Frequently Asked Questions

As UUA delegates prepare to vote at General Assembly on the Solidarity with Palestinians Actions of Immediate Witness, these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are available for your reflection and discussion. These have been drafted with our broad coalition. Please reach out if you have additional questions you would like to discuss – or comment on our AIW page.

Updated June 17

Bothesidesism, aka false balance, is a phenomenon in journalism and other kinds of discourse in which opposing positions are treated as if they are equal, when they are not. The situation in Gaza is not an equal contest. The preponderance of evidence shows that the State of Israel and its military, backed by the U.S. and other Western powers, have been committing a mass extermination campaign and are doing so enabled by vastly greater power than that possessed by militants in Gaza. Two million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced. The AIW asks UUs to recognize the facts, bear witness, and take action to stop the violence. As people of faith, we grieve the deaths of more than 1,100 Israeli Jews on October 7. And, we call out that the oppression of Palestinians since the 1930s has constituted a grave and ongoing immorality. The fact that the Palestinian society has groups which implemented violent means for their liberation should not be surprising. The idea of only calling for peace does not address the roots of the ongoing violence. To end the cycle of violence requires addressing the root cause of the ongoing displacement and killing of Palestinians. 

We seek peace based on justice, which we believe the calls to action address. 

Dr. Rashid Khalidi’s book, The Hundred Years War on Palestine, and Jewish Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, are essential reads for all UUs. One reason that some people see a false equivalence and try to equate the two sides or cast more blame on Palestinians is because of the massive amount of disinformation perpetrated by the media and both U.S. and Israeli governments and groups such as AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). 

Learning the actual facts is shocking to many people, and we extend our support to those who are deconstructing false narratives. 

On October 7, a breakout from the blockaded Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants from several factions led by Hamas attacked military bases and communities in Israel, killing and capturing Israeli soldiers and officers as well as civilians. Palestinian militants also killed Israeli Jews and foreign nationals in and around their homes and a music festival, and took more than 200 Israeli Jews as hostages. A number of Israeli soldiers were killed despite being unarmed and/ or in a posture of surrender. An unknown number of Palestinian non-combatants escaped from Gaza through breaches in the fence and were involved in violent actions and hostage taking. These are all war crimes. The death toll was close to 1200 people, most of them Jews. We decry the killing of civilians and the taking of hostages by anyone, and mourn all those who were killed.

As detailed later, the crisis in Palestine and Israel did not begin on October 7. We must be careful in our consumption of media reporting and engage in critical thinking. We encourage Unitarian Universalists to visit our Resource page and to seek out their own sources to understand the history that has led us to what is happening now.

Palestinians, like all people, should be free. Unitarian Universalists widely support this idea. When we call for freeing Palestine, we are calling for Palestinians to have the same rights as anyone else in the entire land that Israel currently controls, including the State of Israel and the occupied territories encompassing the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This call is not in opposition to the Jewish people who also deserve to live in freedom and safety.

Millions of Palestinians live under military occupation and blockade. Palestinian citizens of Israel face four types of discrimination, as explained by Mohammed Zidan, a human rights activist.

  1. Legal direct discrimination: The State of Israel declared a few years ago that it is NOT a state for all of its citizens; it exists primarily for its Jewish citizens. Most Palestinians cannot vote in Israeli elections, and elections by the Palestinian Authority have not been held since 2006. This is not democratic. More than 65 laws directly or indirectly (see item two below) discriminate against Palestinian citizens in the State of Israel and Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (visit the Discriminatory Law Database for more information). Yes, some Palestinians are eligible to and do hold public office in Israel and are part of the national legislature. However, these elected officials face retribution for speaking out for Palestinian rights. Generally, they are required to acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, which limits their ability to advocate for Palestinian equality.
  2. Legal indirect or hidden discrimination: Military service, which is based on the legal status of being a Jew, leads to other increased rights, such as a higher priority to be accepted to certain university programs, privileges in public transportation, higher childcare subsidies, and housing assistance. Israel has enacted laws such as the “Stop and Frisk” law that are similar to Stop and Frisk in the U.S. and disproportionately and inequitably target marginalized people. 
  3. Institutional discrimination: Israeli Ministries (equivalent to US Departments) have the absolute power to allocate spending and carry out policies against Palestinians. Many Palestinian villages and neighborhoods next to large cities in Israel do not receive municipal electricity and water connections, and must rely on costly solar panels, generators, and water barrels and water suppliers. Yet, they still must pay taxes. Development projects are exclusively for Jews, which the Israeli government calls Judaizing an area. The Education Ministry allocates budget amounts to schools. In some areas, the spending on Jewish children is 16 times higher than for Palestinian children.

Public opinion: Laws that discriminate against non-Jews create a mindset that enables “linked discrimination,” or discrimination arising from the foundation of an unequal legal state. There has been a rise of fascist groups who do not believe in human rights for Palestinians. The genocide in Gaza and the escalated rampages in the West Bank are expressions of this rise in fascist power. Palestinians everywhere, in Israel and the occupied territories, face this attitude in every aspect of their lives.

Human Rights Watch stated there was evidence that the Israeli government was using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the Gaza Strip (Human Rights Watch analysis of starvation tactics against Palestinians). Israeli officials have stated publicly that they intended to deprive Gaza of food, water, and fuel, and this has been carried out through closing of crossings, severely restricting aid trucks, and bombing of bakeries. On June 5, an AP article about starvation conditions in Gaza reported that UN agencies are warning that over 1 million Palestinians in Gaza could experience starvation by the middle of July, if the war continues. There are food shortages everywhere, but the worst is in northern Gaza where areas are surrounded by Israeli troops. A U.S. State Department official resigned her position over a report that she said falsely stated Israel was not blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

We want all captives–Israeli hostages and Palestinian political prisoners–to be freed. Period. This includes Israelis taken on October 7 and Palestinians who are being held indefinitely, without trial. Palestinians who are sent to trial experience a biased system with charges often fabricated and sentencing that is unjust. 

We believe that all of those in peril deserve safety. Yes, this includes hostages taken on October 7 into Gaza. The safety of everyone in Gaza, hostages included, is in a state of ongoing, dire risk with Israel’s continued bombardment. 

Hamas took 251 hostages on October 7. After prior hostage releases, 116 remain to be released. As of April 17, 2024, Israel has 9,500 Palestinian political prisoners, over 3,500 Palestinians detained without charge or trial, all from the occupied territories. Of these prisoners, 561 are serving life sentences and 200 of them are children. The conviction rate for those who are charged and tried is over 99%. Because they are tried in military courts, legal representation is often denied. They are held in prisons in Israel; it is illegal under international law to transfer members of an occupied population to the country that is occupying, just as it is illegal to transfer members of the occupying group to live in the occupied territories (settlers).

Various ceasefire resolutions have been put forward by specific countries or the UN. A key challenge to moving forward on these is Israel’s desire to continue fighting to “destroy Hamas.” The most recent ceasefire resolution from the UN has been accepted by Hamas and it is unclear whether Israel will accept it. However, the US has been blaming Hamas for not wanting to accept less than a permanent ceasefire in prior resolutions.  

We reject the idea that the ongoing military bombardment of Gaza is making anybody safer, and that absolutely includes Israeli hostages in Gaza.

We reject any use of civilians as human shields. The “human shields” framing is problematic. The narrative that only Hamas is using human shields is incomplete. We need to unpack the concept of a human shield. The Israeli army has consistently used Palestinian civilians as human shields in this war and throughout history. Just as there are documented incidents of Hamas using human shields, the Israeli army and paramilitary forces have also been documented using human shields. A Palestinian teenager was bound to the front of a jeep while the soldiers drove to their target destination. Another incident documented soldiers forcing Palestinians at gunpoint to walk ahead of them while they entered a building or other area. B’tselem, the preeminent Israeli human rights group, has documented many cases of the Israeli military using Palestinians as human shields.

It is important to note that Gaza does not have mountains, large forests or tracts of empty land that could serve as a military base. Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2007. Hamas and other armed factions built tunnels as their military base. This is similar to the situation during the Vietnam War. Israel has claimed multiple times that Hamas is using hospitals and residential buildings to hide and that there are military tunnels under such structures. Most of this has been unproven. Israel’s military bases are often embedded in civilian communities in Israel, and the Israeli Ministry of Defense headquarters is in the middle of Tel Aviv, a large urban population center. International law is clear about what should and should not be done if there is a military target found under a hospital—civilians absolutely must be evacuated, provided safe passage, and alternate space with medical equipment and supplies must be made available.Israel has made multiple mostly debunked claims about finding a Hamas tunnel or command center under a hospital.

It’s important to widen the lens and hold a wider context than this question contains. Hamas exists as a response to the ongoing oppression and desperation of people in Gaza. 

Whether it is Hamas or another entity, the ongoing oppression by their many-times-more-powerful occupier will continue to foster the conditions for a resistance effort—likely using any and all means at their disposal. So, the better question here might be, “What are the conditions in which all people in the region of Israel/Palestine might live in a state of peace and freedom?” We feel certain that the first step must be for Israel to cease fire, to allow aid and supplies to flow fully and freely into Gaza. The idea that Hamas can be eradicated has never been realistic, because Israel’s actions continue to foster the conditions in which groups like Hamas flourish. Also, by declaring that its aim is to eradicate Hamas, Israel is flouting international law that calls the wholesale destruction of civic infrastructure illegal. So long as there is an oppressive force, there will almost certainly be a resistance. The May 17 episode of the Ezra Klein Show on the Disastrous Relationship between Israel, Palestine and the UN provides more information about how laws have failed Palestinians in Gaza.

UUs have long taken sides, and as we say, we side with love. Here is some context about why we are focusing on Palestinian liberation in this AIW.

There is a unique power dynamic: Consider which entities hold what kinds of power–military, international allies, funding. Our context: As Unitarian Universalists whose congregations are members of the UUA, the vast majority of us are U.S. citizens.The U.S. government is the closest ally of Israel. We fund Israel’s military with U.S. taxpayer dollars and direct shipment of weapons that are then used against the people of Gaza. The U.S. has blocked international attempts to rein in Israel’s worst excesses. People of faith in the United States have a moral imperative to name what is happening and to demand better. 

We care about collective liberation: Jewish people and Palestinian people all have a right to exist and thrive. We must name–with clarity, with precision of language, and with the prophetic voice of a people of faith–that Israel’s actions amount to collective punishment and that they are not justifiable or excusable. While we name those things, we hold with absolute certainty that Jewish people worldwide deserve safety and belonging. It is critical that as UUs we stay watchful for antisemitism within our movement and challenge it where it is found.

These are intentionally peaceful, interfaith, and educational movement spaces. Jewish student leadership has been central to the movement across college campuses. When you have a public demonstration, you can’t control everyone who shows up. There have been some isolated expressions of antisemitism, and we disavow those expressions. However, many media outlets have misrepresented these protests, amplifying isolated incidents of antisemitic speech, some of which were perpetrated by outsiders. Where a small number of internal incidents have occurred, the students have taken swift action to address them and we support that wholeheartedly.

Some people are conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and making serious accusations against student protestors and faculty that are impacting degrees and livelihood. The fact is there is not a consensus in the Jewish community around the definition of antisemitism or whether anti-Zionism is acceptable. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism is being used to pass laws and make policy that will severely restrict free speech including protests. The Jewish scholar who authored that definition has denounced its use in such ways. An alternative definition of antisemitism, the The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, does not conflate criticism of Israel and different opinions with antisemitism. Learn more from Jewish Voice for Peace’s On Antisemitism, Anti-Zionism and Dangerous Conflations.

The Apartheid-Free Communities initiative is an invitation to build an action-oriented movement of faith and other communities similar to what was built during the time of apartheid in South Africa. The aspirational movement seeks to gather denominations, congregations, businesses, trade unions, student groups, and other organizations around taking action toward dismantling Israel’s systems of apartheid, colonization, and military occupation. It does not seek to dismantle the State of Israel itself. 

Representatives of groups meet monthly to talk about what they are doing and encourage each other. It is important to understand that apartheid is an internationally defined term that has been analyzed by major human rights groups as applicable to the situation in Palestine and Israel. Each group needs to discern what the pledge will mean for their context. The Apartheid-Free Communities’ website has a page of suggested actions, starting with the idea of educating ourselves. 

The BDS movement is a call from more than 130 Palestinian civil society groups to the international community to apply nonviolent pressure through the actions of boycott, divestment, and sanctions. The goals of this campaign are that the State of Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, fully complies with international law by ending the occupation and colonization of Palestinian territories and by dismantling the apartheid wall, recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and accepts the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as adopted in UN resolution 194

  • The AIW asks UUs to engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and corporate enablers until such time that Israel follows international law and stops its apartheid, settler colonialism, military occupation, and genocide. People are not asked to boycott the Jewish people; the ask is to boycott corporations doing business in Israel that are enabling human rights violations, war crimes, and genocide. 
  • The Apartheid-Free Communities Action page has a list of suggested boycott and divestment targets. Our UUA Common Endowment Fund divested from four corporations in 2015-2016 that were on a screening list for complicity in the illegal military occupation of Palestinian territories. The portfolio needs to be monitored regularly and purchase/divestment decisions made accordingly. Delegates to the 2021 General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a Business Resolution supported by the UUA Common Endowment Fund mandating that our investments must embody support for human rights and regular methods for involving UU justice groups in monitoring and reporting on the status of the investments. This still needs to be actualized.

Yes, some Jewish people can prove genetic ties to the region. Many Jewish people, regardless of genetic proof, feel a deep religious connection to the land of Palestine/Israel. Many Palestinian Arabs can point to one or more Jewish ancestors on their family tree. Before 1948, around the turn of the 20th century, the population of Jews in the region was 3%, and they mostly referred to themselves as Palestinian Jews and opposed the creation of a separate state.

One test of settler colonization is the behavior of the people. When the Zionist movement promoted immigration, they (Zionists) advertised it as colonization. The intent from the beginning was to find ways to obtain land and displace the Palestinian Arab population. This behavior itself is settling and colonizing, no matter the religion or genetic ancestry of the people doing it.

To establish a state with a Jewish majority in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were driven out or fled in terror from militia violence, and more than 500 Palestinian villages were emptied, many subsequently razed to the ground. Palestinian homes were given to Jewish immigrants. Agricultural enterprises such as orange groves were taken over outright and fenced, and owners trying to return were shot at. The settlements in the occupied territories from 1967 are considered illegal under international law. Many are built on Palestinian land that started as a small “outpost” and was eventually used to build permanent structures. The Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) never ended.

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