Report of the UNJPPI Annual Gathering

Pathways Forward to Justice and Reconciliation: Stories from Canada, Palestine, Israel

The Fifth Annual National Gathering of the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI)    Saskatoon, SK, September 23–25, 2016.   [Print PDF]

Our national gathering this year brought together 61 members of UNJPPI from across the country along with many friends and allies who are also working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.  Our home for the weekend was the tranquil Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre on the bank of the South Saskatchewan River.

Things kicked off Friday evening with registration followed by a delicious dinner at the Centre.  We then carpooled to Grace-Westminster United Church for a public screening of Canadian-Israeli filmmaker Lia Tarachansky’s documentary On the Side of the Road, which explores Israelis’ collective amnesia of the events of 1948 in Palestine.  A lively Q / A period followed during which Lia was joined by Palestinian human rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, Professor Priscilla Settee of the University of Saskatchewan, and the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Moderator of the United Church of Canada.

Our Saturday program began with Ethel Ahenekew welcoming us to Treaty 6 land and the land of the Cree, Assinobian, and Saulteaux people and the homeland of the Métis.  Esther Epp-Tiessen of the Mennonite Central Committee then spoke on the spirituality of advocacy — “We need to listen with our hearts if we want to be allies with those who suffer.” After a break, Priscilla Settee and Jonathan Kuttab facilitated two sessions on the experiences of the indigenous peoples of Palestine and Canada with a focus on colonization, land, and human rights.

The afternoon’s offerings began with two rounds of workshops. Topics included: Palestine and Israel: How did it Come to This?; An Introduction to UNDRIP; Exercising our Influence Effectively with Members of Parliament; Ending Occupation Through Non-Violent Resistance; Christian Zionism; and The Situation of Indigenous Children in Canada and Palestine — Are There Parallels?”

After a break we gathered for a session on Progressive Social Change, during which we watched the documentary Reserve 107.  It recounts how a First Nations’ land claim in Laird, Saskatchewan, provided an opportunity to create new friendships and right the wrongs of the past. In small groups we discussed how change comes about, and what it means to be allies.

Our evening gathering focused on the Boycott / Divest / Sanction movement (BDS) and exploring what it is and isn’t.  Dimitri Lascaris, former Justice Critic in the Green Party of Canada’s Shadow Cabinet, spoke about his experiences authoring a controversial boycott resolution that was adapted at the Green Party’s recent national convention.

The long day ended with a time of refreshments and socializing.

On Sunday we joined the congregation of Third Avenue United Church for worship where the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell spoke on Isaiah 58: 6-12, “Called to be a People of Hope.”  After a communal lunch that was generously provided by Langham UCW, we headed into a strategy session facilitated by UNJPPI co-chairs Marianna Harris and Steve Berube.  Highlights of this time were short presentations by Christi Neufeldt and Wendy Gichiru of the Central Council office, Jonathan Kuttab, Dimitri Lascaris, Joanna Hiebert Bergen of MCC, and Harold Shuster of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV).

By mid-afternoon we were beginning to say our goodbyes.

What were the strengths of our time together? The quality and depth of the programming must be near the top of the list.  Passionate and informed speakers such as Lia Tarachansky, Jonathan Kuttab, Priscilla Settee, and Dimitri Lascaris provided us with a range of thoughtful perspectives.  In addition, they were generous with their time, engaging with attendees over meals and between and after the official sessions.  We also benefitted from the representatives of our allies in advocacy — MCC and IJV in particular — and learned more about their activities.  And of course, we all got to know each other better, sharing experiences and forging relationships that will contribute to more effective advocacy.

The success of the gathering was due in large part to the members of the planning committee — Marianna Harris (chair), Brenda Curtis, Debbie Hubbard, Donna Wilson, Helen Allen, Jim Wicks, Julie Graham, Kathy Bergen, and Vicki Obedkoff.  We also have to mention Rev. Donna Wilson and the staff at Third Avenue United Church for their hospitality and support, which went a long way to making the conference possible.  A huge thanks to you all and everyone else who contributed their time, energy, and expertise.

Several United Church conferences and presbyteries demonstrated their support for UNJPPI’s mandate by helping fund the gathering.  These include B.C. Conference, General Council, River Bend Presbytery, Saskatchewan Conference, and Toronto Southeast Presbytery.  Thank you.

UNJPPI is a network of mainly United Church of Canada people working toward the goal of a just peace in Palestine and Israel by calling for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and equal rights for all who live in Palestine/Israel through education and advocacy.


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