←Resolution proposal statement Brief history of Mennonite involvement in Palestine-Israel→
Sonia K. Weaver’s book What Is Palestine-Israel? Answers to Common Questions (Herald Press, 2007) offers a good introduction to this conversation. We would direct readers to this book for helpful responses to questions raised about this statement. What follows are some particular responses offered to some of the most common questions.
- Doesn’t this resolution contradict the theology of Christian Zionism that is supported by many Evangelicals?
- This resolution is not focused enough on the suffering of Jews at the hands of Christians over the centuries and their need for their own nation-state.
- The resolution calls the occupation of Palestine (Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) a sin. Haven’t both sides in this conflict sinned?
- The Mennonite Church should not be involved in political issues that propose alignment with a particular political agenda.
- Why should we go on record with a resolution in regard to Israel-Palestine when other issues are equally pressing?
- Won’t Mennonite Church USA be targeted, harassed and labeled “anti-Semitic”?
- Final words
Anticipated Objection 1: Doesn’t this resolution contradict the theology of Christian Zionism that is supported by many Evangelicals?
What are the theological and eschatological (end time) beliefs of Christian Zionism?
- Jews have special favor with God and neither time, history nor the religious conditions of Jews can affect or alter God’s special favor towards the Jewish people.
- The Holy Land belongs to the Jews. It always has and it always will. Neither history, nor the passing of centuries, nor the religious or moral condition of Jews today can alter this fact.
- Jews today are an extension of the Israelites in Biblical times. Therefore, just as the nations during the Old Testament era were judged as to how they treated ancient Israel, the same is true today. God will bless nations and individuals who bless the modern Jewish state and he will curse countries and individuals who curse it.
- Old Testament prophecies, although uttered thousands of years ago, are being fulfilled in
Israel today and have been since 1948 when the state was born.
- God’s ‘end time’ plan is directly connected with modern Israel. Christians can speed up the coming of Christ, as they help bring about the fulfillment of prophecies that pertain to Israel. 
For a detailed examination of these how these beliefs contradict and are not supported by
Biblical scripture as interpreted and applied in Anabaptist theology, see:
- “A Biblical-Theological Reflection on Israel: In Response to the Mennonite Church USA Open Letter to Congregations on Becoming Peacemakers in Israel/Palestine” (2007)
- “Christian Zionism and Peace in the Holy Land,” MCC Peace Office Newsletter 35.3 (July-September 2005)
Supportive Response: The Zionist agenda is not supported by the ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels or Paul’s letters or basic Christian beliefs. The current government of Israel is neither sanctioned by God in the Old Testament nor is its policies of occupation supported by most Jews.
There is a profound theological misrepresentation by Christian Zionism of God’s purposes and the relationship between Jews and Christians as well as people of other faiths in God’s great act of reconciliation. The gradual unfolding of God’s grace and embracing of all people as the “Chosen People” is summarized well by the Apostle Paul in Romans 11: 25-32. The New Testament promotes a vision of one community of humankind, free of the hostility and conflict
generated by ethnic, class and gender divisions (Eph. 2:14, 19-20; Gal. 3:28).
Old Testament prophets foresaw this same unfolding history of God’s plan through the Jewish
faith: The sharing of the land of Palestine among all peoples who live there, with common land
rights, living in peace (Ezekiel 47: 21-23); The special relationship of all people to God, not only the Jews (Amos 9:7, reiterated in I Peter 2:9); That Jerusalem will become a symbol of salvation to all peoples (Ps. 87). We share this same vision and hope for all Palestinians and Israelis, of “secure dwellings” (Isaiah 32:18), to sit securely under vine and fig tree without fear (Micah 4:4). 
In challenging the Christian Zionist position, we also seek to avoid a “supersessionist” or
“replacement” theology that says God’s covenant with the Jewish people has been superseded or replaced by the Church. And while that conversation is beyond the scope of this paper, we affirm God’s blessing on the Jewish people. However, we must still ask ourselves what it means to “bless” the Jewish people and the State of Israel today. Is it to give uncritical and unconditional support to Israel? Or does blessing Israel instead mean calling upon Israel to love mercy and do justice in the land? 
Anticipated Objection 2: This resolution is not focused enough on the suffering of Jews at the hands of Christians over the centuries and their need for their own nation-state.
“As Christians addressing the Palestinian’s cause we must also acknowledge our shameful role in the historic persecution of Jewish people. We recognize the dehumanizing and destructive power of doctrines and theologies that denigrated Judaism. Our predecessors perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes, practiced scapegoating and cloaked prejudice, hostility and murder itself in the robes of our religion. We confess that our churches failed to resist, and sometimes even aided and abetted pogroms, mass dislocations of Jews, and the calamity of the Nazi Holocaust itself. In so doing, they betrayed the teaching and example of the one we claim to follow. We speak for and with our forbears in expressing deep remorse. With a commitment to never forget those failures and to be instructed by them, we pledge ourselves to growth in faithfulness, compassion and justice.” 
Supportive Response: We must repent. We must work, and in many cases, suffer for peace. Our hearts must be filled with love for both Israelis and Palestinians. We must not make the mistake of depriving Israelis their rights. But we must also uphold international standards of human rights and the call for democracy, freedom and justice for all citizens, not just the privileged ones.
The ministry of Jesus took place within the context of Roman imperial rule over Palestine. He renewed the ancient Jewish injunctions against the expropriation of other’s property and resources, called for the cancellation of debts and foremost he declared a radical new ethic: To love one’s enemies. This new commandment could transform the hearts of one’s enemies as well as direct oneself toward justice and loving kindness. We have seen the force of this ethic carried out in modern times through resistance to injustice by such persons as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Cesar Chavez.
We encourage all Israelis and Palestinians to work for democracy and the human and civil rights for all citizens, whether inside Israel, the Occupied Territories, or in the refugee camps throughout the region: equal treatment under the law for all, and freedom for all.
Our hearts reach out to our Israeli brothers and sisters in compassion and humility. We seek to join the many Israeli and American Jews working for Palestinian rights and freedom. A conscientious objector support group in Israel, New Profile: Movement for the Civilization of Israeli Society asserts: “Israeli culture generates an image of a world in which war was, is and will always be inevitable, a necessary and acceptable way of solving our problems…In such a world it is ‘only natural’ that decisions makers are former army officers—all of them Jewish males.” Opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Israelis wish to live in peace with Palestinians, albeit in separate countries, and do not support “settlements” or seek a “Greater Israel.” 
Anticipated Objection 3: The resolution calls the occupation of Palestine (Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) a sin. Haven’t both sides in this conflict sinned?
Supportive Response: The resolution does not say that Israelis are sinners nor that Arab Christians and Muslims are not sinners. Specifically, it says that “Israel’s military occupation is sinful.” Israelis and Palestinians have the same universal human rights to live with dignity and opportunity: To go to school, to better their lives, to provide a home for their families without fear of demolition or forced removal, to travel safely to hospitals and to hold people who have control over their lives accountable through elections. But in the occupied Palestinian territories, Gaza, and the West Bank, four million Palestinians do not have these rights, while 600,000 Jewish Israelis living in illegal settlements do.
“Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians….Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.” 
In response many Jews both inside and outside of Israel have risen up to protest the debasement of Palestinian lives. Jewish organizations supporting Palestinian rights include B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Boycott From Within, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Women in Black, New Profile, the Zochrot Association, and many others. Palestinian Arab Christians have formed the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Dar Annadwa, and Kairos Palestine to advocate for Justice. Palestinian organizations include Badil, Al Haq, the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, and Holy Land Trust, among many others.
Anticipated Objection 4: The Mennonite Church should not be involved in political issues that propose alignment with a particular political agenda.
Supportive Response: Mennonites in the U.S. have been building relationships in Palestine-Israel for more than 60 years. An important expression of this work is education and advocacy, drawing attention to suffering and injustice and communicating the stories of Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders to U.S. audiences and Washington policymakers. This also includes lifting up the voices of Palestinian Christians, for example in the Kairos Palestine call. The Kairos call understands peacebuilding as a shared work for justice and challenges us to work for justice at home, addressing root causes of violence: a work that requires attention to the U.S. role in this conflict, through our financial and military support of Israel’s occupation of Palestine; a work that recognizes seeking justice in Palestine-Israel must be complemented by seeking justice at home, actively dismantling structures of oppression such as racism and poverty as well as militarism.
Kairos Palestine points to an issue of justice that transcends politics: The suffering of a people in oppressive circumstances; that points explicitly to the causes of extensive suffering, and what actions can be taken to possibly relieve those conditions. The issue is denial of human rights and the restoration of those rights. We, as Mennonites, are dedicated to nonviolent resistance, following the example of Christ, and sharing in the suffering of those afflicted. Mennonites have already collectively borne witness to the conditions in question and worked on the ground to alleviate these conditions. We are faced with a moment when violence begets violence and the call for people of peace to weigh in with an alternate message of hope is of utmost importance.
It is time to take the next step: Palestinian Christians have issued a Kairos call and we must join denominationally with other Christian bodies and stop our enabling of injustice through our inaction.
Anticipated Objection 5: Why should we go on record with a resolution in regard to Israel-Palestine when other issues are equally pressing?
Supportive response: We believe that Christ calls us to work for peace, justice, and reconciliation in the world. The land of Palestine-Israel is in many ways a microcosm of our world, ancient and modern. The conflict in that small area fuels mistrust and violence throughout the region and the entire globe. More importantly, Mennonites have been sharing experiences and working alongside Palestinians and Israelis for decades, seeking to discover our own responsibilities in those relationships. For these reasons we feel specifically called to pray and work for peace in that holy land, as Palestinian Christians have requested.
Many other issues are of similar content to the issue of justice and the search for peace in Palestine, including discrimination and civil rights; tax money for weapons; overuse of prisons; basic human rights of indigenous peoples or other groups that have been summarily removed from their lands; our military presence abroad; wars in the Middle East; the federal budget and the priorities it suggests; immigration and the walled border between the U.S. and Mexico; and
destruction of natural resources. Over the years Mennonites have registered concerns with each of these, and all of them relate in some way to the current conditions of the occupation in Palestine.
Anticipated Objection 6: Won’t Mennonite Church USA be targeted, harassed and labeled “anti-Semitic”?
“Critiquing discriminatory and oppressive policies carried out by the State of Israel is not anti-Jewish; many Jews themselves criticize Israel’s destructive policies, arguing that house demolitions, land confiscations, and disproportionate use of lethal force are not compatible with Jewish practice and belief. Christians’ critiques of Israeli policies should be made in a spirit of humility and should not use anti-Jewish stereotypes when describing the oppressive Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories.”
Our Mennonite brothers and sisters were persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith. Their land was often confiscated, their beliefs and culture outlawed. In all cases, Mennonites responded nonviolently and with resistance to the injustice perpetrated by governments against them. In light of this tradition we say that nonviolence is at the center of Jesus’ life and teachings. Reconciliation must follow any successful efforts to change the oppressor’s injustice to the embracing of justice. Without reconciliation people will not live together in peace and mutual respect. Retaliation or revenge must never be tolerated or followed. Revenge breeds revenge, revenge feeds the chain of never-ending violence and destruction.
It is with love and respect for our Jewish neighbors that we encourage our Christian brothers and sisters to approach with an attitude that both sides are and have been victims. Victims of violence react often from a basis of fear, resentment, and revenge. We must see the face of ourselves in both Israelis and Palestinians. Christian churches have not always been innocent in the past regarding, for example, the treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, Jewish Americans, Japanese Americans, Latin Americans and other racial/ethnic groups in our own country. But we acknowledge the need for repentance for these sins of the past. Many churches have repented of those ways and now seek to speak out concerning current injustice and oppression in the world.
Echoing Sonia Weaver’s comments, this statement does not “take sides” for Palestinians and against Israelis, “knowing that both Palestinians and Israelis are children of God made in God’s image.” Nor does it “take sides” in prayer, but petitions God that “Israelis and Palestinians alike might dwell in God’s peace.” However, it does encourage us to “take sides”
“with the good news of Christ that reconciliation between enemies is possible and that reconciliation involves doing of justice…“take sides” against all forms of violence, regardless of who perpetrates it…“take sides” against a false neutrality that portrays Palestinians and Israelis as equal parties to the conflict and that avoids the task of identifying military occupation, siege and dispossession as injustice…“takes sides” with courageous Israeli peace groups and nonviolent Palestinian groups who struggle jointly against military occupation and through that struggle form new bonds of solidarity and cooperation.” 
From the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council:
“As rabbis deeply committed to Jews and Judaism, we have seen many things that disturb us regarding Israel’s policy toward Palestinians: Christian and Muslim Palestinian families forcibly removed from their homes, children arrested and beaten, brothers and husbands incarcerated without cause for undetermined periods without recourse to legal services. Our hearts are broken.” 
We realize that our resolution presents both a challenge to and a commitment from the Mennonite Church USA. Given the call from Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board in 2011 for congregations to study the Kairos Palestine document, we believe it is an appropriate next step.
Although naming injustice and oppression, particularly when we as U.S. citizens are complicit in the injustice, is never easy, we believe we are called to do so by Jesus’ life and teachings. The oft-quoted phrase from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, is apropos here. Passage of this resolution will join us with other churches who have extended solidarity in this Kairos moment to brothers and sisters suffering from injustice.
Learn more about the resolution proposal
- Resolution text (PDF version)
- Brief history of Mennonite involvement in Palestine-Israel
- Resources for further learning
- Suggested materials for your congregation
- Taken from Rev. Alex Awad, “Christian Zionism: Their Theology, Our Nightmare,” MCC Peace Office Newsletter 35.3 (July-September 2005), 2.
- See Alain Epp Weaver (Ed.), Under Vine and Fig Tree: Biblical Theologies of Land and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Telford, Pa: Cascadia Pub. House, 2007).
- Sonia K. Weaver, What is Palestine-Israel?: Answers to Common Questions (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 2007), 53-54.
- Kairos USA, “A Call to Action: U.S. Response to the Kairos Palestine Document” (2012), p. 2.
- Read more about New Profile and their anti-militarism work in Israel.
- For more on this see Jeff Halper, Obstacles to Peace: A Reframing of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Jerusalem: Palestine Mapping Center, 2005), p. 31-32.
- Kairos Palestine, “A Moment of Truth, a Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering” (2009), p. 6.
- For more groups see our organization list.
- Weaver, What is Palestine-Israel?, 54.
- Weaver, What is Palestine-Israel?, 67-68.
- Excerpt from a Feb. 2013 letter to Christians from members and friends of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.