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Methodist Liberation Organization

The United Methodist Church commemorates the nakba.

11:00 PM, Jan 28, 2009 • By MARK TOOLEY
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Having rejected anti-Israel divestment of its pension funds last year, the 7.9 million United Methodist Church is courting new controversy involving anti-Israel bias again this year. Starting February 3, the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, from which the denomination conducts its political lobbying, will commemorate the nakba, as Palestinians refer to the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation.

The opening reception on Tuesday, February 3, will kick-off a three-week exhibition in the Methodist Building lobby called "Our Story: A Photo Exhibit Commemorating 60 Years of Dispossession." Friends of Sabeel Canada, an advocate of Palestinian Liberation Theology among left-leaning Christians, has produced the latest version of the traveling photo show. The reception is hosted by the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace, a small group of various religious adherents that advocates "divesting from or boycotting those companies" that "profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem."

According to an announcement from the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), which owns and occupies the Methodist Building, the exhibit "marks the annual observance of the nakba, the 1948 mass deportation of Palestinians, massacres of civilians and the razing to the ground of hundreds of Palestinian villages following the creation of Israel."

Congressman Dennis Kucinich is advertised as an invited speaker at the February 3 reception. Others speakers are chief United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler, who heads GBCS, nakba "survivor" Afaf Ayish, and Laila Al-Arian, who co-authored Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians. That last speaker will discuss the current Gaza situation. Included in the reception will be a "meditation and prayer for the victims of the 1948 Nakba and the current suffering in Gaza." Last year, when the nakba photo show was on the national Mall in Washington, D.C., Ayish told the crowd: "A Jew from Russia has more right to live in Jerusalem than I do." According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, she complained: "We welcomed them [Jews] when they came and then they chased everybody out."

The Nakba photo exhibit was originally organized by the Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Centre in Jerusalem, which is an advocacy think-tank for church activists opposing the Israeli "occupation." As to what exactly Israel is occupying is often left vague. U.S. mainline Protestant church groups that are sharply critical of Israel always insist they support Israel's existence. But with Sabeel's encouragement, they also imply support for an unlimited right of return for all descendants of Arabs who lived before 1948 in what is now Israel. Essentially they are advocating the demographic eradication of Israel as a Jewish nation in place of an Arab and predominantly Muslim country. Commemorating the founding of Israel as a nakba, or catastrophe, obviously fits well within this theme of delegitimizing Israel.

The black and white photos in the nakba exhibit (available here) stretch across six decades and illustrate the tragedy of Palestinian displacement by constantly encroaching Israelis. "The new rulers have moved into our lands, into our homes, claiming them as their own," reads the description of the 1948 war. "The great promises of our brother nations and of the world are forgotten. We flee or are driven out of our homes and families." This remembrance, of course, is incomplete, repeating the nakba mythology that Jews willfully rousted thousands of innocent Arabs from their homes because of their own greed and imperialism.

None of the narrations for the nakba photo exhibit mention that the former British Mandate of Palestine was divided by the United Nations between a newly founded Israel and an Arab territory. The neighboring Arab nations responded by attacking Israel, with support from Arabs within the Palestinian Mandate. Many Palestinians left at the conflict's advent, hoping for Arab victory. Others left during the defeat of Arab forces. But according to the nakba photo show, Israel "destroyed, sealed or expropriated" more than 420 Palestinian villages in 1948, all seemingly without provocation.