Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu Calls for End to Israeli Occupation

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu Calls for End to Israeli Occupation

Article excerpt

Sr. Elaine Kelley is the administrative officer of Friends of Sabeel-North America.

Boston's Old South Church, which, according to its brochure, boasts a 350-year history of dissent "proclaiming the Gospel of justice, inclusiveness, and reconciliation," was a fitting site for an April 12-13 conference on Ending the Occupation. Equally appropriate was the participation of South Africa's Nobel Peace Laureate and preeminent anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who delivered the keynote address.

The conference, which took place as Israel was invading the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jenin, was cosponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and Friends of Sabeel-North America. Sabeel was established by Christian churches in Palestine to inform Western Christians of the injustices of Israel's military occupation and to involve them in programs promoting a just peace.

In addition to Archbishop Tutu, presenters included Bishop Thomas Shaw, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, who caused an outcry last October when he demonstrated in front of the Israeli consulate in Boston to protest Israel's aggressive measures against the Palestinians; Sara Roy, senior research scholar at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, who has conducted research in the Gaza Strip and West Bank since 1985; Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Program of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and author of From Stones to Statehood: The Palestinian Uprising; Rev. Canon Naim Ateek, director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem and author of Justice and Only Justice; and Rev. Canon Richard Toll, national chairperson of Friends of Sabeel-North America and a 30-year veteran in the work for Palestinian rights.

The conference attracted both a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the church during Archbishop Tutu's talk and a failed effort by area members of the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League to convince the church's pastor, Rev. Jim Crawford, to allow them to set up an information table inside the conference area. A few ADL members did stay for the presentations and participated during open mike question-and-answer sessions. In all, about 800 people attended the two-day event.

Ruy Costa, executive director of the Episcopal City Mission in the Diocese of Massachusetts and former associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, opened the conference with a report on a February consultation organized by the World Council of Churches in Geneva and its efforts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--efforts, Costa said, "ignored by Israel." The WCC, he announced, has "reaffirmed some of its policies" and "become more aggressive" in the current crisis, calling on the U.N. to develop more programs involving volunteer civilian peacekeeping monitors. Since October 2000, Costa reported, the WCC has issued over 100 statements expressing "the united message of churches around the world," unanimous in citing Israel's illegal occupation as the root of the violence.

Desmond Tutu, in his address "Occupation Is Oppression" (see box on facing page) again thanked the movement in America for "supporting us and supporting sanctions against the [apartheid] regime." South Africa is free, he noted, because of "people who cared even when it looked totally impossible."

Universal Nonviolence

Referring to South Africa's achievement of a bloodless transition from apartheid to democratic rule, the archbishop shared his vision of a Middle East peace achieved through nonviolence. "If our madness could end as it did," he insisted, "it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world."

People in America are scared "to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful," Tutu said, and because they fear that to criticize Israel is "to immediately be dubbed `anti-Semitic. …

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