Statement on Israel/Palestine programming by Greenbelt
Greenbelt’s profiling of voices from Israel-Palestine has been long and consistent. From the early 1980s onwards we have sought to give a platform to voices from the region not usually heard on the global stage; voices struggling for peace and justice who advocate non-violent action and dialogue – both Israeli and Palestinian.
But creating this sort of space – listening to voices not usually heard in the mainstream (churches or press) – does not just relate to the situation in Israel-Palestine. At the height of the 1980s conflict in Nicaragua, we had Gustavo Parajon, a Baptist minister from Managua, speak at the festival. And, before the anti-apartheid campaign gained credence globally, we had young leaders like Caesar Molebatsi and Frank Chicane from South Africa speak at the festival several times, too.
This is what Greenbelt attempts to do: to make links with people in situations around the world struggling for justice and peace and to bring them to Greenbelt and give them a stage. We view this as part of our mission.
In addition, in terms of our programming on and highlighting issues around Israel/Palestine, Greenbelt also aligns itself with resolutions of international law, drawn up by the United Nations, that deem:
- The continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as illegal
- The separation wall being built since 2002 as illegal
- The continued building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal
We know that our audience – whether in their churches or through their exposure to mainstream media – get plenty of input and coverage on the situation in Israel-Palestine. But they don’t necessarily hear from the voices of those working for peace and justice and human rights on the ground in the region – outside of state and government structures, at a grassroots level, within civil society. They especially don’t usually get to hear from ordinary Palestinians (especially the Palestinian Christians) or from Jewish Israelis working for peace, justice and human rights for all those living in Israel and Palestine.
We also know our audience to be astute, activist and passionate. We seek to fuel their energy with insight and provocation. Their challenge on leaving the festival is to live in the light of all the challenges they have heard and to work out how things fit and work for them in their day-by-day lives in their communities and their churches. We don’t seek to present black-and-white pictures or to indoctrinate. We seek to present and challenge, and open up discussion and dialogue.
The Palestinian Kairos call
We have listened to the Kairos call from the Palestinian Christian community and been supportive of the working group here that has developed a UK Christian response to that call. We will provide a launching pad for the Kairos UK response to the Kairos Palestine call at this year’s festival and be one of its signatories. In doing this, we are heeding the call of our Christian sisters and brothers, just as we have tried to heed other calls from other parts of the world, over the 40 years that Greenbelt has been on its journey to date.
In addition, in recent years we have encouraged Greenbelters to go to Israel-Palestine to see the facts on the ground for themselves.
As a Christian organisation with a global vision, it is natural that Greenbelt would take a keen interest in the lands, peoples and geopolitics of the stories of our Holy Book. And, as Greenbelt seeks always to offer a prophetic voice, it is also consistent that we would seek to develop interpretations of those scriptures that counter those that are (and have been) used to justify injustice and oppression. We seek to stand in the same prophetic tradition as the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, speaking truth to power.
In addition, we have also grown a long connection with people in the region – Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim – over three decades or more now.
Always more to learn and know
We accept that we are only able to offer a slice of insight and comment on what we know is a very complex situation. We are a faith, justice and arts organisation and not a campaigning NGO. However, what we do offer is built on a strong foundation of experience, knowledge and expertise gained over many years of engaging with issues around Israel/Palestine. We do know the situation well and we consider very carefully any decisions, actions and messaging we adopt in connection with it.
Refusal of ‘other voices’?
There are many myths that circulate about Greenbelt regarding our stance on this issue, one of which is that we refuse to include / invite other Jewish voices to Greenbelt. We do regularly invite and include Jewish thinkers and speakers – those who help us engage with and understand Jewish faith and spirituality better and those who speak about the situation on the ground in Israel-Palestine. We are open to a range of voices helping Greenbelters engage more deeply in a broader spirituality and a wider theological approach to a range of issues. That said, we do, on occasion, turn down offers of other voices to join the conversation when we have made a specific and prior invite to someone we want to hear from and introduce to our Greenbelt audience – and who we want to offer a platform where the only people who will challenge them are our audience, in Q&A.
Our experience is that Greenbelt’s prophetic persuasion means that we often have to be resolute in the face of criticism – listening carefully and being in dialogue wherever we can with those who disagree with us, but standing firm in what we believe to be the right thing for us to do in the light of our mission, vision and values. In the case of our ‘position’ (outlined above) on Israel/Palestine, we are aware that individuals, groups or governments who present views that in any sense challenge or critique some of the policies and activities of the Israeli government / state are de facto seen as being anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic. Greenbelt is neither. But we do believe in exercising our freedom to criticise governments pursuing policies that are oppressive to their own or other people. We are not pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli. Things are not as simple and polarised as that. Rather we are seeking to champion the voices of those who are embodying and articulating the struggle for human rights and equality in Israel/Palestine.
We heard much about Mark when we took a Greenbelt group to Iona last year (2012), just after the Kairos conference on the island (Greenbelt is closely connected with Iona, too). We considered Mark’s to be the latest in a long line of voices that we needed to hear from.
The full list of UN resolutions in respect of Israel/Palestine can be found here:
Greenbelt partners with organisations who seek to stand alongside and in solidarity with peacemakers in Israel/Palestine. These partners include Christian Aid, Embrace the Middle East and, latterly, the Methodist Church. These organisations have helped shape, inform and influence the development of Greenbelt’s thinking and programming on Israel/Palestine. However, please note that the views in this paper are Greenbelt’s own, and they may not be fully consistent with those of our partner organisations.
UPDATE: Embrace have released a statement about their programming at Greenbelt – click here »
Page last updated 23 Jan 2015