The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) adopted a resolution during its Monday afternoon business session addressing the rights of Palestinian children and youth living under Israeli military occupation. The resolution, which was brought by the Division of Overseas Ministries Board of Directors, was adopted nearly unanimously.
Building on a corpus of policy over the years, the Disciples reaffirmed their commitment to seeking peace with justice in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while identifying the two-tiered legal system Israel has in place in the occupied Palestinian territories it has controlled for the past 50 years. Those two systems are civil law for Israeli settlers (whose settlements are illegal according to international law); and military law for Palestinians, denying them their basic and fundamental rights. As a result, Palestinian children are subject to physical and verbal abuse, strip searches, solitary confinement, coerced confessions, and separation from their parents and legal counsel.
The main calls in the resolution include:
- Committing as a church to learning about the plight of children in Palestine and Israel;
- Urging the Senate of the United States, the only country in the world not to have done so already, to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would better position this country to address the rights of children everywhere, including in Palestine;
- Calling upon the US to uphold its own laws related to the more than $3 billion in annual military aid, which require recipient nations to adhere to certain standards of human rights and due process; and
- Calling upon Israel to guarantee basic due process rights and prohibit torture and ill-treatment of detained children.
Several speakers supported the resolution from the floor of the plenary session, including a young Palestinian Christian, Rachel Shomali, who is serving this summer as a Mission Co-Worker in Residence in the US through Global Ministries. Ms. Shomali described the difficulties of going from her home in Beit Sahour to her university near Ramallah. “What should take 40 minutes ends up taking at least an hour and a half because of the forced detour and military checkpoints.” She continued, “The added militarization increases the psychological and emotional impact of the checkpoints,” concluding, “Soldiers that I encounter at these checkpoints are often my age and even younger. It’s absurd that this is the only interaction I’ve had with Israelis who live so close.”
Ms. Shomali then shared that “Classmates of mine have been detained at protests and even killed by Israeli soldiers. Some of those detained are imprisoned for months without being properly charged, without access to trial, family and lawyers. Some students have been detained so long they’ve had to drop semesters in college and schools.” She added that her own father had been detained when he was a teenager, and she believes he is still traumatized by the experience of prison.
Rev. Loren McGrail, a mission co-worker, quoted Dr. Mira Rizeq, General Secretary of Global Ministries’ partner, the YWCA of Palestine, saying, “It is not justice to have children live in constant fear of being detained or imprisoned. It is not justice to allow any state, including Israel to torture children, denying them their basic rights or force them to live in trauma and insecurity systematically.”
DOM Board Chair and Indiana Regional Minister Rev. Rick Spleth also spoke to the resolution. “If you travel to Palestine you can walk today where Jesus walked--but not in a good way. Children living today in the land we call holy live under the peril of military occupation just as they did in Jesus' time. It should not be so today.” He continued, “My spirit was troubled to talk with a shopkeeper whose children are taunted on the way to school by Israeli settlers illegally living in their land. And my heart was broken to meet a mother whose son was shot in the back and killed on his school playground by Israeli Defense Forces for allegedly throwing a rock.”
And Dr. Cathy Nichols, DOM Vice President and former mission co-worker in Jerusalem, addressed the resolution saying, “Going through checkpoints with my children and having them witness arbitrary choices where one child gets to go through and another does not simply to visit with family or friends has lead us to have deep conversations about the Occupation. My oldest, who just turned fourteen on Saturday, said to me last week – ‘Mama, the older I get, the more I understand , the more worried I am about the kids here.’”
One member asked for prayers and assistance in interpreting the resolution and helping local congregations learn about the issues, and that will be part of Global Ministries’ implementation of the calls. With the United Church of Christ’s General Synod adopting a parallel resolution last week, Global Ministries will be able to work to implement the resolution jointly, adding to its impact.