Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Why Justice in Palestine Is a Racial Justice Imperative

UMW Assembly workshop participants examine the Israeli-Palestinian relationship from a different perspective.
The United Methodist Kairos Movement outside the Tampa Convention Center during General Conference in 2012. The Kairos Movement was begun by Palestinians and urges Christians around the world to support Palestinian Christians, including divestment of stock in companies that contribute to the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

by Christie R. House*

At a workshop given as part of the lineup of educational events for the United Methodist Women’s Assembly, which took place in Louisville, Ky., April 25-27, David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis urged participants to look at the Israeli-Palestinian relationship from a different perspective. Wildman, executive secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice for Global Ministries, said the mainstream media generally presents the relationship as two sides fighting — which sets up a dynamic of good vs. bad. In the United States, Israel is generally presented as “the good” and Palestinians, “the bad.” But the presenters said that this simple framing of the issue misses the systematic injustice that Palestinians face every day. It denies the reality of identity-based discrimination against Palestinians, based simply on the fact that they are Palestinian.

“If we consider Palestine as a racial-justice issue,” noted Wildman, “then we focus our work on eroding injustice. This is familiar work for United Methodist Women, who crafted the Charter for Racial Justice. Let us look at justice for Palestine not as a peace process, but as a process of eroding the unjust behavior of the oppressors.”

Gaining Momentum

Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., said that over the last 15 years or so, the movement to speak out for Palestinian rights has grown. More than 400 organizations working together now make up the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Kathryn Johnson, the campaign’s interim executive director, attended the workshop, and John Wagner provided information on the United Methodist Kairos Response. The Kairos Response formed around the Kairos Document, written by Palestinians and available on the World Council of Churches’ website.The day after it was destroyed, Palestinians walk by the remains of a house in Bethlehem.
The day after it was destroyed, Palestinians walk by the remains of a house in Bethlehem. Photo: Paul Jeffrey

In 1948, Bennis explained, after the United Nations General Assembly recommended the adoption of the partition plan that created the State of Israel, conflict with neighboring Arab countries ensued. Israel, the majority of whose leaders were European Jews, forcibly moved the majority of Palestinians, who were Arabs, into a few refugee camps in specific areas of the country. In 1967, Israel occupied the Palestinian communities of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These territories should be under Palestinian authority, according to the 1948 partition plan.

The Case for Race

Bennis pointed out that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, as a case for racial discrimination, can be made based on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The convention defines racial discrimination in terms of exclusion and restrictions based not only on “race,” but also on color, descent, or national or ethnic origin. Under this definition, Bennis said the case for racial discrimination could be made for Palestinians living in Israel and in occupied territories under Israeli control.

Thirty-seven separate laws in Israel legally discriminate against non-Jews, Bennis continued. Land rights, available schools and access to health care are designed to privilege one group over another.

For instance, in the Occupied West Bank, where 200,000 settlers and 6,000 Palestinians live, Jewish settlers are accountable to Israeli civilian courts, while Palestinians are accountable to the Israeli military police. Israeli soldiers can detain Palestinian children, who are deemed by the law to be adults at age 15, without notifying their parents. The rules do not apply to the settlers. One authority with two different legal systems that separates residents based on their identity, said Bennis, is the definition of apartheid.

The leaders of the workshop called for a BDS approach (Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions) as the church’s next steps in response to the human rights violations in Israel/Palestine. More information on specific proposals can be obtained from the US Campaign website:

United Methodists are invited to “walk with Palestinian Christians . . . for holy justice and peace” at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio August 7-8. The conference is sponsored by the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries and Ginghamsburg Church.

*Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine, General Board of Global Ministries.