By Elham Asaad Buaras
Delegates at the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly voted to adopt a report which challenges “claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory” on May 23.
The Church and Society Council report The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’ argues that it is “doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction” given “the fact that the [Palestinian] land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force.”
The report also acknowledges that the idea of misinterpreted biblical prophecy combined with norms of European colonialism lead to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 when the British Government agreed to a ‘Jewish homeland’ in Palestine and the origins of the current crisis in the region.
The Church also reaffirmed their view that the present situation in Israel/Palestine “is characterised by an inequality in power” and that Israel’s blockade of Gaza and illegal military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem must end before reconciliation is possible.
Delegates further stressed that the human rights of all peoples should be respected and that “this should include the right of return and/or compensation for Palestinian refugees.”
The Church and Society Council report was condemned by the Israeli Ambassador, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCJC) and the Board of Deputies (BoD).
SCJC Director, Ephraim Borowski, called the report to be withdrawn from the “forthcoming general assembly. If the Church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?”
BoD Vice President, Jonathan Arkush, said the report was “littered with misrepresentations of Jewish history, values and beliefs, as well as basic factual errors” and that the church “has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based.”
Convener of the Church and Society Council, Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, said: “This is primarily a report highlighting the continued occupation by the state of Israel and the injustices faced by the Palestinian people as a consequence. It is not a report criticising the Jewish people. Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to anti-Semitism. “
Dr Bernard Sabella of the Middle East Council of Churches, based in Jerusalem, a delegate to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, called the Church of Scotland report “a wake-up call”.
Rev Na’el Abu Rahmoun of the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East explained how Arab Israelis face systematic discrimination, and said “we are about 1.5 million, Christians and Muslims together” who are “considered maybe second or third class citizens”.
Iona Community member Eurig Scandrett said that the Church of Scotland “has not been afraid to speak truth to power – the truth that Israel’s claims to Palestinian land is unjustifiable theologically or ethically.”