Assigning the label “terrorist organization,” they say, hides a more complicated truth. By Jeff Wright Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 25, 2021. (Photo: Thaer Ganaim/APA Images)
In a recent letter addressed to President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken, the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace (PCAP) builds on remarks made by Blinken in Ramallah on May 25. During his press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken acknowledged Palestinians’ aspirations “to live in freedom; to have their basic rights respected, including the right to choose their own leaders; to live in security; to have equal access to opportunity for themselves, for their children; to be treated with dignity.”
The letter, written by the board of PCAP, acknowledges “that more positive cooperation has been taking place between the United States and the Palestinians.” While citing the reopening of the American consulate in East Jerusalem, the resumption of financial assistance to UNRWA, and the U.S. commitment to provide aid to the Gaza Strip, the letter states, “…we believe that much more than these limited actions and words must transpire for democracy, justice and peace to prevail.”
Specifically, PCAP calls on the administration to “reconsider its policy towards Hamas” and “to support fair and transparent elections for Palestinians including Hamas and their candidates, and voters in East Jerusalem.”
Asked why the interdenominational network chose to address the Biden administration now, recent PCAP co-chair the Rev. Dr. Alex Awad – former missionary with the United Methodist Church and former dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College – explained: “During the events last month in Sheikh Jarrah, around the Damascus Gate and at the Al Aqsa Mosque, followed by Israel’s bombing of Gaza, major media in the U.S. repeatedly described Hamas as a terrorist organization. That single description reported over and over justifies Israel’s asymmetric response to Hamas’s actions in the minds of many Americans. We wanted to reach out to American officials and the American public to help them see another perspective.”
“We believe that assigning the label of ‘terrorist organization’ to Hamas hides the more complicated truth that Hamas is a reflection and result of the untenable and unjust status quo in the land,” the letter reads. PCAP makes its case by pointing to the Palestinian Authority’s 2006 elections, held with the support of President George W. Bush and observed by the Carter Center. When Hamas received sufficient support to form a new government, PCAP asserts, “the U.S. backed away from its endorsement of the democratic process and halted aid to the PA” – a policy which PCAP states “contributed to the disastrous current situation from which the region, and the people of Gaza in particular, are suffering.”
As the governing authority in the Gaza Strip, the letter continues, Hamas provides “most everyday functions and services for its more than two million residents… In addition, many Palestinians support Hamas because they have seen little to no benefit from Fatah rule and what they have concluded are phony peace processes.” PCAP’s letter calls attention to a little-reported fact: “Hamas even has a number of Palestinian Christians among its representatives and constituents.”
Urging the administration to communicate with Hamas “in order to foster cooperation, facilitate humanitarian aid, and de-escalate violence,” the letter cites occasions when the U.S. has communicated with and recognized other groups it once considered terrorist organizations, such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the African National Congress.
“It is time for the U.S. to show leadership and take visionary steps to once and for all transform this conflict,” PCAP board members urge. “It is time to stop toeing Israel’s line on Hamas, which serves to keep the Palestinian people divided, thwarts peace overtures, and provides cover for [Israel’s] continuing occupation, illegal land seizures and systemic violations of Palestinian human rights.”
Awad added, “We encourage the Biden administration to include Hamas in future negotiations. It’s a legitimate political party, voted for by Palestinians. It won’t be possible to reach a peace deal without including Hamas.”
Awad continued, “As we say in the letter, we’re enjoined by Christ’s example of nonviolence and unconditional love. We practice nonviolent resistance to injustice. While we don’t condone any party’s violence against innocent civilians, we have to say that Hamas is responding to decades of Israel’s violence and to the over fourteen years-long land, air and sea blockade that has devastated the Gaza Strip.”
PCAP’s board is comprised of fifteen Palestinian American Christians representing seven denominations. Its supporters reflect an even wider base of U.S. Christians and ecumenical and interfaith partners.
The letter to Biden and Blinken ends, “By our faith, we are guided to value God’s presence within all people and to hold all with love, even our enemies. We ask no less of you.”