St. James’s Church, in Piccadilly, London, decided to raise awareness of the reality in occupied Palestine this Christmas by erecting a 26-foot replica of the wall section of Israel’s separation barrier outside their church and project information about Palestine on it as part of the Bethlehem Unwrapped festival.
Predictably right-wing Israel advocacy organisation, StandWithUs is rather irked by St. James’ activities. So much so that it resulted in a highly manipulative open letter from Michael Dickson, head of StandWithUs-Israel.
Instead of responding directly to Dickson’s dogmatic and overused talking points, I decided to write a letter to St. James’s Church thanking them for their activities this Christmas and which I hope adds meaningful discourse to the Israeli-Palestinian debate. We should all strive to tackle and respond to just some deceptions and distortions contained in hasbara efforts of SWU.
Dear Pastor Winkett and St. James’s Church staff,
I was inspired to learn of your venture to highlight the plight of Palestinians afflicted by the accumulative effects of Israel’s separation barrier.
Your project demonstrates a compassionate approach which is sadly a rarity these days.
Unfortunately, your church is already under vicious orchestrated attack by rejectionists. It saddens me to see such slander, especially when it ruminates from what is a vocal minority that have no scruples and appear to abandon all moral judgement when it comes to Israel.
I don’t believe that anyone with even an ounce of human decency would dismiss your activities over Christmas as ‘mean-spirited, one-sided and divisive’. Those who do are agitators engaged in efforts to shut down valuable awareness raising efforts and critical discussion about the effect Israeli policy and actions have on Palestinian communities under occupation.
No thought is given to the rights, security or legitimate grievances of Palestinians – it’s always about Israel and, even if the folks at SWU don’t openly admit it, protecting Israeli state interests by making Palestinian concerns seem trivial and unimportant; that is why Dickson frames his argument by delivering an absolutist ultimatum where readers can only choose ‘inconvenience [to Palestinians] or death [of Israelis] – as if those are the only options or that they’re mutually exclusive. It’s incredibly demeaning to suggest that for Israelis to be safe from terrorism, Palestinians must remain oppressed, with their rights repeatedly violated with impunity.
The Palestinian reality is more than just an inconvenience, I’d say, and it’s reprehensible that there are those engaged in trying to make us blind to it.
Binaries used by many Israel advocacy groups are disingenuous, and tend to oversimplify highly complex and nuanced factors at play in the Israel-Palestine conflict dynamic for the benefit of their anti-peace agenda.
Palestinians are not blood-thirsty Jew-haters just waiting for a chance to slaughter Israelis, and they shouldn’t all be viewed as security threats and potential murderers. And no matter how hard Dickson tries, I truly don’t think the public will ever believe such putrid distortions.
I would implore your church to reject the illogical assertions engineered to intimidate. We should all value the alternatives which you are providing and I encourage you all to continue pushing for accountability, justice and the equal application of human rights – all of these things are not and never have been antithetical to Israeli security.
Dismissing the impact of the wall on Palestinian life, making it irrelevant and unimportant, is truly despicable and at best demonstrates sheer contempt for fellow human beings and their situation.
One very striking thing I’ve noticed is how groups such as SWU have never given a platform to Motty Fogel, an Israeli journalist who lost his brother, sister-in-law, nephews and niece in the terror attack on the settlement of Itamar. We should look at Motty’s own words and then ask why SWU is so indifferent and insensitive to such a brave and compassionate individual, why is it that they don’t respect his statement that grief should never be used for peace or war? Could it be because Motty Fogel’s voice doesn’t fit their right-wing agenda? – an agenda which is reliant on invoking the most emotive of issues in conflict. Might it also be that Motty is part of the Israeli peace movement and works in conjunction with the nonviolent movement Combatants for Peace?
One of the most powerful contributions I believe we can all make in support of conflict resolution in Israel – Palestine is to support Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs and the peace sector. That SWU does not is quite revealing of their position.
I’d also encourage thinking about the question of why SWU wishes to stop people in the UK from even being aware of these alternative Israeli opinions and prevent us from linking up with the Israeli peace movement? I have a number of suggestions as to what the answer could be.
In his letter, Dickson makes no mention of the nonviolent resistance movement that has fought against the occupation and the wall for decades, is it possible that he requires focus to be solely on examples of violence for his position to remain credible?
Such a narrative once again perpetuates a decontextualised overview entirely reliant on the omission of key factors; Dickson doesn’t mention in his letter that the attacks occurring in Israel’s streets ran concurrently with the second intifada or that in 2006/7 Palestinian leaders made a concerted effort to revive the nonviolence movement. He plays on emotions by disingenuously linking the 7/7 London bombings to the cycle of violence in Israel and he fails to explore these subjects that he is abusing to push his agenda.
It seems the preference of some is the total abandonment of consistent and honest facts that, when included in discussion, provide vital context and understanding (which is a very different concept to those of negation, justification or excusing of violence). It’s almost as if his letter encourages readers to put their common sense and critical thinking in a permanent state of sleep.
I’m thankful that your church doesn’t ignore that the wall itself is perceived as an act of violence against the Palestinian people. Violence is not victory and deterrence doesn’t resolve violence; it only offsets it, intensifies it and makes it immensely more difficult for us to extricate ourselves from this insane position we find ourselves in.
Also please be encouraged to doubt Dickson’s assertions about the wall vis-à-vis ‘security’. When one considers full and contextual facts; that the idea of a wall was first proposed in 1992 – a decade before the commencement of its physical construction and 8 years before the second intifada – by Yitzhak Rabin, that presently only 445 km (63.1%) of the barrier is constructed and scores of Palestinians circumvent the wall on a daily basis by climbing over or walking around, or that determined terrorists can and do still reach their targets, then one must ponder the question of whether the barrier fulfills its stated security goal for Israelis. I say not.
The wall substantially deviates from the internationally recognised ‘Green Line’ deep into Palestinian lands, and in doing so constitutes an illegal attempt to annex land under the guise of security.
You see, the wall is criticised as a land grab exercise and all evidence to date proves this beyond any shred of a doubt. One also mustn’t ignore the 2004 advisory opinion of the international court of justice when the court states that the wall is illegal and must be dismantled.
These are undoubtedly some of the reasons your church decided to construct a replica for awareness raising purposes.
As many will know, in Northern Ireland there remains many underlying antagonisms and violence is still viewed as an acceptable tool by extremist and dissident groups. The stated mission of these groups is to destabilise the peace process, continue their struggle and murder innocent civilians to achieve political aims. Despite the existence of such radicals, the very party that stood on the wrong side of history in 1998 when the Good Friday agreement was signed (Paisley’s DUP) are now in government with those they once vowed never to engage positively with (Sinn Fein). There’s a lesson somewhere here; I just hope the rejectionists over at SWU pay attention.
Yet another area of questioning should aim to find out where Stand With Us stand when it comes to supporting the numerous and highly varied education and community/social engagement programs in Palestinian towns, cities and perhaps most importantly, Palestinian refugee camps.
Does SWU not believe in curbing radicalisation and the manipulation of Palestinian youth by militant organisations? Why do they point out and exaggerate a problem with Palestinian children’s television only to use such in cynical political schemes?
How do they justify ignoring the issues in the Israeli education system; such as the nationalism and militarism emphasised in some teaching programs that push young Israelis to see the world around them as a myriad of existential threats.
Shouldn’t they instead be supporting education programs conducive of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, programs that prepare both communities for necessary compromise in pursuit of peace and which teaches human values and principles of compassion, caring, dialogue and understanding?
At present all that SWU are doing is highlighting problems in Palestinian society so as to demonise them whilst simultaneously drumming up support for Israel – this is a very partial and partisan approach in my view.
To finish up, I thought it might be of interest to you and your staff to read this award winning in-depth and thought-provoking series of blogs discussing the wall as it may come in handy when defending the activities and advocacy which you’ve engaged in this Christmas.
I hope this lengthy letter goes some distance in proving that your activities are supported by progressives across the UK and further afield.
What you have done this Christmas in support of peace in Palestine is exceptionally compassionate, kind and most certainly promotes the need for reflection.
And remember that no matter how much vitriolic hatred is directed at you or your church from anti-Palestinian sectors, (simply because you have spoken out), there are far more who are exceptionally proud and grateful of your action.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year.