No business trying to be ‘balanced’

March 13, 2013 | Viewpoints
By Ray Friesen | Swift Current, Sask.

Browsing through the Nov. 26, 2012, issue of Canadian Mennonite, Dick Benner’s review of Red Quarter Moon on page 30, and Kholoud Al Ajarma’s “Banana trees and justice” piece in Young Voices on page 43, piqued my interest, helping me recall two previous events and their connection to each other, to me and to us as Canadian Mennonites.

Reading Benner’s review, I recalled reading the novel Favoured Among Women about a year-and-a-half ago. I heard again the heart-rending cry of wives, children and community as Mennonite men were ripped from home and family, never to be seen again. Husbands and fathers gone, taken by a regime that cared neither for God nor human rights, not for peace nor for justice, not for the reality of Jesus nor for the welfare of people.

In April 2012, Sylvia and I visited Bethlehem, where we spent a day with Al Ajarma. We spent many an afternoon and suppertime listening to the stories of the people, Christians and Muslims alike, some living in refugee camps, some in their own homes in Bethlehem. In those stories we heard a profound echo of the cry of Mennonite women in Stalinist Russia: “Mahmoud, taken. Mohammed, taken. Izza, taken. Ibrahim, taken.”

Ninety years after the Mennonite experience in Russia, another regime, equally uncaring of God and human rights, peace and justice, the reality of Jesus and the welfare of people, was taking people in the dead of night to be swallowed, without charge and without due process, into a prison system set up to bring a people into subjugation.

As I heard the Palestinian stories, I felt the connection to the stories of my own people. It occurred to me that surely we, as Mennonites and Palestinians, share a spiritual, emotional and psychological kinship as powerful as any I could conceive. Our experience was now their experience.

Our need for someone to say no to the oppressor in the early 20th century is now their need in the early 21st century. In the 1920s we were the powerless without a voice. Now we have power and we have a voice. What an opportunity for us to give others what we so desperately needed when our husbands and fathers disappeared!

And then I also realized that we have been invited to be a voice for the Palestinians, whose voices are being ignored, and we have been silent. Our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters have invited us, begged us, pleaded with us, to stand with them and sign our names to the World Council of Churches’ Kairos Palestine Document. The document calls on the West, in particular, to use the same tools that moved South Africa from apartheid to democracy—boycott, divestment and sanctions—in the Israel/Palestine situation. Time and again when we were in Palestine, our brothers and sisters and their Muslim neighbours asked us to speak for them in the West.

And although they have encouraged congregationss to discuss it, both Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada have not signed the document themselves. In my opinion, MC Canada and MCC have not spoken boldly for the Palestinian people to our government and to our own neighbours who continue to support unconditionally a country that tramples on the rights of human beings, denies the common heritage in God of all people, and targets civilians with its soldiers and bombs.

To MC Canada and MCC, I say we can no longer play politics with what is happening in Israel and Palestine. In a previous generation we, with our silence, supported domestic violence by men in the name of a warped view of headship and being sensitive to all male voices in our churches. In 18th-century America, churches supported slavery in the name of a distorted reading of Scripture and a desire to be sensitive to white voices in the congregation.

As long as Israel terrorizes Palestinians, denies their human rights, steals their land, ignores most UN resolutions and violates international law, we have no business trying to be “balanced.” Our refusal to stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and their Muslim neighbours, is a betrayal of every man taken from his home and farm, every woman left to raise a family without her husband, and children growing up without knowing their father in the Mennonite colonies of Russia.

It is time to be clear that we are on somebody’s side in the Middle East: on the side of our Christian brothers and sisters, on the side of justice, on the side of human rights and human dignity, on the side of God.

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