Public Witness

Why Palestine?

Allison Tanner

June 9, 2023

Dear Lakeshore,

Ever since I first journeyed to Palestine/Israel, I have become passionate about sharing the harsh realities that Palestinians endure and joining their struggles for freedom, justice and equality. I’d like to take this column to share why the people of Palestine have become so important to my ministry.

On a very basic level – I have seen first-hand the immense harm being done to Palestinians and have been asked those who are suffering to help them in their struggle for human dignity, safety and freedom. I have borne witness to racial injustice, ethnic cleansing, theft of resources, police brutality, lack of legal protections, and a state-sanctioned matrix of control that restricts every aspect of Palestinian life. I have seen the destruction of homes, lives and communities as well as the creation of poverty.

This harm is connected to the land of the origins of my faith, the sacred stories that I have spent my life learning from. People often visit the land we call holy to see these sacred sites, but what I saw was people engaged in sacred struggle for their dignity and humanity. This is the struggle I know well from Biblical stories of God intervening in human history to demand justice and invert hierarchy so all people can live with dignity, hope, safety and opportunity. Further, this harm is being done in the name of my faith (through the twisted, heretical and antisemitic theology of Christian Zionism – Christian Zionists compose the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the country) and my country (through my tax dollars – the US gives Israel $3.8 billion annually, no strings attached).

This harm goes against deep values I believe in and issues I am already invested in. I deeply believe in justice for all, freedom of people to move and live their lives in safety, equal treatment and access to the same human rights. I am already deeply committed to disrupting and dismantling racism, challenging inequality, decrying theft of land and resources, ending structural violence, police brutality, and unjust laws. Learning more about how white supremacy and settler colonialism have shaped my own country, I can understand these phenomena better through seeing how starkly they function in the harm they are creating for Palestinians. These connections help me understand these evils better so I can challenge them not only internationally, but in my own country and community. I always like to remember that it was as part of my commitment to working to end immigration injustice that I was first invited to Palestine to see the connections of our work.

“Can you help us get our freedom back?” Palestinian civil society has reached out to the international community for help and Palestinian Christians have written pleas to the international Christian community to join them in their struggle. The former group offers very specific non-violent ways of engaging in direct action to support them through boycott, divestment and sanctions. The latter group has provided deep theological and moral underpinnings for doing this work as a Christian responsibility and way to more fully engage in walking the way of Jesus – a way of love and justice. They provide a framework for healing, hope, transformation and repair.

I’m not an expert on the Middle-East, nor I do not deny the complexities of history or the historic and ongoing oppression of Jewish people. When it comes to future visions of this war-torn land, I leave that to the imagination of those directly involved. But there are some things that are very clear to me: racial injustice is unacceptable…apartheid must be challenged…people have a right to live without being terrorized or constantly harassed…theft is wrong…settler colonialism is wrong…ethnic cleansing is wrong…police brutality is wrong…and there are things I can do to challenge injustice.

As with all forms of prophetic witness, we must ask the question, what is my piece in all of this? There are some clear, specific things we can do, things that have been asked of us by those directly impacted by these harms and actions that are desperately needed. This is why I’m asking the church to consider becoming an Apartheid-Free Congregation. But more importantly – whether we take this bold move in our public witness or not – I hope our church can commit to doing something to support Palestinians in their struggles for freedom, justice and equality.

I hope you can join me on Tuesday, June 27 at 6:30 p.m. for Encountering Apartheid, an evening to share from my recent travels, and what we can do about them, with special guest Dov Baum, an Israeli-Jewish feminist activist and scholar, a member of Boycott from Within and the co-founder of Who Profits from the Occupation and of the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel. Dov is also my colleague at American Friends Service Committee, she leads their Economic Activism Program and she was with me on my recent delegation.

Prayers as we discern together how to respond,

Pastor Allison