Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, an organization that has issued scant, oblique, and modulated criticism of the incessant rocket attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip, has found his prophetic voice. In a statement issued on Dec. 29, 2008, Rev. Kobia condemned Israels recent bombing of Hamas military installations and warned Israel against sending in troops into the Gaza Strip. While Rev. Kobia specifically states the violence against Gaza must stop, he does not offer the same explicit and specific demand regarding ongoing violence against Israel.
Rev. Kobias most recent outburst is emblematic of the Christian peacemaking ethos which regards Arab and Muslim violence and hostility against Israel as an unremarkable consequence of Israeli behavior and Israeli efforts to defend itself as intolerable. Groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah that call for Israels destruction and engage in acts of violence to achieve this goal are denied moral agency while Israel is portrayed as in control of the violence directed at it.
Rev. Kobias statement reads as follows:
The first word to say to the violence against Gaza
is Stop. Over 300 lives lost, more than 1,000 people wounded, uncounted thousands traumatized, bombardment of one of the most densely populated places on earth
this must stop immediately. Governments in the region and abroad, the Arab League, the United States
, the European Union, and the United Nations must use their good offices to see that all those who are at risk are protected, on both sides of the border, and must ensure access for emergency and medical aid. The deaths and suffering of the last three days are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering.
People around the world are looking for change that brings peace closer in the Middle East. A terrible period of deadlock and deprivation has now erupted into greater violence. Policies that rely on cutting off shipments of food, medicine and fuel for 1.5 million Gazans and on sending rockets across borders at random or surgically only confirm how far from the path of peace the current authorities have strayed. To use ground forces would deepen the current disaster. Collective punishment against ones neighbors is illegal and has no place in building peace.
In the countries involved in this conflict, churches and church members are looking to their governments to take up the urgent work of securing a viable future for Palestinians, Israelis and their neighbors. The tired logic of public officials blaming others while denying their own governments responsibilities has led to the loss of many lives. Governments need now to be accountable for peace.
At the beginning of 2008, the World Council of Churches central committee condemned attacks on civilians in and around Gaza, called for all who exercise authority over Gaza including the government of Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, and urged member churches to pray and work for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
At the end of 2008, in this season of religious celebrations, it is a tragedy that the same measures are more necessary than ever. Our prayer is that the New Year will bring new courage, new leadership and new commitment to the difficult work of peace in the Middle East.
In his statement, Rev. Kobia targets Israel with a clear and unequivocal demand: Stop the violence against Gaza. Hamas on the other hand, is subject to a polite request (also directed at Israel), to respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Where is Rev. Kobias unequivocal demand that Hamas bring an end to the rocket attacks against Israel? Did the WCC ever issue such a statement? If yes, why was it not referenced and reiterated.
In an apparent effort to disguise the one-sided nature of the WCCs witness regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Rev. Kobia invokes a statement issued by the organizations central committee in February 2008. Like Rev. Kobias recent statement, the central committees minute offers a litany of actions undertaken by both Israelis and Palestinians and says they do not make for peace. This is as strong a condemnation of rocket attacks against Israel as you will see from the WCC and even this condemnation is combined with condemnation of Israeli actions.
In neither of these statements is there any acknowledgement that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to be met with an increase in rocket attacks from this area. All this demonstrates a troubling tendency in the Christian peacemaking community: Facts that undermine the narrative of Israeli concessions leading to peace are ignored, as are the factors that contribute to ongoing hostility toward Israel and Jews in the Middle East.
Rev. Kobias one-sided demand that Israel stop the violence against Gaza -- without demanding that Hamas stop the rocket attacks -- amounts to a Christian fatwa that denies the Jewish state of the right to defend itself. The fact that Rev. Kobia would issue such a fatwa when anti-Israel protesters are falsely accusing Israel of genocide
in rallies throughout the world raises serious questions about the ability of so-called peacemakers to provide responsible commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict.