Thursday, May 15, 2014

15-May-14: Knocking at the church door; not getting much response or understanding

On the left, WCC general secretary, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, and
two colleagues at 2012 World Council of Churches "Consultation"
in Lebanon [Image Source]
In two posts over the past month, we (the editors of this blog, the bereaved parents of Malka Chana Roth, murdered at the age of 15 by people openly delighted to have done it) have expressed deep anger at the posturing and politicizing of the World Council of Churches:
The WCC went public in mid-April 2014, via a statement of solidarity, expressing Christian sympathy for what they termed "some 5000 Palestinian men, women and children, languishing in Israeli jails". Many of those prisoners are self-confessed murderers. Many more of them are proudly unrepentant terrorists. Yet the WCC's chief executive Olav Fykse Tveit called on worshipers belonging to the roof-body's churches "to pray for, visit, and tend to the needs of all [those] prisoners, no matter the reason for their detention."

No matter the reason for their detention, he said. And sadly the evidence is he actually meant it. No moral judgments for the world's largest block of Protestant churches, no sirree. Murderers they may be, but they're 'languishing' and we are called upon to
"remember Palestinian prisoners through prayers and acts of solidarity that restore to them their freedom with justice and dignity
For some odd reason, the justice and dignity permanently and irretrievably denied to such victims of Palestinian Arab savagery as our daughter Malki have consistently failed to rise to the level at which the WCC sees fit to speak out

We (the editors of this blog) are bereaved parents of an innocent victim of a murderous assault that was calculated to wreak maximum havoc among religiously observant Jews like us and our children. The planner of the massacre said so explicitly. She went on television last year to describe the open rejoicing that erupted among Palestinian Arabs when the body count of Jewish children began to climb. But we, and as far as we know all the other families of Israeli victims of terrorist murderers, have never gotten so much as a postcard from the World Council of Churches. Fortunately for us, we find religious insights and loving comfort from other sources and different traditions.

We expressed this in a letter to the WCC's chief executive Olav Fykse Tveit on April 24, 2014. In it, we sent him a copy of this post from our blog. We respectfully asked that he tell us what he thinks of the points we raised. 

When no response arrived, we wrote again on April 29, this time with copies to numerous functionaries within the WCC. Then we wrote again on May 7 because there was still no answer. The last sentence of that letter said this:
You will surely understand why we now say that we will wait just one more day before proceeding as if we have been ignored (since that is plainly what you have chosen to do), and will publish a follow-up piece.
Later that day, we did indeed receive an email. It came from someone senior in the communications department of the Geneva-based WCC. Here, without naming the individual who wrote it, is the full text:
Dear Frimet and Arnold Roth, Greetings from the World Council of Churches. In response to your email concerning the letter of Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit addressing the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the letter was released on the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day, which is an initiative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The intention of the letter was to first draw attention to the broader role of the church concerning prisoners everywhere and then more specifically, to the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. In the broad sense the letter says,  “As people of faith, we are called to pray for, visit, and tend to the needs of all prisoners, no matter the reason for their detention.” This means there is an on-going role of faith communities to address the needs of prisoners everywhere. The letter also spoke to a more specific situation, “For Israel and Palestine, prisoners have taken on even greater significance than in the past. We were disappointed when the Government of Israel cancelled the scheduled release of prisoners who were in Israeli jails even before the Oslo Agreement of 1993. In addition to disrupting an already fragile negotiations process, this move deepened heartache for many families, relatives, friends and, indeed, the entire Palestinian people.”I hope that this background helps clarify the context of the general secretary’s letter and the on-going concern of people of faith for prisoners everywhere.Finally, I would like to add that I have read through your web pages and send my personal sympathies for the tragic loss of your beautiful daughter, Malki.  As a parent myself, I believe that no parent, whether in Israel or Palestine, or elsewhere in the world should have to go through this sort of experience.  I am also impressed with the work of the Karen Malki Foundation and what it means to so many families. It is the hope of all of us that peace will come and all children will have the opportunity to grow and blossom.Best wishes in your work and please let me know if you any further questions.
We replied within minutes of getting his email:
Thank you. As much as it does me good to hear empathy from a man who understands the love of a parent for a child, we are simply dumbstruck to see this statement in your letter:
"In addition to disrupting an already fragile negotiations process, this move deepened heartache for many families, relatives, friends and, indeed, the entire Palestinian people.” We have three comments.
1. Are you aware that every single one of the men on the go-free list is a convicted murderer?
2. If yes, what is your sense of the heartache suffered by the families of the victims of those acts of murder? Does that heartache count? Does their being unrepentant murderers play no role in how you wish your community of faith to look at these people and at those who celebrate their blood-drenched achievements?
3. The entire Palestinian people wishes, to judge (as we certainly are entitled to judge from the sentiments expressed in their rallies and by their leaders) to destroy as many Jewish lives as they can. You need look no further than the media coverage - exclusively in the Arabic language - of the funeral of the man who exploded himself in the Sbarro restaurant in August 2001. He was buried this past Wednesday. We expressed our feelings about it in a widely-read opinion piece here: "5-May-14: The making of a martyr: it takes more than a village". If you believe this is true, does it affect in any way the legitimacy of your organization's call for "freedom with justice and dignity" for those who have already murdered and are proud of it? Do you regret calling for that?
We sincerely hope you will address our questions. Those answers, if you care to give them, will be much more helpful in allowing us to understand the bizarre call to empathize with the dignity and right to justice of the cold-blooded killers put forth by the WCC than what you have just written to us.
We waited three more days and again got no reply. So we then wrote this:
Experience tells me you probably feel you have spent enough time on this. My wife and I feel very differently. The WCC secretary-general has not deigned to reply. And your response - framed in a friendly way - fails to address any of the issues. The questions with which we followed up are real. If, as we assume, you prefer not to relate to them, we will go back to our blog and post our further response without the benefit of yours.
In case it is not clear enough to you from the emails the WCC has received from us - we being a very ordinary family among thousands in Israel with a similar tragedy to tell - the WCC's public statement and the campaign it has pushed onto the Christian stage is in our eyes a disgrace. It's a moral disgrace, a theological disgrace, a legal disgrace. It ought to be a stain on the consciences of all those who took part in its formulation. That is in no way a political conclusion but a humanitarian, ethical and common sense one.
This produced a quick response - though it was not quite the sort for which we hoped. Again, it came not from the chief executive to whom we had written. From him we have heard nothing. 

It came from the man in WCC's communications unit. He wrote that he's heading for "a weeklong absence from the office" and "should be able to access email later on Monday, however, that depends on access to the Internet. Best wishes to you and your family.

Alas, Monday has come and gone and it appears access to the Internet was a more challenging matter than he hoped. 

Are we dis-spirited by being ignored in this way? Certainly. And we're acutely aware of how insignificant we and our experiences are in the eyes of such people. But we're not giving up.

So here's a request: if readers of this post are connected to any of the hundreds of churches that make up the WCC, we would be glad to hear from them. We are wondering whether there's any identifiable discomfort in the WCC membership ranks in view of what we have described. 

There's room for thinking that there is. We noticed, for instance, that The Presbyterian Outlook, a website addressing issues of interest to US-based Presbyterians, today prominently published "Peacemaking, not divestment", an article by George M. Douglas that starts out sympathetically quoting Frimet Roth.

It's an encouraging sign.

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