At least one outreach ministry has grown up and more than 400 Southland Episcopalians — including youth, laity and clergy — have visited the Holy Land on pilgrimage as the relationship between the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Jerusalem continues to deepen, Bishop Bruno said during his Dec. 3 convention address at the Riverside Convention Center.
Additionally, Bishop Suheil and Shafeeqa Dawani will be guests of the diocese the weekend of March 24-25, 2012, along with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, Bruno announced. “We are planning a major fundraising luncheon on March 25 when Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will also be in attendance to benefit ministry in Jerusalem and raise scholarships for our pilgrimages there,” Bruno said.
Educate for Zababdeh, the outreach ministry begun several years ago by Mary Bruno, continues to provide scholarships for students of all ages in the Latin Patriarch School and college in Janine, Bruno added. “Together as a diocese we have been able to raise more than $66,000 to provide scholarships for 100 students there, and Mary and I thank you for your generous and ongoing response,” he said.
An additional new gift of $10,000 was presented to Educate for Hope by the Habiby family, parishioners of St. Matthew’s Church in Pacific Palisades, whom the bishop welcomed to the podium during his convention address. The bishop recognized recent youth pilgrimage participants Gigi and Julia Habiby, and their parents, Josephine and Armand Habiby, also paying tribute to the well known ministries in Palestine of his late parents, Judge Jamil and Mary Habiby. Thanking the family for their generosity, the bishop recounted the experience of accompanying the young women to visit their grandparents’ graves near Jerusalem.
After considerable debate, convention approved two resolutions on the Middle East, one of which recognizes a two-state solution. The second is problematic, Bruno said, for reasons including its reference to the Kairos document and its call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Convention rejected a third resolution that failed to recognize a two-state solution.
Bruno urged rejection of the latter two initiatives “for strategic reasons. The Episcopal Church does not endorse a single-state solution, nor does this denomination endorse financial boycotts, divestment or sanctions against the state of Israel,” he said.
“At this time, we cannot underestimate the importance of the two-state solution, which is also emphasized in a recent letter from our Presiding Bishop [add link.],” Bruno added. The official position of the Episcopal Church is that of a two-state solution affirming both Israel’s right to exist and to provide security to its people, while also achieving statehood for Palestine,” he said.
Bruno added that it is “imperative that Episcopalians and Anglicans around the world consult with Bishop Suheil Dawani and adopt those policies that are most supportive of his own in the local context.”
Bruno proposed the alternative resolution, adopted by convention, which urged top U.S. officials to bring stronger and more resolute diplomatic leadership to the cause of peace with justice between Israel and Palestine. Among other things, the resolution also called for an end to violence, for both sides in the conflict to recognize each other’s right to statehood, and for an end to the air, water and land blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The second resolution, part of a wider initiative launched by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and introduced by the Rev. Canon Gary Commins, rector of St. Luke’s Church in Long Beach, calls for “pursuit of a just peace in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict” and is part of a wider initiative launched by the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, an advocacy group independent of official denominational or diocesan structures. Opponents said this resolution will likely face stiff objection by the 2012 General Convention meeting next summer in Indianapolis.
Commins noted that Bruno’s alternate resolution had been approved by the House of Deputies but rejected by the House of Bishops in 2009. It also will be re-presented to General Convention next summer.
Seeking hope and inspiration in the Holy Land
Delegates also heard from journalist Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East.
Tolan, also an associate professor at the Annenberg School of Communications at USC in Los Angeles said he wanted to talk about “a rare quality that we don’t find too often in this part of the world … hope and even inspiration.
He shared with the convention a transformative moment about the “musical intifada” waged June 23 at the Qalandia military checkpoint by about 40 young Palestinian music students and teachers armed with violins, cellos, woodwinds and brass instruments.
The students and teachers “came to play music and for a moment this space, this very bleak space was transformed by children into a place of assertive joy,” Tolan told the gathering. “People that felt so helpless under an occupation going on for 44 years suddenly are saying we are here and we are here with something beautiful.”
The students set up quickly “because they didn’t know if they’d be stopped. They quickly grabbed their instruments and began to play” Mozart’s Symphony in F Major (his sixth) and other selections.
It was not the greatest recording ever made, it was not the greatest performance ever made, but probably was among the most powerful, Tolan said. “According to one of the professional musicians, ‘it was the greatest gig of my life.'”
Such efforts raise a fundamental question — how can we be useful, what seems useful? Tolan asked the gathering.
Tolan said that while in the Holy Land this past summer he saw a lot of hard realities as Jewish settlements continue to be constructed and it gets increasingly difficult for Palestinians to move anywhere.
He said he speaks mostly of the children, impacted by the damaging effects of occupation. “I met a 13-year-old Palestinian girl who was terrified of walking to school because Jewish settlers sometimes would stone the children or set the dogs on them or throw eggs at them. She was very frightened.”
He said that achieving a two-state solution, a U.S. governmental policy goal for many years, is unlikely given the current Israeli government under President Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There is no interest, in my opinion, in forging ahead with something that would be a two-state solution of viable independent states living in peace side by side,” he said. “It’s much more about controlling as much land as possible, a struggle really over every inch of land. People are constantly losing chunks of land and this is the unfortunate reality that I’ve seen again and again in my 12 or 13 trips there since 1994,” he said.
Current political maps show Palestine broken “into isolated islands” sometimes compared with South African apartheid-era bantu stands, he added. Additionally, Israel controls the water beneath the ground and the air above it.
“Palestinians can’t even drill a well to tap into the vast aquifer beneath their feet,” Tolan said. Travel is restricted, so much so that many Palestinians have begun to regard the city of Jerusalem as a mythical place because they can’t go there.
He mentioned Alá, a 13-year-old girl who participated in the musical intifada and who, while traveling from Ramallah to Nablus, was forced to get out of the van and ordered by a soldier to play the violin for him. “This is emotionally damaging to children. The goal, the metaphor is to move from her being forced to play for a soldier to her asserting her joy at the sense of independence,” Tolan told the gathering.
He believes that truth and reconciliation are part of a way forward for both Palestinians and Israelis. So is security, so that both Palestinians and Jews feel safe. He challenged convention to think about principles for a restorative justice that would be durable and lasting, based on human dignity, equality and mutual respect.
“Domination is not an option,” he said. “The life under military occupation as I’ve talked about it is humiliating. It is enraging, emotionally damaging, not just for a 13-year-old girl but for everyone.”
“In a future of peace occupation must be scarcely imaginable or unimaginable,” he said.