Going home through a firing zone

firing zone 918TIM LAM

The Holy Land is a place of spiritual significance for the world’s three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

It is also one of the most volatile locations in the world. In this image, two Palestinian children are returning home from a school in Masafer Yatta, through a restricted area known as Firing Zone 918.

In the 1970s, Israel designated the area a military training zone. Since then, people living in Masafer Yatta have faced the constant threat of expulsion and dispossession.

Villagers living in this area rely on livestock as their primary source of income, but access to grazing land is restricted by the Israeli military. As a result, many of the communities depend on food assistance from humanitarian organisations.

Earlier this year, Israeli military bulldozers demolished 23 houses in two impoverished villages inside the zone. Some of the families have lived on the land long before Israel occupied the West Bank after the Six-Day War in 1967.

Critics believe the demolitions are driven by the Israeli government’s desire to clear Area C of Palestinians. Area C is the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control. This will force residents to migrate to towns in Area A, which is under Palestinian control.

At the 14th Assembly last year, the Uniting Church endorsed a proposal from former president Rev Prof Andrew Dutney to establish an awareness-raising campaign throughout the Church on the plight of Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian people. It included promoting the boycott of goods produced from illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The proposal was in response to a direct request from Palestinian churches. Since 1948, the number of Christians in Palestine has decreased dramatically, from an estimated 20 per cent of the population to just 2 per cent.

Prof Dutney stressed the boycott does not compromise the Uniting Church’s conviction that “anti-Semitism in all its expressions is an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ”. The boycott is restricted to goods from illegally-occupied land. The Uniting Church has chosen not to align itself with the wider Boycott Divestment Strategy movement, which supports boycotting all goods from Israel. The church is mindful of the need for respectful dialogue and firmly believes that Israel and Palestine have the right to live side-by-side in peace and security.

The Assembly Palestine Working Group is producing a booklet as part of its awareness-raising campaign. This will be distributed electronically to all church councils later this month and will be accompanied by a letter from the President and Assembly General Secretary.

The Palestine-Israel awareness-raising campaign is going to be launched in Melbourne by the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev Dr Olav Fyske Tveit on Thursday 13 October at 12pm in the VCC office at 306 Little Collins St. 

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