Jesse Wheeler published Freedom to Worship, Freedom to Be: A Letter to President Joseph Biden 2022-05-25 17:05:49 -0700
President Biden is on his way to the Holy Land. In response, FOSNA is seeking organizational endorsements for the letter below asking the US administration to address the concerns of local Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem. Please read the letter and complete the form below to endorse, by midday Friday. Time is of the essence.
President Joseph R. Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
In your forthcoming visit to the Holy Land, it is our hope that you take time to address the concerns of local Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem. We hope that you would meet with local church leaders as well as representatives of local Christian organizations to hear of their desire for a shared Jerusalem, open and accessible to all and not the exclusive domain of Jewish Israelis.
Christian clergy in Jerusalem have complained for years about an ongoing series of assaults, attacks, insults, and harassment by Jewish extremists in the Old City, as well as the defacement of their churches, property, and graveyards. They have also experienced what seems to be a determined campaign by Jewish Israeli groups to take over church properties in and around Jerusalem, relying on harassment, pressure, secret deals with corrupt officials, and forgeries. The response by the Israeli authorities used to be that such activities constituted individual acts by a fringe group of Jewish extremists who hated Christians, and who were as much of a headache to the authorities as they were to the Christian Churches.
With spurious excuses, Israel also restricts Muslims and Christians access to Jerusalem and its holy places. Having illegally annexed East Jerusalem, it treats Palestinians from nearby Bethlehem, Ramallah, and the rest of the West Bank and Gaza as foreigners who cannot come into the Holy City without permission from Israel. The apartheid nature of the state of Israel leaves all power in the hands of a government dedicated only to Jewish interests, rather than the interests of all the peoples of the land. In the city of Jerusalem, such a policy only leads to hatred, conflict, and bloodshed. Jerusalem is important to Jews, but it is also vitally important to Christians and Muslims.
This year witnessed an escalation of settler encroachment and attacks by Jewish extremists, as well as increased evidence of direct Israeli government involvement. This Easter, and for the first time ever, Israeli police announced that they would restrict the number of worshippers at the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulcher) for the Ceremony of the Holy Fire to 1000 (the church holds about 11,000) and would limit the number of Christians coming into the Old City on Easter to a mere 500. At the same time, a group of settlers who were escorted by Israeli police forcibly broke into and occupied church property near the Jaffa Gate (claiming that they had purchased these rights, in a shady deal that is being contested in the courts.)
The Israeli extremists behind these attacks are no longer a fringe group in Israel, but are now openly represented in the Knesset and even within the ruling government coalition. These religious fanatics are now framing their plans as being integral to the Zionist goal of exclusive Jewish control over Jerusalem, which they claim must be a Jewish city under the sole control of Israel. Meanwhile, secular Zionists who have no interest in a religious war with Muslims or Christians are nonetheless happy to assert exclusive Jewish claims to Jerusalem as a national, political goal.
Christian Zionists, who were close to the previous administration, also use religious arguments (if spurious) to support their political positions, claiming that support for Zionist goals in Jerusalem is somehow part of God’s plan for the End Times. It is shameful that such groups not only support Jewish religious extremists but evidence a clear hostility towards both Muslims and local Palestinian Christians. They would be delighted to see a bloody, catastrophic religious war that in their thinking will bring about Armageddon and hasten the Second Coming.
The assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American Christian journalist from Jerusalem, and the disgraceful behaviour of the Israeli police at her funeral highlight the need for an end to the Occupation, in accordance with international law. It likewise highlights the need that Palestinians living under Israeli rule have for international protection and the need to safeguard freedom of religion, free access to the holy places, and a peaceful sharing of the Holy City within the terms of the historic Status Quo arrangements, in existence prior to Israel’s assertion of total control over the city.
President Biden, we implore you to uphold your stated commitment to human rights and international law, supporting arrangements that uphold human dignity and freedom of religion for all the peoples of the land. We desire free access to the Holy Places for believers seeking to worship God “in spirit and in truth,” as opposed to those who would abuse God’s name by using it to assert exclusive political claims. The delicate balance enshrined in the historic Status Quo agreements should be meticulously observed, and exclusivist claims on behalf of any one of the three monotheistic religions must be resisted as a formula for disaster for all concerned. Jerusalem is too important to be the sole domain of any one group, and it must be shared by all.
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the safety and prosperity of all who hold it dear (Psalm 122:6).
Executive Director, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)
Our dear friend Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer is facing spurious accusations, yet again, in response to his tireless advocacy for Palestinian human rights and brilliant scholarship on the historical and theological influence of Christian Zionism.
His very future as an Anglican vicar is at stake, as he is set to face a Church of England tribunal (held Monday 23 – Friday 27 May 2022) arising from a complaint made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews against Stephen in 2018. The Tribunal will be held at St. Andrew’s Church Centre Holborn, Central London.
In the words of Dr. Gary M. Burge: “Stephen, you have single handedly done more to change this conversation about Christian Zionism than anyone I know."
The truth is that while Stephen has been somewhat of a lightning rod for cynical accusations of anti-Semitism, this could be any of us. As such, we must not shrink from such accusations as they come, but stand together in solidarity for truth and justice.
Will you #StandWithStephen and send him a message of support, encouragement, or solidarity before his tribunal? If you are familiar with Rev. Dr. Sizer and his work, will you write him an endorsement?
- See here for examples from his previous tribunal in 2013: Letters of Support
A previous complaint by the Board of Deputies was resolved by conciliation in 2013. Find information about the previous complaint and its resolution:
(Note: If the software isn't allowing a public post at this time, click the "don't post this publicly button" and we will make sure Stephen gets your message.)Send message
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Jesse Wheeler published A Declaration Regarding Respect for the Bodies of the Deceased 2021-11-19 11:46:59 -0800
As religious leaders and scholars, please join us in endorsing the declaration below.
Include your title and your religious, denominational, or organizational affiliation. For additional information:
- "Detained Bodies" (FOSNA)
- "Israeli High Court Greenlights Holding Palestinian Bodies as Bargaining Chips" (B'Tselem)
We, the undersigned faith leaders of the three primary monotheistic religions native to the Holy Land, declare in no uncertain terms that the bodies of fallen combatants, including enemies, should be treated with respect and afforded a proper burial. They must not be held as bargaining chips or used to collectively punish and torment their families. This is a moral and ethical requirement of all three religious traditions, applying to all parties involved, and is not simply a position based on political expediency. It is likewise required by secular international law and the provisions of Article 17 of the Geneva Convention. The practice of withholding the bodies of one’s enemies as bargaining chips, by Israel or Hamas, as well as the current Israeli policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinian combatants to punish families—in the name of both deterrence and collective punishment—is particularly abhorrent and unacceptable.
In Judaism, says Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, refusing to return bodies to their families absolutely contradicts the core Jewish value of upholding human dignity in all circumstances. Furthermore, according to Jewish law, the burial of corpses requires same day burial (Deuteronomy 21:23) and was interpreted by sages like Nachmanides to include the bodies of enemy combatants. Ultimately, refusing to return the bodies of the deceased to family members for burial destroys the possibility of peacemaking between combatant societies, because disrespecting the dead is a deeply traumatic event that prevents reconciliation.
In Christianity, says Rev. Naim Ateek, we believe that God, our Creator, has endowed every human being with dignity and self-worth. God breathes life into all humans. We believe that God created us in His image and has given us the breath of life. Therefore, our faith inspires us to respect the dignity which God has given to all humans, whether living or dead. Any act that dehumanizes and degrades any person must be totally rejected and resisted.
Rev. Alex Awad elaborates further that we are taught to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and do to others what we wish others to do to us. This applies not only to the living but also to the captured corpses of our enemies. We need to handle the corpses of enemy fighters with respect because we are taught that each of us is created in the image of God. Even if a human is dead, he or she continues to reflect that image. Finally, a corpse cannot fight back or pose a threat. Hence, why retaliate or show contempt towards a lifeless body that can neither feel your retaliation nor cause you any further harm?
Islam, says Imam Zafer Bangash, accords great value to human dignity. God grants rights to all human beings—referred to in the Qur’ān as “God’s representatives on earth” (Al-Baqarah 30)—from before one is born, throughout their life, and even after death. Dead or alive, the human body—created by God in perfect shape—must be given dignity and respect. The importance of this is illustrated in the Qur’ān (Al-Ma'idah 31). There, it is narrated that when Cain was unsure of how to deal with the body of his brother Abel—whom he had murdered—God sent a message in the form of a raven. God used the raven to dig into the ground to bury another raven, thus indirectly showing Cain how to bury his brother’s body.
Chief Sunni Court Judge, Shiekh Muhammad Abu Zeid, elaborates further: In addition to prohibiting harm done to non-combatants (Al-Baqarah 190), promoting peaceful solutions to conflict (Al-Anfal 61), and demanding the proper treatment of prisoners (Muhammad 4), the Quran specifically prohibits the desecration of the bodies of enemies (Al-Nahal 126) or leaving the bodies of enemies in the open and unburied. This was precisely the example of the Prophet Mohammad himself after the battle of Bader (Bukhari 3976; Muslim 2875). Islamic teachings confirm the necessity of preventing unjustified wars and the necessity of preventing savage acts, which affect the souls of the living and the bodies of the dead alike.
In each religion, therefore, the dignity of the bodies of fallen combatants must be respected for deep ethical, scriptural, and theological reasons. The corpses of our enemies should not be allowed to become pawns in a political struggle, causing anguish to families and festering hatred between peoples.
We therefore call on all parties to respect these principles. And, we particularly call on Israel to discontinue this inhumane practice and return the dead bodies of its enemies to their families to receive a proper, dignified burial.Endorse