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The Church of England’s Complicity in Gaza War Crimes

Updated: 6 days ago

The Church of England’s Complicity in the Gaza Genocide

by the Rev Stephen Sizer

published May 14th, 2024


An authoritative source


In this article, the Rev Stephen Sizer methodically assesses moral integrity of the Church's stance on Gaza. He does this by analysing a series of statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury, before and after the 7th October 2023, and the CofE Official statements since then, together with criticisms. You can see his conclusions in this link.



Few people are better qualified to write such a critique. Rev. Sizer is an expert on Israel and Palestine and knows the Church from the inside.


He shows how Anglican behaviour vis-à-vis Israel and Palestine is the product of an unhealthily close and long-standing relationship between the leaders of the Church of England and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a pro-Israel lobby group.  


The Church's implausible hierarchy of evil


Since Oct 7th, the Church has gradually found words to express disapproval of the scale of the Israeli onslaught, but it has consistently treated Hamas as the primary villain, thereby providing an excuse for the Israeli behaviour it condemns. This is evident in the bishops’ oft-repeated claim that:

 

there is no equivalence between the atrocities of Hamas against Israeli civilians, and the right and duty of Israel to defend itself.


This ignores the historical context of over 75 years of Israeli oppression, in which organisations like Hamas, committed to violent struggle, could be expected to emerge, much as they did in other territories beset with European settler-colonialism.


It also fails to acknowledge that since the early 20th century the Zionist leadership of Palestine had been committed to the transfer of the native inhabitants out of Palestine to make way for the ingathering of Jews from around the World, i.e. ethnic cleansing. One of many leaders assenting to this was David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who said:


we must expel the Arabs and take their places.

 

Given that the Church of England has been present in Palestine since the 1840s, we may conclude that its leaders have not done their homework and have failed to engage with inconvenient truths that could jeopardize their relationship with the Israel lobby and the British establishment.   

Shireen Abu Akleh, Palestinian-American journalist assassinated in the West Bank

Significantly, in expressing his pro-Israel bias, Archbishop Welby went so far as to wish Israel a military victory over Hamas. In line with this, the Church did not call for a permanent ceasefire but simply argued for a temporary corridor of sanctuary, one that would allow Israel to finish the job once the corridor is closed.


Moreover, it has been unwilling to hold Israel accountable for war crimes under international law or endorse the South African submission to the International Court of Justice investigating those crimes. It has also failed to call out the British Government for its complicity, through the sale of arms and providing diplomatic and logistical support. 

Given that the Church of England has been present in Palestine since the 1840s, we may conclude that its leaders have not done their homework and have failed to engage with inconvenient truths that could jeopardize their relationship with the Israel lobby and the British establishment.  

Furthermore, Archbishop Welby has yet to comment on the fact that Israel has attacked and destroyed virtually every single hospital and medical facility in Gaza. He also failed to denounce Israel’s provocative attack on an Iranian consulate, also a war crime, but found time to tweet a prayer when Iran attacked Israel.


Repeating Israeli propaganda 


The Archbishop and the bishops have often repeated talking points that Israel had used in its propaganda output, but have failed to interrogate the underlying assumptions or check the evidence behind them. This was particularly evident in:

 

  • references to Israel’s right to self-defence [something that international law does not confer on an occupying power, but does confer upon those suffering the occupation].

Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zumlot and Pastor Munther Isaac in London
Two Palestinians, Ambassador Husam Zumlot and Pastor Munther Isaac, sharing a platform in London
  • Welby’s refusal to meet with Pastor Munther Isaac because it would cause hurt to Jews. [Specifically, he said that since the Palestinian cleric had shared a platform with Jeremy Corbyn at a ceasefire demo, it would have caused huge problems for the Jewish community if the two were to meet. He was widely criticised for this stance, notably by non-Zionist Jews who felt that rather than helping to reduce instances of antisemitism, he was exacerbating it by identifying all Jews with Israel. As a result, he eventually recanted and unreservedly apologised to Pastor Isaac].

  • his allegations about cease-fire demonstrators being inspired by antisemitism. [He did not provide evidence for this and expressed no equivalent concern for a rise in Islamophobic incidents].

  • references to Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields [despite the evidence of human rights organisations to the contrary]. 

  • Welby’s description of denunciations of the hospital blast at the Ahli Anglican hospital as a blood libel against the Israelis [The antisemitic idea that Jews used the blood of Christian Children to make Passover bread was evident in 12th and 13th-century England. However, that Medieval concept lacks resonance in the contemporary UK.  Notwithstanding, some pro-Israel lobbyists have disingenuously mobilised it to label as antisemites those who denounce the killing of Palestinians. The Archbishop should have known better than to give credence to such a far-fetched concept and, not surprisingly, he also ended up retracting this statement.]   


Biased language


Rev Sizer observes that in describing the actions of Hamas, the bishops have used words like abhorrent, atrocities, pogrom, terrorist action, brutality, human shields and indiscriminate. These contrast markedly with more neutral words they have used to describe Israel’s actions, such as proportional, discriminate, bombardment and ground offensive.  He also objects that, despite months of mounting and irrefutable evidence:

 

it is surely inexcusable that intelligent and well-briefed Christian leaders were still refusing to use legal terms such as “genocide”, “war crimes” or “ethnic cleansing”, to refer to Israel’s destruction of Gaza, in stark contrast to the UN, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.

 

Archbishop Welby’s reference to the complexities of the conflict, in his House of Lords Speech of 24th Oct 2023, looks like obfuscation. As Sizer states:

 

many would argue that there is indeed a simple answer – namely the end of Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism responsible for depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights

 

An unaccountable body

 

But as Rev Sizer goes on to assert, the core problem is that the Church of England is unwilling to answer either to Palestinian Christians or the citizens of the UK. Concerning the former, he cites its failure over many years:

 

to engage with either Sabeel Jerusalem or Kairos Palestine, who represent the breadth of indigenous Palestinian church leadership.

 

He cites CAMPAIN’s experience of trying (unsuccessfully) to engage Archbishop Welby in evidence-based and face-to-face discussion, and his rejection of the view expressed by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Church of South Africa, the UN, numerous human rights organisations and others that Israel is an apartheid state. As with other topics Welby has failed to back up his own posture on Israeli apartheid with hard evidence.

the core problem is that the Church of England is unwilling to answer either to Palestinian Christians or the citizens of the UK

This is totally unacceptable. As Rev Sizer says:

 

The least British people have a right to expect is that the Church will enter reasoned dialogue over points of contention.

 

The Church of England enjoys a privileged position at the heart of our elected democracy, one where the views of all citizens, be they Anglican or otherwise, are supposed to count. The Church should not brush off and flannel citizens’ questions without discussion and examining evidence. For as long as it does so, it appears to be prioritising relationships with the Israel lobby and the British establishment over genuine moral principles – conduct that begs questions about the legitimacy of our established church.


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