Statement on the attack on Palestinians of Jerusalem

Friends of Sabeel North America

On Sunday, February 25, church leaders from the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Apostolic churches in Jerusalem shut down the Church of the Holy Sepulcher until further notice. They did so in protest of a new municipal law demanding that church leaders pay over $190 million to the state of Israel in back taxes on church properties that were formerly tax exempt.

More information on the new law

The new law is part of an ongoing campaign to target and push out Palestinians in the holy city of Jerusalem. We stand with these church leaders in their boycott of this gross injustice, which is meant to make it more difficult if not impossible for Palestinian Christians to continue to live in Jerusalem. Sacred lands are never for sale. We raise outcry over the mass displacement of all Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian, from Jerusalem. We support the leadership of the churches in boycotting injustice, and we call on church leaders around the world to follow their lead, heeding international calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions on Israel until it complies with basic standards of international law and ends its decades long campaign to wipe out the indigenous Palestinian population.


Statements From Church Leaders in Jerusalem

FOR IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. POLITICAL PERSECUTION LEADS TO THE CLOSURE OF CHRISTIANITY’S HOLIEST SITE

The leaders of Jerusalem’s churches have today announced the unprecedented decision to close the Church of the Holy Sepulchre until further notice, in protest at persistent moves to intimidate Christians and discriminate against churches in the Holy Land. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which dates back to the fourth century, is considered to contain the sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, making it the holiest site in the world for Christians.

The decision to close the Holy Sepulchre comes in response to recent actions by the Jerusalem Municipality and by members of the Israeli Knesset. The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, is attempting to enforce a punitive and retroactive tax on church properties in the Holy City. Furthermore, Knesset member, Rachel Azaria (“Kulanu” party)  is seeking to advance the “Bill of Church Lands”, which would give the Israeli government the power to confiscate church property. These actions contravene the long held Status Quo which is foundational to the guarantee of the churches’ rights and privileges in the Holy Land; and critically undermines the ability of churches to carry out their pastoral mission of housing the community, feeding the poor, caring for refugees, running schools for local children and maintaining the holy sites. Above all, they imperil the continuation of the Christian presence in Jerusalem. 

The closure was announced on Sunday by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Catholic Custos of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarch. Their joint statement argues that ‘the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land’ has ‘reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes.’  The statement also highlights the ‘discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land.’ 

Both developments come in a period when Christians are suffering an escalating campaign of intimidation from radical settler groups. Churches face daily desecration and vandalism and Christians are regularly subjected to violent assault as they travel to pray. These groups have long used intimidation, bribery and extreme anti-social behaviour in an attempt to force Christians and other non-Jews out of the Holy City. While their actions clearly contravene Israeli law their crimes go largely unchecked.

Statement on Municipal threats and the discriminatory “Church Lands Bill” 25.02.2018

We, the heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulcher and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem – the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate – are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of the existing Status Quo.

Recently, this systematic and offensive campaign has reached an unprecedented level as the Jerusalem municipality issued scandalous collection notices and orders of seizure of Church assets, properties and bank accounts for alleged debts of punitive municipal taxes. A step that is contrary to the historic position of the Churches within the Holy City of Jerusalem and their relationship with the civil authorities. These actions breach existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the Churches, in what seems as an attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school.

The systematic campaign of abuse against Churches and Christians reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land is being promoted. This abhorrent bill is set to advance today in a meeting of a ministerial committee which if approved would make the expropriation of the lands of churches possible. This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.

This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic, ab antiquo and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades.

THEREFORE, and recalling the Statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches in Jerusalem, dated 14 February, 2018 and their previous statement of September 2017, as a measure of protest, we decided to take this unprecedented step of closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Together with all Heads of Churches in the Holy Land we stand united, firm and resolute in protecting our rights and our properties.

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December 3, 2017
Lessons and Carols for Advent


First Congregational United Church of Christ
1609 University Avenue, Madison
7:00 pm

The local Bright Stars of Bethlehem chapter presents its fourth annual Advent Lessons and Carols service to support Dar al Kalima University College in Bethlehem. Musicians and readers from over a half-dozen local congregations will present beautiful music and you can join in singing some favorite songs of the season.

Explore not only the Bethlehem of Jesus’ birth but also the Bethlehem of today. Featuring refreshments, fellowship and sales of handmade crafts from Palestinian artisans. A free-will offering will be collected to support Bright Stars of Bethlehem and the ministries associated with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine.

Offerings will be directed for student scholarships to build hope through education for young people in this conflicted region. Your presence and gifts will make a difference for many in the Holy Land.

Parking available in church lots as well as in UW Lot 17 and UW Engineering Building. For directions to these alternate parking lots, see firstcongmadison.org.

December 10, 2017
Moving Past Hate

United-Against-Hate-flyer-FINAL

 

It’s been five years since the attack on the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when the calm of a Sunday on August 5, 2012, was shattered by a White Supremacist Gunman killing six innocent people and wounded others. This gunman was a member of a hate group founded by Arno Michaelis.

Please join us on December 10, 2017 at the Monona Terrace from 1:30 to 4:30 pm (door opens at 1:00PM), to hear how Arno and the victim’s son and family members came together for peaceful reconciliation and humankind.

Decode Hate by the Arab American Institute

Arab American Institute
Decode Hate examines the sprawling, deeply embedded network of monetized hate. By underscoring the deliberate misinformation and fear-mongering of featured groups, this project reveals how hate is translated into mainstream discourse and discriminatory policies.

© Copyright Arab American Institute Foundation. 2017 All Rights Reserved.

Congress’s Anti-Boycott Act Threatens More Than Free Speech

Churches for Middle East Peace, July 28, 2017

In The News

Democratic Senators Rethink Bill Criminalizing Support for Israel Boycott [Roll Call]
Roll Call reports, “Democratic senators are thinking twice about the proposed Israel Anti-Boycott Act after an outcry by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which considers it a ‘serious threat to free speech.’ While Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the bill’s lead author, said that the ACLU had misinterpreted the piece of legislation, he expressed his intention to ‘make it clearer.’ The act targets the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, an international effort to boycott businesses in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories in order to pressure Israel to comply with international law and stop the further construction of settlements.”

This Piece of Pro-Israel Legislation Is a Serious Threat to Free Speech [The Washington Post]
“The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is designed to stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. … Whether one approves or disapproves of the BDS movement itself, people should have a right to make up their own minds about it. … By using their power in the marketplace, consumers can act collectively to express their political points of view. There is nothing illegal about such collective action; indeed, it is constitutionally protected,” write the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Legal Director David Cole and National Political Director Faiz Shakir.

Read The Small Print. How Nearly 200 Congressmen Could’ve Signed on a Bill Criminalizing Free Speech And Legitimizing Israel’s Occupation Of Palestine [Huffpost]
Political consultant Marilyn Katz writes, “Hidden behind the benign language of the [Israel Anti-Boycott Act] legislation … are laws that would criminalize even speaking out about a boycott while legitimizing Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank ― an occupation considered illegal by the world, and condemned even by the United States.”


J Street, a Reliable Foe Of BDS, Urges Congress to Oppose Israel Anti-Boycott Act For Now [The Intercept]
“J Street, founded in late 2007 to promote a two-state solution, opposes the Israeli occupation and general treatment of the Palestinians, but also has refused to endorse the Palestinian-led nonviolent boycott movement. Its activists regularly find themselves at odds with left-wing groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine who view BDS as the best way to end the occupation of the Palestinians. Thus J Street often lobbies in favor of anti-BDS legislation. However, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a step too far for even these reliable opponents of BDS,” reports The Intercept.

Israel Anti-Boycott Bill Does Not Violate Free Speech [The Washington Post]
Northwestern University School of Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich writes, “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is a minor updating of a venerable statute that has been at the center of the U.S. consensus on Israel policy — the laws designed to counteract Arab states’ boycott of Israel by barring Americans from joining such boycotts. … Current law prohibits U.S. entities from participating in or cooperating with international boycotts organized by foreign countries. These measures, first adopted in 1977, were explicitly aimed at the Arab states’ boycott of Israel, but its language is far broader, not mentioning any particular countries.”

Jewish, Muslim & Christian Leaders Denied Entry to Israel for Supporting Palestinian Human Rights [Presbyterian News Service]
“Five leaders on an interfaith delegation to Israel/Palestine were refused permission to board their plane in the United States, in what appears to be an implementation of Israel’s travel ban on supporters of Palestinian rights and Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS). … ‘I am part of a Jewish, Muslim and Christian delegation of committed, nonviolent peacemakers whose plan is to meet with those in both Israel and Palestine who are working every day for a Just Peace in the Holy Lands,’ [stated] Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly, PC(USA) and member of the Activist Council of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. ‘At this time when tension and violence are rising once again, the work we are doing to build trust and work for a viable peace is more important than ever, and I stand ready to go the moment the State of Israel gives us permission to fly,’” reported Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in a statement released Monday.


I’m The First Jew Banned From Israel For Supporting BDS [The Forward]
Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbi Alissa Wise was one of five members of an interfaith delegation refused permission to board a flight to Israel at the Israeli government’s request. Wise writes that she “became a rabbi for one core reason: to build toward justice and liberation for all people by organizing with Jews in deep partnership with directly impacted communities across borders and faiths. Our delegation planned to spend 12 days in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, meeting with Palestinian and Israeli grassroots activists and faith leaders and visiting our respective holy sites.”

CMEP is organized to educate and give witness to principles of peace and justice in the Middle East on behalf of its religious constituencies by advocating public policy positions approved by the CMEP board. CMEP’s policy position seven states: “In order to defend free speech and religious liberty,  uphold the right of churches and organizations to find appropriate and various ways to end unjust practices and policies that violate international laws and conventions, including exerting economic leverage on commercial and government actors.”

Churches are standing up!

, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, 23 Jul 2017

Have you heard the news? In the last several weeks alone, more than 35 local, regional, national, and international church bodies have taken bold actions in support of Palestinian rights!

A flurry of churches — 17 and counting — have declared themselves HP-free across the country in denominations including American Baptist, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Presbyterian, Church of the Brethren, Quaker, Catholics, and others, as Friends of Sabeel – North America announced this week. The global Boycott HP Campaign campaign continues to escalate pressure on HP until it responds to these key questions and commits to ending its role in Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights. Are you part of a church? Learn how your congregation can become HP-free. It’s easier than you think!

These principled churches have brought local congregations into the larger snowball of regional, national, and international churches taking action. Brace yourselves… there are a lot of them!

  • July 10 – The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada affirmed the rights of Palestinian children and called for withholding U.S. military aid to Israel with a nearly unanimous vote!
  • July 7 – The World Communion of Reformed Churches, with a membership of 80 million Christians worldwide called for solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and rejected any use of the Bible to legitimize injustice.
  • July 6 – The Mennonite Church voted by approximately 98% to institute a policy against investment in Israel’s military occupation!
  • July 2 – The United Church of Christ (UCC) General Synod (national) passed with 79% a resolution in defense of Palestinian children, having already passed divestment in 2015.
  • June 10 – The Minnesota Conference of the UCC voted 144 – 5 to divest its $8 million in investments from companies involved in the occupation.
  • May/June – Fifteen United Methodist Annual Conferences — representing thousands of congregations — adopted a total of 23 resolutions this year supporting the HP boycott, excluding investment in occupation, opposing anti-BDS legislation, and more.

That’s a lot to take in! After you’ve caught your breath, take a moment to thank the Disciples, Mennonites, and UCC so they know what broad support they have in this time.

A stone cross appears on a Palestinian building near the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem, April 29, 2014. (credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

The Palestinian Christian community has long — through the Kairos Document — called on churches to support their struggle for collective liberation, a sentiment recently echoed by the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine’s letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement. Learn more on the Palestine Portal.

At a time when Palestinian rights advocacy is under severe repression, churches are not backing down. We know that those defending Israel’s occupation malign boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as tools for social change for one simple reason: they work.

This week, Ha’aretz reportedForeign Companies Wary of Operating Jerusalem’s Light Rail Because It Traverses ’67 Border.” Following billions of losses in contracts following boycott and divestment campaigns, the multinational Veolia divested of its contracts with Israel in 2015, and other companies are shying away from the same contracts precisely because of the political and economic cost. Together, our work is taking the profit out of occupation.

P.S. The US Campaign has supported one church win after another, year after year. But we still have so much work to do. We need you by our side to keep taking the profit out of occupation and changing hearts and minds across the country. Please invest in more wins with a donation to the US Campaign today.

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