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Spinning the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The World Council of Churches Does Its Work

Each year, the World Council of Churches (WCC) invites member churches and related organizations to join the “World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel.” In 2014 the week will be September 21-27.1 This is timely, given the recent war in Gaza which pitted Israel against its perennial enemies, the Islamist movement Hamas.

In order to encourage participation in this event, the WCC, through its Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum, issued a press statement which is a masterstroke in spin.

The problem begins in the very first sentence of this statement, which asserts: “In recent weeks, the eyes of the world have been on Gaza, as Israeli armed forces have waged a military campaign that has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians.” The statistics are accurate but what the statement deliberately ignores is that the Israelis are not the only ones culpable in the tragic series of events leading up to the war. Had Palestinians not been sending barrages of rockets on Israeli territory in weeks and months beforehand, as well as sending raiding parties through underground tunnels to attack Israeli targets, the Israelis would not have invaded Gaza. The WCC statement seems to be far more interested in the results rather than causes of military conflict.

In fact, the only reference to the Palestinian rocket fire that precipitated the conflict is hidden away in a later sentence: “It is the hope and prayer of the world community that the artillery fire and rockets that have filled the skies over Gaza and southern Israel may cease for good.” The agents of the rocket fire are left anonymous in this statement, thereby whitewashing militant Palestinian groups of the significant role that they played in triggering the conflict. It should also be noted that the underground tunnels which provided the means for terrorist groups to attack Israelis do not even rate a mention in this statement.

The press statement goes on to identify “the root of the regional conflict . . . Israel continues to occupy Palestinian lands.” This is a big call, designed again to demonise one side of this conflict: the Israelis. Nowhere is there reference to entrenched rejectionism and, indeed, instinctive anti-Jewish attitudes in Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which provide just cause for an Israeli sense of insecurity.

This press statement encapsulates the problem with so much WCC comment on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Any fair-minded person would support the idea of “a week for peace in Israel Palestine,” and to that extent the WCC Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum should be commended for organizing such an initiative. However, commendation must stop there, because the tone of the press statement is blatantly one-sided and ignores valid Israeli perspectives and concerns.

The point is that both Israeli and Palestinian communities have suffered greatly from the decades-long conflict. Any effort to contribute to a resolution needs to recognize this. While it is right to point out the extent of suffering by Palestinians in the recent conflict, it is not right to conceal the measure of responsibility that Palestinians must bear, alongside Israelis, in this most intractable of conflicts.

This kind of sophistry erodes the moral authority of the WCC and contributes to a hardening of attitudes between the belligerents rather than reconciliation.


Palestine Ecumenical Forum Website, “World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel,” (accessed September 4, 2014).