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Archbishop, "you stand on unfirm ground"

In our last blog we commented on Archbishop Welby' September 6th lecture about "Reconciliation" in the Middle East.

Archbishop Welby meeting Benjamin Netanyahu
Archbishop Welby meeting Benjamin Netanyahu

The event was organised by Embrace the Middle East and hosted by St. Martins in the Fields, London, as part of a series that takes as its theme the words of Martin Luther: "Here I stand, I can do no other".

That blog reproduced six letters from people concerned about the content of Archbishop Welby's speech. Here, we present another letter from three people - an Anglican, a Jew and an atheist - who have been involved with the Palestine/Israel issue for many years.


From Leonard Beighton, Bernard Spiegal and Paul Neill, 21 September 2023

Dear Archbishop,

REF: Concern in regard to your 6 Sept. Embrace lecture

"Here I stand, I can do no other"

We write as three people, Anglican, Jew, and atheist who for many years have been involved in a number of ways in the Palestine/Israel issue. This includes a history of visits to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.

We are frankly stunned by your perspective on Palestine/Israel, along with your understanding of the role and means of reconciliation, as set out in your St-Martin-in-the-Field’s talk on 6th September. For example, you judge that, prior to the current Israeli government’s measures limiting the powers of the Supreme Court, it had previously assured the constitutional rights of all citizens. But this is the court that endorsed as legal the 2018 Jewish Nation-State Basic Law that only Jews in Israel have the right to self-determination.

This is also the court that has in effect endorsed Israel’s policy of denying permits for Palestinians to build new houses - a malign aspect of the Israeli Government's wider policy of creating the conditions that force Palestinians to leave their land - whilst continuing the unbridled expansion of illegal Jewish settlements.

Palestinian women queuing at an Israeli checkpoint
Palestinian women queuing at an Israeli checkpoint

Unlike the late Desmond Tutu, you are also misguidedly fastidious in your reluctance to confirm Israel as an Apartheid state, notwithstanding the evidence-based assessments of, for example, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem. We have over many years witnessed the structuring-in of apartheid into the very fabric of Palestinian daily life, for example, the banning of Palestinians from sections of Hebron, but allowing Jews free and unhindered passage; the barriers and checkpoints preventing free movement applicable to Palestinians only - a consequence of Israel’s pernicious permit regime that bites into every aspect of Palestinian life. And yet you feel unable to call this what it is: Apartheid.

And more… all witnessed and recorded, not least by observers including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.

Damage caused by vandalism in a Palestinian church
Inspecting the damage in a church

We are also deeply concerned by the increase in attacks and vandalism on the holy Christian sites, this yet one more manifestation of the persecution of Palestinians which has been a major factor in the very considerable reduction of Christians in the Holy Land. In the face of all this, your response is restricted to the utterance of generalised pieties the effect of which is to mask the vicious reality of a state formally committed to the racist policy of Jewish Supremacy. Reconciliation is a fine thing, but not when it relies on the oppressor to determine its terms. On the issue of Palestine/Israel, you stand on unfirm ground.

In light of the substantial criticism of your stance on the Palestine/Israel issue, as witnessed at the Embrace event itself, and now in two excellent letters by the Director of ICAHD UK and the Secretary of CAMPAIN, printed in the Church Times, our question to you is: what substantive steps will you take to engage with Palestinians and dissenting Israeli Jews as a first step toward developing a more rounded understanding of the Palestine/Israel situation?

We look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely, Leonard Beighton, Paul Neill, Bernard Spiegal


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