Message from Tree of Life Board member and Senior Minister of The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Steve Jungkeit

For more than two decades, The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme has sent delegations to Israel and Palestine. During that same time, we have received visitors from that scarred and haunted land. Each in their different ways, whether Palestinian or Israeli, have sought a just and peaceful future for the land they share. Each and every voice of conscience we have learned from – whether Israeli or Palestinian – has impressed upon us the importance of examining the roots of this long and terrible conflict, stemming from a history not only of the Holocaust, but of settler colonial violence and a decades long military occupation of Palestinian land. Any credible peace, we have learned, must be a just peace, one that implements human and civil rights for all Palestinians (alongside their Israeli neighbors).

We are now farther than ever from realizing even a sliver of that promise. The terror and bloodshed recently unleashed by Hamas was and is horrific. Each lost Israeli life was precious, and we collectively mourn with those affected by that bloody outburst. So too, we stand with all those who wish to repudiate antisemitism in this moment, particularly given its grim resurgence throughout the world. Sharing a common faith, we embrace our Jewish neighbors in this time of fear and uncertainty.

But that embrace cannot be meaningful if we fail to recognize the humanity, and the human rights, of Palestinians. In Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians have for decades been subjected to home demolitions, military raids, detentions, theft of land, and indiscriminate violence. Gaza in particular has endured a 16 year blockade, preventing access to electricity, food, clean water, and medical equipment. Now, Palestinians will bear the full brunt of Israel’s wrath. If the lives of each wounded or slain Israeli is precious, as we believe they are, then the same must be true of Palestinians who have faced a different form of terror for so long. And yet, Palestinian suffering has been largely ignored by the world. Whereas Israeli deaths are greeted with outrage, Palestinian deaths have, for the most part, been greeted by a shrug of indifference – particularly in the United States. That indifference has diminished the moral credibility of the US throughout the Middle East.

Once again, Israel, Palestine, the United States, and a good many other regional players stand at a crossroads. We can reflexively meet violence with yet more violence. We can meet brutality with an increase of brutality. Sadly, that is exactly what is happening.

But during two decades of visits to Israel and Palestine, we have discovered voices who counsel another way: a difficult and painful path that involves an honest reckoning with the roots of this struggle, together with the implementation of human and democratic rights for Palestinians. It is only in such a way that the cycle of violence will end. It is only along such a path that something like peace will emerge.

That is a vision we shall continue to pursue in our ministries at The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, as we all collectively seek (in the words of our friend Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh) to stay human.

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