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Israel/Palestine Study Guide

Recently, a number of groups have criticized a study guide published by the United Methodist Women. They are demanding more "balance," which seems to mean including information that has been shown to be inaccurate. When stories about Israel's past and present have been proven false, we do not believe that the United Methodist Women, or any other United Methodist group should include them in educational materials in the name of "balance".

Israeli historians using newly opened archives have exposed many inaccuracies in former accounts of history, including the voluntary departure of Christians and Muslims from their homes. Israel's dispossession of Palestinians is clearly visible in the ruins of destroyed villages, in photographs of fleeing refugees, and in the present realities of land theft and settlement expansion. By acknowledging what really happened, the materials from United Methodist Women are providing balance that has long been missing from discussions about the conflict.

In attacking the study, one group called Christians for Fair Witness in the Middle East faulted the Palestinians for not accepting the “Clinton parameters”, though President Clinton and Robert Malley, his chief negotiator at the Camp David talks, have contradicted this assessment. Malley has said: “Those talks failed, and in the aftermath a myth was born that has had a lasting and devastating effect: that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the most generous offer possible, but that Arafat summarily turned it down.” This myth is among many that the UMW educational materials seek to correct.

It is a common tactic when anyone wants to discourage others from learning about an issue to say that it is “very complex” and that we need more time to study it. Like any other situation, this conflict has events and attitudes that caused it and that keep it going today. We have confidence that, when presented with compelling evidence, Methodists are capable of discerning the truth.

One of the study’s authors, Reverend Sandra Olewine, served for years in Bethlehem and knows the situation there intimately. Reverend Stephen Goldstein is himself of Jewish origin and can hardly be accused of being racist, as critics imply. Many Jewish people have gone through a similar process of rejecting previous notions about Israel after seeing what that country is doing to another people.

Methodists must reach out to Jewish friends and neighbors who do not understand the facts presented in the study. We need to offer assurance of our love for them as well as our commitment to hearing views that have been underrepresented in the search for peace.

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