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Calls for 'honest debate' among believers across Israel's divide

by Will Hobbs

A letter from Palestinian Christians, criticising the response of Western churches to the conflict, has been described as "irrational", by a deacon at a church in Jerusalem who's urging Christians on both sides to promote "calm, honest debate."

Earlier this week, several Palestinian Christian institutions and groups signed the petition titled, 'A Call For Repentance', detailing the loss of thousands of loved ones in the ongoing violence.

It claimed churches in the West were using a "double standard", which "humanizes Israeli Jews while insisting on dehumanizing Palestinians and whitewashing their suffering."

But Aaron Eimie, who also speaks on behalf of the group Church's Ministry Among Jewish People, told Premier that it was "disingenuous" to accuse Western churches which voiced support for Israel of not loving Palestinian Christians who, he acknowledged, are suffering terribly.

"There are lots of Christian Palestinian Christian aid organisations. I'm part of an organisation which takes Palestinian babies from Gaza and from other parts of Palestine, like the West Bank, and brings them to Jewish hospitals for free medical care. We love Palestinian Christians.

The letter, signed by a number of Palestinian Christian leaders, claims the Western response to the conflict "reflects an entrenched colonial discourse that has weaponized the Bible to justify ethnic cleansing" which, it argues, has continued in Zionist theologies that have "legitimized the ethnic cleansing of Palestine."

It blames the current conflict on "Israel’s systemic oppression of the Palestinians over the last 75 years since the Nakba, the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and the oppressive and racist military occupation that constitutes the crime of apartheid."

The letter makes no mention of Hamas.

"That's the way the debate goes in that it's all Israel's fault without any dialogue, or any acceptance of pressure from Islam, or from Hamas, particularly", Eimie said. 

He agreed that a contrite heart was needed, but wants a dialogue among believers that goes further: "As well as a call to repentance... a call for debate.  Let's have a sit down, have an honest debate about the issues, because Palestinians are suffering. That is true. And that's why we have United Nations organisations that are purely dedicated to taking care of Palestinian refugees, and looking after running schools in Gaza and the West Bank."

Eimie has urged Christians on both sides to talk to each other as a model to the other parties involved.

"I'm not convinced that supporting Israel is a sin. I think that's let's have a debate. Israel's in our Bible - we can't ignore it. It's a country created by the United Nations. It is there. Let's talk about its history, its issues and its future. And that includes also the Palestinian peoples - their history, their issues and their future. I think if we stop talking, we just end up fighting.

He called on believers across the divide to set an example of reconciliation and peacemaking, rather than animosity: "Let's talk, not just throw out carte blanche, things like this. They're fuelled by passion, not denying that, just I think they're illogical."

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