Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mennonite Church Canada Resolution on Israel-Palestine Work of Winnipeg Couple

The behind-the-scenes work of a Winnipeg couple paid off last month when delegates to the Mennonite Church assembly in Saskatoon supported a resolution to promote “a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

“We really didn’t know what would happen,” says Byron Rempel-Burkholder, 59, who created the resolution with support from his wife, Melita, 61.

“We were surprised by the positive response.”

The couple, who are members of Home Street Mennonite Church, had been concerned about the plight of people in Palestine for many years. But it was a short term assignment in Bethlehem from January to April this year that compelled them to act.

“It is hard to live in the West Bank without feeling outraged seeing the wall, and the humiliations the Palestinians endure at checkpoints,” says Byron.

“For us the issue is justice. The occupation can’t be justified on the basis of human rights.”

While there, the two served at Bethlehem Bible College, where Melita helped with grant writing and Byron did communications and driving—it is easier for a foreigner to get through checkpoints to pick up mail, do deliveries and airport runs, he explains.

During their time in Palestine they heard stories of how difficult the occupation and the separation wall makes life for Palestinians.

This included one family who had been separated from their olive orchard when the wall was built.

Their home was on one side, in Palestinian territory, and their olive trees were on the Israeli-controlled side of the wall. To harvest their crop, they have to apply for permits to cross the wall.

“They applied for permits to go pick their crop, but only their grandfather received permission to cross,” says Melita. “As a result, they lost the whole harvest.”

These stories, plus pleas from Palestinian Christians to share about their plight when they returned to Canada, prompted them to want to find ways to act.

One way they decided to try to do something was by asking their denomination to support a resolution calling on that church to support efforts to create peace in the region.

A similar resolution had been debated at the last Mennonite Church Canada assembly, in 2014, but had been tabled. When Byron asked leadership in the church if it was coming back to the floor this year, he was told no—nobody had proposed it.

“So we did,” he says.

The resolution, which the couple worked on with other members of their denomination, was moved by Byron at the assembly.

It calls on the over 30,000 members in 225 congregations to commit themselves to find they ways they are “impeding or facilitating, ignoring or promoting, the quest for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

The resolution affirms “the efforts of Israelis and Palestinians who are committed to non-violent ways of overcoming the injustice in their region” and asks churches and members to “avoid investing in or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces, and companies that are profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

It goes on to encourage the Canadian government to “support measures that put pressure on Israel (including through economic sanctions) to end the occupation and work for a just peace, in accordance with international law.”

Finally, it also recognizes and laments “the suffering of Israeli citizens” and commits the church to work with both Canadian Jewish and Palestinian communities to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The resolution passed with one just one dissenting vote.

“Our goal is not to be anti-Israel,” says Melita of their efforts to get the resolution to the floor of the assembly. “We aren’t against the state of Israel, or its existence.”

Instead, the couple says the resolution should be viewed as pro-Israel in that it seeks to hold that nation up to the standards of both international law, and to the words of the prophets of the Old Testament.

“This resolution is about supporting Palestinians in a nonviolent quest for self-determination, justice and a peaceful coexistence with their Israeli neighbors,” says Byron.

“We feel responsible for what we heard when we were in Bethlehem,” he adds. “The church in Palestine is looking for support. We are trying to be a voice for them.”

Read the entire resolution here. (On page 4.)

1 comment:

  1. I applaud people who take responsibility for what they learned, and as a Mennonite of another stripe I applaud the resolution.