked a great deal of debate about the relationship between Christians and Israel. Stephen Sizer spoke with Allan Lee of Shine TV about his views - which could challenge many people.

An Anglican Colonial Stich-up?

John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor of the Telegraph claims Choice of new Archbishop a 'colonial' stitch-up. His article is subtitled: 'Tens of millions of Anglicans around world feel excluded by the “colonial” way the next Archbishop of Canterbury is being chosen, the leader of Church in Middle East and North Africa has said.'
 In a rare intervention, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt warned that many of the estimated 55 million Anglicans across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and the Americans felt they had “no say” in the process of selecting a successor for Dr Rowan Williams.
He voiced fears that the selection committee, dominated by liberal-leaning British church leaders, would be unlikely to represent the traditionalist views of most Anglicans overseas.

As a result, their decision might only serve to further fracture the Worldwide Anglican Communion, which has been rivven with disputes over issues such as homosexuality in recent years.

But he added that the choice of the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, as Archbishop of Canterbury could help heal the divisions, because he understood and shared the theology of many in the “Global South”.
Dr Mouneer Anis is the Primate of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. He is cited as saying,
“Not one single person comes from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion except the Archbishop of Wales which is part of the United Kingdom … the selection of the new Archbishop is an expression of not really caring for the Anglican family.”

He added: “We still very much look to the Archbishop of Canterbury as the primus inter pares, the spiritual father of the Anglican Communion but the Anglican Communion has no say whatsoever.

“It is giving the impression that we don’t own it at all – it is all something somehow run from England.

“It would be acceptable in the 19th Century but not now.

“It is a colonial approach.”
Read more here

BibleLands Calls On General Synod To Support EAPPI

UK Charity BibleLands Calls On General Synod To Affirm Its Support For Agencies Working For A Just Peace In Israel-Palestine

09 July 2012

The Chief Executive of the UK Christian development charity BibleLands has called on the General Synod of the Church of England to approve the Private Members’ Motion affirming support for agencies such as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel which work for a just peace in the Middle East. He described as “fantastical” suggestions from some quarters that support for the EAPPI would fan anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK. On the contrary, he argued that the best way forward for people of all faiths is the very outcome which organisations such as EAPPI and BibleLands seek to achieve: “an equitable peace settlement that leads to an end to occupation and illegal settlements, and justice, human rights and a viable state for the Palestinian people”.

Jeremy Moodey, CEO of BibleLands, applauded the EAPPI for its “excellent work” in the region. He urged the General Synod to build on the support which the Church of England has already given to EAPPI and other agencies working in Israel-Palestine by approving the motion, and thereby offer encouragement to all mission and other aid agencies working amongst Palestinians.

Full statement and background information are available.

BibleLands is a non-governmental, inter-denominational charity supporting humanitarian projects in the Middle East. For almost 160 years it has been working to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and it has extensive experience and expertise in this region. BibleLands supports over 50 partner organisations Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine which are Christian-led but who provide care for all those in need, regardless of faith or nationality. For further information about BibleLands, visit our website.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Extradition: Friday 6th July

Syed Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer face imminent extradition to the USA as early as 10 July.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) have produced a film called 'Extradition' written and directed by Turab Shah to raise awareness of the injustice these men are experiencing.

Talha Ahsan, for example, was born in London in 1979. He is a graduate with first class honours. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, like Gary McKinnon. In 2006 he was arrested at the request of the United States. He has been in maximum-security prison here ever since, without charge or trial, resisting extradition to solitary confinement in the United States. This is a country he has never been to and where he has neither friends nor relations. He faces imminent extradition after the European court refused to block it. He has never been arrested or questioned by British police.

You are invited to attend a special viewing of this 25 minute film at All Hallows on the Wall, near Liverpool Street Station on Friday 6th July from 6:30pm-8:30pm. RSVP to Stephen Sizer (07970 789549)

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with short presentations by relatives and activists who will offer tools to help lobby the Attorney General, DPP and the Home Secretary.

UK citizens accused of crimes allegedly committed in the UK should be tried in Britain on the basis of evidence open to challenge in our courts. We want to prevent the extradition of all these individuals and ask our government to put them on trial in the UK and have faith in our own criminal justice system. Unjust extradition of British citizens to the US must stop.

Follow the campaign here or at the Free Talha Ahsan page.

The address of All Hallows on the Wall is 83 London Wall, EC2M 5NA which is very near Liverpool Street Station.

RSVP to Stephen Sizer.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Farshid Fathi Malayeri Sentenced to Six Years in Iran

Farshid Fathi Malayeri, an evangelical church leader who was sentenced to six years in prison on 5 March 2012, has had his sentence confirmed following an unsuccessful appeal hearing in Tehran last week.

Pastor Fathi Malayeri was detained for 14 months and had his trial postponed several times by judicial authorities, before eventually being tried on 5 March 2012 by a Revolutionary Court in Evin Prison in Tehran.

According to Elam Ministries, Judge Salavati convicted him of being the chief agent of foreign organisations in Iran and of administrating funds for foreign organisations, for which he was sentenced to six years in prison. Both the verdict and sentence were upheld on appeal, and he will serve the remainder of his sentence in section 350 of Evin Prison.

Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, "Pastor Fathi Malayeri’s illegal detention in the 14 months prior to his case coming to trial, his lengthy stay in solitary confinement, and the lack of due process in his case are wholly illegal and unacceptable. Moreover, as in recent cases involving Christians, the charges against the pastor were couched in political language when in reality he was arrested merely on account of his faith. The ongoing harassment and imprisonment of Christians, Baha’is and other minorities by the regime contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion. We urge the Iranian authorities to follow due process and ensure respect for the right to freedom of religion. In addition, we continue to cal l for the immediate and unconditional release of Pastor Fathi Malayeri, Pastor Nadarkhani and others who are unjustly imprisoned or facing execution following flawed judicial processes.”

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Monday, 2 July 2012

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI)

Letter to the Church Times on EAPPI Synod Motion from Sharen Green

A motion is coming before the General Synod asking it to endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). This scheme sends human rights monitors to the West Bank to observe what goes on at checkpoints, agricultural gates and to aid children getting to school. It is a World Council of Churches project run by Quaker Peace and Social Witness in Britain and Ireland.

Some articles have appeared in the Jewish Chronicle and on other websites saying that this motion should be opposed as it will whip up anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli feeling. And a campaign has been launched to that end.

Unfortunately the criticism on these sites is based on inaccuracies.

It is claimed that Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) are anti-Israeli, that they have almost no knowledge of Israeli perspectives, that they spend only one day in Israel proper and that they peddle their “skewed views”.

I have served twice as an EA for whom a week hearing a variety of Israeli perspectives was programmed. We spent a day at an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. We also visited a kibbutz and many of us travelled down to Sderot, a town where the Qassam rockets rain down from Gaza. Every EA takes an extensive tour of Yad Veshem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum.

We are encouraged to spend our 12 days’ leave in Israel where many of us stay with Israeli friends and relatives – one flatmate stayed on a (legal) kibbutz in the desert with Israeli Jewish friends. We stay in tourist resorts and have plenty of opportunity to absorb the Zionist narrative.

The article states that we receive only two hours’ education about Israel during our two weeks’ training in London. Again this is not the case – we have to read an enormous amount of historical material before we even begin training and the whole of the first week is devoted to the conflict, listening to speakers with a variety of perspectives.

As an EA I am well used to the charge of being anti-Israel and even at times anti-Jewish. This is certainly not how EAs see themselves. We aspire to practise principled impartiality which means we do not take sides in the conflict.

We are not neutral when it comes to human rights abuses, however, and all our work is predicated on international (IL) and international humanitarian law (IHL). I hope I don’t even need to say that we deplore human rights abuses per se, including those carried out on Israelis by Palestinians.

As for “peddling skewed views” the selection procedure, training and de-brief are all very rigorous. Great care is taken to make sure that we do not give our own views or step outside of the very circumscribed remit of an EA. Our presentations are based on our own experiences underpinned with IL and IHL. We quote facts and figures overwhelmingly from either Israeli sources or bodies such as the UN, Defence for Children International and Amnesty International.

The motion before Synod must stand or fall on its own merits but it would be a pity if it fell because people were misinformed.

Sharen Green

Gaza's Ahli Hospital and UN Funding Cuts

Letter from Jeremy Moodey to the Church Times

1st of July 2012
From Mr Jeremy Moodey

Sir, - The revelation that the UN has cut funding to the Anglican hospital in Gaza (News, 22 June) is very troubling.

The Ahli Hospital has been a beacon of Christian care and compassion in the Gaza Strip since it was established by CMS in 1907. Over the past year, it has had to endure electricity cuts of up to 20 hours a day because of the power crisis in Gaza. BibleLandshas just sent £15,000 to help with the enormous fuel bills, as the hospital tries to run its own generators. The cancellation of the UNRWA contract, and the potential staff cuts, have hit the hospital very hard.

One aspect of the story which has been overlooked is the funding crisis at UNRWA, the UN agency that provides humanitarian support for Palestinian refugees. This crisis may well be linked to attempts in the US Senate to reduce UNRWA's funding by redefining Palestinian refugee status so that it is attached to the 30,000 Palestinians still living who were displaced in 1948, not the five million descendants of those displaced, many of whom still languish in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Since the displacement of more than 750,000 of their number after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have been unable to return to their homes, because Israel will not let them. This in ability applies to Palestinians and their descendants because the refugee problem remains unresolved.

Surely, all those five million Palestinians, descendants of the original 750,000, who have not settled permanently elsewhere deserve humanitarian support and ultimate justice. This is why BibleLands works with the Middle East Council of Churches and the Ahli Hospital to help such refugees, many of whom live in dire con ditions, as a recent independent report on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon showed.

The Senate legislation, if confirmed, will make peace in the Middle East harder to achieve, not easier. It will not just be the patients at the Ahli Hospital who will suffer.

Chief Executive
24 London Road West