The World Council of Churches and the Zionist Catastrophe

The Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), seemingly having preferred not to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel, is instead in June convening a global week-long commemoration of the 1967 war. This remembrance will mournfully lament Israel's occupation of the West Bank, without specifically recalling that the occupation only began after Israel defeated several Arab armies poised for attack. "It's Time for Palestine!" is the theme for the joint advocacy initiative involving church events around the world.

But from the WCC's perspective, is it ever a Time for Israel? Apparently not, as the WCC mostly echoes Palestinian verbiage about the Jewish nation's founding as a "catastrophe." In a brief news release earlier this month, the WCC frowningly noted that "just as 2008 marks 60 years of aspirations dedicated to securing a homeland for Israelis, 2008 also marks 60 years of the disintegration of Palestinian society and dispersal of some 750,000 Palestinians as refugees." In other words, not much to celebrate!

The WCC evidently was reserving its strength for "It's Time for Palestine" gala celebration next month. In Bethlehem, a "human clock" will mark six decades of "Palestinians living as refugees and uprooted people." Jerusalem churches will publicly decry the 1948 "Nakba" (catastrophe). There will also be an international conference there to protest against the Israeli security barrier. The left-wing Catholic order Pax Christi will organize protest events in France, Belgium and Holland. A demonstration with signs declaring "Stop the Occupation" in Hebrew, Arabic English and Norwegian may march in Oslo. Filipino children who are victims of political killings in the Philippines will send letters of solidarity to Palestinian children. A "full-sized section of the Wall" will be erected by a church in Scotland in a city center. Such global excitement!

There's even an official liturgical litany for the "It's time for Palestine" celebration. Each of its sad lines begins with an imprecatory "It's time for…" followed by a demand usually focused on Israel. No change of behavior by Palestinians is apparently needed for nirvana to be achieved in "Palestine."

It's time for freedom from occupation.

It's time for equal rights.

It's time to stop discrimination, segregation and restrictions on movement.

It's time for those who put up walls and fences to build them on their own property.

It's time to stop bulldozing one community's homes and building homes for the other community on land that is not theirs.

It's time to do away with double standards.

It's time for Israeli citizens to have security and secure borders agreed with their neighbours.

It's time for the international community to implement 60 years of United Nations resolutions.

It's time for Israel's government to complete the bargain offered in the Arab Peace Initiative.

It's time for those who represent the Palestinian people to all be involved in making peace.

It's time for people who have been refugees for 60 years to regain their rights and a permanent home.

It's time to assist settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to make their home in Israel.

It's time for self-determination.

It's time for foreigners to visit Bethlehem and other towns imprisoned by the wall.

It's time to see settlements in their comfort and refugee camps in their despair.

It's time for people living 41 years under occupation to feel new solidarity from a watching world.

It's time to name the shame of collective punishment and to end it in all its forms.

Very moving. Of course, none of the litany really addresses any of the suffering by Israelis over 60 years except for a vague reference: "It's time to be revolted by violence against civilians and for civilians on both sides to be safe." And, even more needless to observe, the litany omits any reference to ways that Arab governments and Palestinian chieftains have themselves exploited the Palestinians for their own geopolitical goals.

The litany might have a little more punch if it had included an "It's time" for Palestinians to accept Israel's existence while disavowing both the incendiary anti-Israel propaganda of the moderate "Fatah" party and the overt terrorism of Hamas. The WCC stands against all "violence," of course. But it's not clear where it stands on acidic anti-Israel Palestinian propaganda. And given the WCC's emphasis on an unlimited "right of return" for the descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1947, it's not even clear that the WCC fully affirms Israel as a refuge for Jews.

A blog on the WCC website constructed by the WCC's "ecumenical accompaniers" provides some further provocative insights into the WCC perspective on Middle-East "peace." The ecumenical accompaniers, who are Western church activists on the West Bank on the hunt for Israeli transgressions, gleefully chronicle the protests of angry Palestinians. At a refugee camp outside Bethlehem, Palestinian artisans have constructed the "world's biggest 10 meter long iron key" that is accompanied by a giant keyhole. The key is inscribed: "This is not for sale," which signifies that "Palestinians should not give up the fight to return to their homes one day."

Even more creatively, another WCC blogger describes a Palestinian artist who has illustrated the Palestinian "catastrophe" of 60 years ago with silk-screened chocolate illustrations of Palestinian suffering on sixty sheets of glass, "one for each year of since the people's displacement." The chocolate extravaganza shows a "grieving women, a toddler looking up at the barrel of a gun, an Israeli soldier weeping as he holds a dead child, a youth with a catapult, naked Palestinian youths held at gunpoint, a child standing in the ruins of her home." Who knew that chocolate could evoke such pathos?

In preparing for "It's Time for Palestine" during June 4-10, the WCC seems torn about focusing on 1967, or 1947. It's politically more practical to focus on 1967, so as to purportedly insist only on Israel's full withdrawal to pre-1967 borders. But clearly the WCC would like also to mourn Israel's birth in 1947 without specifically declaring the WCC's opposition to Israel's existence.

Fortunately, most of global Christianity will ignore the WCC during the "It's time for Palestine' commemoration, just as most Christians, even within WCC member denominations, ignore the WCC almost all the time any way.


Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

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