The settler within me

What does it mean to ally oneself with people victimized by colonization when one is a settler? This is a question that has confronted me repeatedly in recent months.

MCC in Canada has just launched a major multi-year education and advocacy campaign on Palestine and Israel called A Cry for Home. The campaign highlights the cry of MCC’s Palestinian and Israeli partners for a just peace – a peace characterized by justice, equality, dignity and respect for international law. It is a project that I and MCC colleagues have helped to shape..

One of the issues that the campaign highlights is the colonization of Palestinian land for illegal Jewish-only settlements. As of June 2017, there were 196 settlements and 232 outposts (smaller clusters of Jewish settlers) in occupied Palestine. Nearly 800,000 Jewish Israelis – 10 percent of the Israeli population – live in these colonies. According to international law, these colonies are illegal.

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An Israeli settlement under construction near Bethlehem. Photo/Esther Epp-Tiessen

As I learn about these settlements and their impact on Palestinian people and Palestinian land, I grow angry.  And then I remember that I am a settler too. I am a settler on the Indigenous land of Turtle Island (North America).

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents came to Canada in the 1920s as Mennonite refugees fleeing violence, famine and social upheaval in the wake of the Russian Revolution. My father’s parents settled in southwestern Manitoba (Treaty 2) and my mother’s on Pelee Island, Ontario, the traditional home of Caldwell First Nation.

My grandparents all arrived in Canada with very few resources, and the first decades in the new land were very difficult. Both my parents grew up in poverty. But as a 2nd generation Canadian, I have been blessed with privilege:  a good education, meaningful work, a comfortable home, clean and abundant water, many opportunities — and so much more. Only recently have I begun to recognize how my privilege is rooted in the losses of the Indigenous peoples of this land.

What do I do with the recognition that I live – very well – because I live on stolen land?  And how do I reconcile my own story with my critique of Israeli settlements in Palestine?

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Lia Tarachansky near the settlement in which she grew up. Photo/Palestinedocs

Not long ago I met Lia Tarachansky, a Russian-born Israeli Jew who grew up in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank.  Lia is my teacher in uncovering what it means to be a settler who has benefitted from the losses of others. She is a brilliant thinker and a compassionate human being.

As a journalist, filmmaker and activist, Lia has committed herself to telling the story of Israel’s past, and to shattering the myths around the founding of the State of Israel. She fearlessly documents the story of the Nakba and how the founding of Israel meant the displacement and dispossession of 750,000 to 900,000 Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. She unveils the ongoing process of colonization at work through settlements, home demolitions, barriers to movement and military occupation.

Paulette Regan is another hero of mine. In her profound book about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Unsettling the Settler Within¸ Regan invites settler Canadians to do the same. True reconciliation in Canada, Regan insists, can only happen when non-Indigenous Canadians decolonize themselves. That includes shattering the myth about Canada’s own “peaceful” relationship with Indigenous peoples. And it means acknowledging and coming to terms with our privilege.

Of course, reconciliation means much more than that for Regan.  But for settler people, she insists, our efforts to be allies must begin with dealing with our own “stuff.” She writes,

“… what is our particular role and responsibility? Is it to ‘help’ Indigenous people recover from the devastating impacts of prescriptive policies and programs that we claimed were supposed to help them? Given our dismal track record, this seems a dubious goal. Or is it to determine what we who carry the identity of the colonizer and have reaped the benefits and privileges of colonialism must do to help ourselves recover from its detrimental legacy?”

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Mennonites walking for reconciliation at the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa, June 2015. Photo/Alison Ralph

It is clear where Regan stands.  And it is clear where Tarachansky stands as well.

Settlers seeking to be allies of the colonized must do the hard and painful work of examining and coming to terms with the ways in which we have benefited from the colonial project and how we replicate and maintain colonial relationships today.  We must be prepared to be “deeply unsettled” in that process. Regan assures us that the unsettling will be a good thing.

Jesus once said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).  Before I am too critical of Israeli settlers, I need to come to terms with the settler within me.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office

No Way to Treat a Child

It was the middle of the night when Israeli soldiers came to 15-year-old Jarrah Masalmeh’s home to arrest him.

Jarrah Mesalmeh in the barbershop he runs below his family home. MCC photo/Meghan Mast

Over the next five days, Jarrah’s family had no idea where he was being detained.

When they attended court during the trial ten days later, the family still couldn’t speak to their son.

Eventually convicted of throwing stones—something he says he didn’t do—Jarrah was sentenced to nine months in military detention, in a jail far away from his home.

When he was released, he wasn’t the same young man.

Unfortunately, Jarrah’s Masalmeh’s story is far from an isolated incident.

Two legal systems…two different experiences

Every year, hundreds of Palestinian children in the West Bank—like adults—face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment under an Israeli military detention system that denies them basic rights.

Most are accused of throwing stones.

Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. While Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to military law (where army commanders have full executive, legislative and judicial authority), Israeli settlers in the West Bank are subject to civilian law.

  • In more than half of all cases, arrest happens in the middle of the night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers;
  • During transfer, children are often blindfolded, hooded and/or painfully restrained with zip ties;
  • In the majority of cases, children are interrogated without legal counsel and without access to a parent or guardian;
  • Interrogations tend to be coercive, including verbal abuses, threats and physical violence that ultimately results in a confession;
  • Children are often shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew, a language most do not understand;
  • After sentencing, more than half of Palestinian child detainees are transferred from occupied West Bank to prisons inside of Israel—a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Upon release from prison, these children are typically traumatized, cautious about ever leaving the house for fear of going straight to prison again without question.

Relationships with their parents become strained, as there is a sense that they can no longer be protected.

There is a profound impact on children and families alike.

Why does it matter?

Beyond the moral questions, these practices are all in violation of international law, which protects children against ill-treatment when in contact with law enforcement, military and judicial institutions.

For instance, the UN Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—both ratified by Israel in 1991—prohibit the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances. Full stop.

The CRC outlines, among other things, that:

  • The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all actions (Article 3);
  • Children should only be arrested and detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time (37);
  • Children have the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment (37); and
  • Children in custody have a right to prompt access to legal advice and to a prompt hearing before an independent court (37).

In other words, Israeli authorities have no right to treat Palestinian and Israeli children differently under the civilian and military legal systems.

What can we do in Canada?

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, third party countries like Canada have an obligation to hold Israel to account for these violations—by cooperating with other states to bring an end to the situation, refusing to recognize the situation as lawful, and abstaining from giving aid or assistance.

In short, Canada has international obligations.

The No Way to Treat a Child campaign—led by Defence for Children International – Palestine—is urging Canada to live up to these responsibilities, in word and in deed.

As a first step, the campaign is inviting Canadians to sign a petition to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, calling on Canada to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and to hold the Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systemic ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees.

We invite you to learn more, and join us as we work to draw attention to the situation faced by Palestinian children and their families!

By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Director

MCC participates in this initiative in both Canada and the U.S. In Canada, MCC’s engagement with No Way to Treat a Child is part of its own A Cry for Home campaign. 

 

A Cry for Home — Why now?

Everyone needs a home — where families are safe and secure, where their basic needs are met, where they can come and go freely, and where they can imagine a future of justice and peace. But that is not the reality for Palestinians — or even for some Israelis.

This month MCC in Canada launches a special campaign on Palestine and Israel called “A Cry for Home.”

A Cry for Home logoIt is a multi-year initiative inviting MCC supporters to learn about, engage with and advocate for a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. It is a call to respond to the cry of Palestinians and Israelis for a safe, secure, just and peaceful home.

Why this campaign at this time? After all, hasn’t MCC been addressing issues related to Palestine and Israel for years? There are several reasons we are embarking on this initiative now:

  • Because of the cry of our partners. We are responding because of the urgent plea of our partners — especially Palestinian Christian partners — for solidarity and for advocacy. MCC partners have for years been urging a bolder stance in calling for an end to occupation, oppression and injustice. Indeed, in the past six months, Palestinian Christian organizations have urged “costly solidarity” on the part of the global Christian church, insisting, “This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians.”
  • Because of the increasingly desperate situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The theft of land and the building of illegal settlements for Israeli Jews in the occupied West Bank continues apace, despite insistence from the international community that such activity stop. The demolition of Palestinian homes, schools and orchards goes on with impunity. The situation in Gaza is catastrophic, with the UN declaring that it will be unlivable by 2020 and perhaps even sooner. In the meantime, Palestinians and others who resist are increasingly bullied, silenced, imprisoned.
  • Because we care also about Israeli Jews. While the Palestinians suffer most in the current reality, we know that Israeli Jews are also harmed by the words, walls, and weapons that divide them from Palestinians. Like Palestinians, they long for homes and a homeland that is safe and secure. Like Palestinians, they suffer violence. Yet many of them live with a deep sense of fear and foreboding. We acknowledge that for many people, the fear is rooted in Christian persecution of Jews over the centuries. Yet, like many Israeli peacemakers, we believe that a peaceful future for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians will result from an end to the occupation, from the practice of justice, and from respect for international law.housesand_farm_0
  • Because of MCC’s long history. MCC has been active in Palestine and Israel since 1949, when the creation of the State of Israel made hundreds of thousands of Palestinians refugees in their own home. Our history and continuous presence, as well as partnership with Palestinians (since 1949) and with Israelis (since 1967), has given us insights into the ongoing conflict, as well as a special burden to help in supporting a resolution to the conflict. Throughout that history, partners have urged MCC not only to meet immediate needs with relief assistance and community development support, but to engage in advocacy to address the root causes of the current reality.
  • Because the topic is challenging. Over many decades, MCC’s work in Palestine and Israel — particularly, our advocacy for a just peace — has generated a diversity of opinions from our supporters and constituents. While many of MCC’s supporters resonate with our work and approach, some of them disagree with us when we critique the policies of the State of Israel and its actions toward Palestinians. With this campaign, we want to engage with these diverse perspectives — exploring questions together, dialoguing constructively, and building understanding.
  • Last, but definitely not least, because of our faith. Our Christian faith — and our commitment to Jesus — compels us to stand with the oppressed, lovingly speak truth to power, and actively seek a just peace in the land where Jesus walked. Jesus himself denounced injustice and proclaimed good news of liberation to those living under a yoke of oppression; we can do no less. More than that, our faith gives us hope that transformation and reconciliation are truly possible. We are inspired by the vision of the Holy Land as a place where all people — Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians and Muslims — live with peace, justice and security, a land where “everyone sits under their own vine and fig tree and no one makes them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

Please join us in responding to the cry of Palestinians and Israelis for home.
Visit our campaign page for information on how to learn, engage, advocate, pray and give. And please sign up for regular campaign updates.

 By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office

New policies galore

By Ottawa Office staff

In 2016 the Canadian government launched public consultations as part of a process for policy reviews of multiple government departments, including those dealing with foreign policy, International Assistance, and National Defence. Almost a year after closing these various consultations, the government released its general foreign policy direction via a speech made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Chrystia Freeland, in the House of Commons on June 6, 2017.  In the days that followed Minister Freeland’s speech, Defence Minister Hon. Harjit Sajjin released Canada’s new defence policy on June 7, and International Development Minister Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau held an event On June 9 where she released more specific details on Canada’s international assistance policy.

Chrystia FreelandMinister Freeland’s speech promised Canada will be a global leader in a time of uncertainty by working with partners and allies through multilateral institutions such as the UN and focusing on three priorities.

  • First, Canadian foreign policy will be shaped by Canadian values such as feminism, diversity and pluralism.
  • Second, Canadian foreign policy will be characterized by significant investments in the military in order that Canada can play a leadership role and provide assistance around the world.
  • Third, Canada is a trading nation and trade is crucial for supporting the Canadian private sector and building up the economy of other countries as one way to development.

Though highlighting Canadian global successes of the past Freeland offered few, if any, concrete details of how Canada would move forward, leading the world with Canadian values. Canada’s declared commitment to the Paris Climate Accord is one way to distinguish it from the current U.S. administration, but how does Canada’s commitment to building new pipelines line up with this stance? If Canada is indeed going to reach out through trade relationships, how does Canada uphold human rights in all of our relationships with China and Saudi Arabia? Freeland declared more funding and investment in the military as a way to lead. But what are the factors that would justify the involvement of the Canadian military overseas?

defence_minister_apology_20170429 photo by Justin Tang for Canadian Press

The Defence Minister Sajjin’s 113-page defence review was entitled “Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy”. It included a promise that over the next twenty years the Canadian government will pour billions of dollars it did not budget for into defence spending. By shifting military spending policy, and promising to increase NATO contributions, the Liberal defence plan appears to be in-line with one of the loudest demands of the current U.S. administration. Indeed, in their speeches, the Canadian Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers contended that given the apparent shifts happening in U.S. policies, Canada is only doing what it must in order to step up and be a leader on the global stage.

It is worth recognizing that the defence policy does acknowledge the multifaceted, changing nature of conflict; the importance of regulating small-arms; the impacts of climate change and economic inequality on conflict; the importance of women’s participation in peacebuilding; and the need to address the root causes of conflict. But despite acknowledging the range of potential mandates for our military, overall the policy seems to pivot further towards combat than towards humanitarian, disaster relief, or even peacekeeping missions.

web-po-foreign-aid-0609 by Chris Waittie for Reuters (2)

The 3rd policy – “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy” – was highly anticipated by Canadian civil society and development organizations since the close of public consultations almost a year ago. Overall, there are few surprises, if any, in Canada’s new international assistance policy. Buzzwords and phrases like feminist, women and girls, reproductive health, grassroots organizations, climate change, SDGs, supporting the most vulnerable, and evidence-based policy showed up frequently in Bibeau’s presentation and within the policy itself. For now, what civil society groups will be watching in the coming months and years is how this policy will be implemented – i.e. what is the roadmap and where is the money?! No new budget money was allocated for international assistance in the 2017-18 Federal Budget, which means organizations like MCC and our coalition partners will continue to call for increases in ODA to reach Canada’s assistance and development goals, especially as we approach Budget 2018-19.

The Ottawa Office will continue to monitor announcements and watch the government’s actions as plans unfold. In particular, MCC will watch developments in foreign policy, defence and international assistance as they relate to areas where MCC has programming.

An Assembly Line of Injustice: The Israeli Military Court System – Military Court Watch

This piece was originally published by MCC Palestine, August 2017

We arrived at Ofer Prison in the morning of late June. Ofer Prison is accompanied by a nearby interrogation center and military courts; together they function as an assembly line to put young Palestinians living in the West Bank behind bars as quickly as possible. With the help of an organization named Military Court Watch (info below), we were admitted inside to see the proceedings of the military court system in the West Bank.

Upon entering the courts, we first sat with families who were there to see their children’s court appearances. We heard from Mohammed[1] and his wife who told us about how their son had been arrested by the military while he was playing soccer on the school playground in late April. Their village lies close to a bypass road to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Settlements such as this one are considered illegal under international law (more information here). Their son, named Ibrahim, was accused of throwing stones by this road. Ibrahim has already had 7 court appearances; he is in the 10th grade and he missed his school exams while he was in prison. The parents told us that 6 people from their village had been arrested around the same time as their son, some under the age of 18. “They come to provoke us, to stir up our village,” claims Ibrahim’s father. Now Ibrahim will always have a “security mark,” explains his father, which will make it difficult for the young man to get work permits into Israel and Jerusalem, but will also complicate his travel anywhere in the world.

Ofer Prison, an Israeli military prison in West Bank

A guard tower for Ofer Prison, an Israeli military prison in the West Bank.

We then met with Samar, the mother of a young man named Ahmad, who claimed her son had been in prison for over 7 months. Ahmad had been working at a radio station when the soldiers broke in and arrested him and his friends at 2 in the morning, breaking all of the equipment in the process. Samar explained that the soldiers first went to the family’s home in the middle of the night – she woke up with armed and masked soldiers by her bedside demanding to know where her son was. Samar thinks Ahmad and his friends were arrested for their journalism; the military court calls it something different and charged Ahmad for “incitement.” For such a charge, each family would be fined 6,000 NIS (1,700 USD / 2,200 CAD) and each of the defendants could face 5 years of prison time if convicted according to Samar.

Military Court Watch, which monitors the Israeli military court system, stressed that whether the evidence is flimsy or solid, most cases end in a conviction. Recent official data indicates a conviction rate for children (12-17 years) of 95%, higher for adults. This is designed to put Palestinians behind bars.

In no more than an hour, we shuffled between the various caravans acting as court rooms and heard over a dozen cases. They are, by definition, kangaroo courts. In the first courtroom we entered, two defendants sat side by side, having their unrelated cases heard by the judge virtually at the same time. One of the lawyers asked the military guard what he thought about the case and the judge fell asleep in the middle of giving the verdict. Both of the young men were taken away, shackled by the feet, and replaced by new defendants. The judge remained asleep.

In one of the courtrooms we found Samar again who was watching the court appearance of her son, Ahmad. Three other young men sat beside him as defendants. Ahmad’s court appearance took five minutes with the judge announcing a new court date next month. Ahmad, shackled, was taken out of the court and back to prison. New defendants came to replace him. An assembly line of injustice.

Military Court Watch (MCW) was established in 2013 and is guided by two basic principles. First, all children detained by the Israeli military authorities are entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under international law. Secondly, that there can be no legal justification for treating Palestinian and Israeli children differently under Israel’s military and civilian legal systems. In pursuit of these principles, MCW monitors, litigates, advocates and educates in the region and beyond.

You can find out more about Military Court Watch and its work at its website, http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/index.php 

Here are videos of Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch describing how the Israeli military court system works: 

https://youtu.be/cWe0NgZtcKg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIGU9kwHUz4

In the Migrant Journey

The following prayer was written by Saulo Padilla, Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Saulo came to Canada as a political refugee from Guatemala in the 1980s and is now a U.S. immigrant. He wrote this prayer as he participated in The Migrant Trail, a 75-mile walk along the U.S. /Mexico borderlands, intended to bear witness to those who have died along the trail in search of a better life in the U.S. We offer Saulo’s prayer in light of the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio this week.

I walk with my brothers and sisters in desolation.
Are you here God?
Please don’t be far.
I am afraid and my soul is trembling.
You cried in Gethsemane, come cry with me.

Walking on the highway with border patrol.
Many hunt for us and we are accused of breaking the law;
You have been persecuted,
come be our witness,
defend our cause.

Make known the roots of our suffering and the causes of our journey.
Make public that our intentions are in accord to your law.

Intercede for those who walk with us in this path.
Make their rights be known,
and their voices be heard.

Migrant shoes
Guide the feet of those who get lost.
You know the darkness.
Hold our hands.
In the dim night shine your light and direct our path.

Restore the lands of our ancestors.
Bring justice to our people.
Pour rain on their crops,
and give them peace to harvest their fruit.

Anxiety and fear are our companions in our journey;
replace them with peace and hope.

Nurture our spirits while we are far from home.
Be with our loved ones.
Do not let time erase the way back home,
so that we may not live in exile forever.

Crossing into Sesabe, Mexico and having a prayer service at a church there.
The desert is arid and thirst awaits us.
You know the desert.
You’ve been exiled.
Come walk with us,
and bring a fountain of justice into our lives.

Sow seeds of peace and justice in the hearts and minds of those who resist our journey.
Let us be seeds of peace and hope in our new home, this land of our exile. Amen.

God as advocate

Our MCC Ottawa Office has been engaged in advocacy since it was founded in 1975, but we still occasionally are asked why we are involved in speaking to government as a church-based relief, development and peacebuilding agency.  After all, the question often goes, doesn’t scripture admonish us to simply feed the hungry, clothe the naked or give water to those who thirst?

We as staff have developed a response to this question.  We have many reasons for justifying the work we are mandated to do, not the least of which is the role that advocacy plays in the Bible.  We point out how biblical characters like Moses, Esther, Daniel and John the Baptist spoke to the powers of their time, sometimes with a divine call to do so.  We lift up the words of prophets like Amos and Isaiah who denounced the evil practices of kings. We point to Jesus and how he challenged the religious authorities of his day.

Advocacy for justiceA new book gives us a deeper way of responding to the skeptics who believe that advocacy is beyond the realm of a Christian humanitarian agency.

The book is Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures, written by Stephen Offutt and four other U.S. church leaders (one of them, Robb Davis, was executive director of Mennonite Central Committee for a short period of time). The book speaks to evangelicals suspicious of advocacy and seeks to persuade them that advocacy is as important as any other form of Christian ministry, whether evangelism, relief, service or development.

The book accepts – as would our Ottawa Office – that reasons to engage in advocacy include:  1) the fact that partners call for it, 2) that it can address root causes of suffering, and 3) that it can have a much more sweeping and lasting impact than, say, relief distribution. But the authors’ key argument is a theological one – namely, we are advocates because God is an advocate.

God advocates by speaking creation into being and regularly calling that creation to care for the poor and weak, the widows and orphans. God advocates through the “vivid brilliance” of Jesus, whose proclamation of the “kingdom” (a political term indeed!), and whose healing, teaching and sacrificing ministry reconciles the world to Godself.  God advocates through the Holy Spirit who is present with the believers and who empowers them to “bear witness to the life of Jesus applied to all facets of society, whether education, economics, or even politics” (70).  Advocate is a metaphor for God’s very triune nature.

Bev Shipley

L-R: Ted and Katherine Oswald (MCC Reps in Haiti), Member of Parliament Bev Shipley, Clare Maier (former Ottawa Office intern), Rebekah Sears (MCC Ottawa Office policy analyst).

Not only that! The authors argue that for Christians, as “image-bearers” of Christ, advocating to “the powers” is an essential part of being faithful disciples.  They also caution that any all such advocacy must reflect the basic Christian principles of humility, integrity and love for the other.

There is much more to commend this book.  For example, it identifies the important roles of local congregation, denomination, church-based NGOs and para-church organizations in advocacy. It also analyzes key Christian advocacy initiatives and their strengths and weaknesses.  More importantly, it identifies and challenges that which makes many evangelicals skeptical of advocacy: a highly individualistic view of the gospel.

What I found particularly interesting was the chapter that addresses challenges and tensions in faith-based advocacy.  Many of the issues addressed are ones that our office is confronted with regularly, such as, for example, the tension between integrating a faithful response to the advocacy request of our partners with the approval of our donors and supporters. Or, to get more specific,  how do we call for bold action on climate change (because that is our partners’ plea), when some of our donors resist the notion that climate change is human-induced?

For Christians who already embrace the notion of faith-based advocacy, the book will not be necessary. But for evangelicals and others who are still wary of the place of advocacy in the life of faith, it is a major contribution.

And for us in MCC’s Ottawa Office, it gives us new language to communicate why we do what we do. We advocate because God advocates.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.