The talk at the September Men’s Breakfast opened up a controversial theme.

She is a neat, compact person, quietly spoken – but with a deep determination to highlight an issue she regards as deeply unjust.  And not just to highlight it, but to do something significant about it.

Photo: Rachel Nassif: ‘Be well informed’

Rachel Nassif, daughter of a deeply respected Baptist minister, widow of a Palestinian husband, retired nurse, travels twice a year to the Holy Land, sharing with others in monitoring the way in which the Israeli authorities deal with – and as she regards it, degrade – the lives, hopes and liberties of the Palestinian people.

She told the men of unrelieved poverty, theft of land, destruction of water cisterns, interminable waits at checkpoints, constant threats, all in the name of the protection of Israeli rights, property and security.

She has teamed up with a World Council of Churches agency, which has what must be the most cumbersome name ever: it’s the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine & Israel.  This lockjaw title is perhaps a pointer to the difficulty and challenge of what the agency, founded in 2002, actually does.

Twice a year, Rachel joins teams of monitors from 20 countries who basically just stand, watch, and listen to what goes on along boundaries and walls, at checkpoints and in villages, and make appropriate reports not only to the WCC but also to concerned people far and wide.  The reports describe observed human rights violations: Rachel profiled the lives of people whose farms have been taken away, whose homes have been bulldozed, whose childrens’ schools have been torn down, whose water has been stolen, who have been threatened with dire consequences if they protest.

It’s not just foreign activists who feel the burden of these things. Concerned Israelis publicise what they see as the bad behaviour of their own authorities and individuals.  What foreigners can’t do, these troubled Israelis can: some demonstrate publicly, week by week, against what they see as the illegal, strong-arm occupation of Palestinian land, the illegal building of Israeli houses which follows, the confiscation of land for military purposes, the wholesale uprooting of Palestinian communities.

What is to be done?  Rachel says: ‘Pray, be well informed, write to your MP, question trade links and support the agency’s work.  There must be a better future for the Palestinians’.

Editorial comment.  It’s unusual for the Men’s Breakfast, which takes place about six times a year, to host a committed political speaker.  Many observers deplore what Rachel deplores: others argue that Israel has every right to defend itself against possible military or guerrilla attack, accepting that, as a result, an unhappy, racially charged atmosphere is bound to be created in the country itself, along with bad behaviour.  Many American Christians argue that Israel’s return to, and possession of, the Holy Land is a fulfilment of biblical prophecy which is therefore to be strongly supported: though other Christians worldwide do not accept this reading of events, and are deeply grieved by the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular.  The Israel question provides a test case for the way in which Christians are to deal with a deeply political subject on which bitterly opposed views are held.  Rachel, a member of Waterlooville Baptist Church, chooses to watch, comment, report and urge what she sees as appropriate responses.

Alert and On Watch – Bruce Hardy