By Steve Rees, Special to the ASSIST News Service
LOVELAND, CO (ANS – September 17, 2015) — An Israeli lawyer and a Christian pastor in the United States are leading a call to action on behalf of Palestinians and Israelis against a defiant, modern-day Goliath that they believe penalizes descendants of refugees of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948: The United Nations.
The duo – both acting like the biblical King David in defense of Israel and her neighbors – hope to force change in UN policy that prevents generations of Palestinians from changing their status as refugees to citizens of the countries in which they reside.
But before the preacher and jurist take on the biblical beast, they are rounding up an army of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters in the United States which, the two say, funds the UN agency that serves only to imprison five million Palestinians as permanent refugees.
The strategy: Convince members of the US Congress to cut an estimated $400 million in funding to UNRWA, and the UN will have little option but to reform its policies regarding refugees, they say.
Shooting for 10,000 petition signatures in Colorado, the two have launched an internet and social media salvo they hope will help move Democratic Senator Michael Bennett (Colo.) and Republican Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), who serves on four U.S. Senate committees, to de-fund or revamp the United Nations Relief and Work Agency; it hurts – not helps – Palestinian refugees, they say.
Viewed as a minor setback, Bennett supports the Iran deal despite his Jewish roots and a significant constituency of Jews in Colorado, says a representative of an Israeli law firm.
Pastor of a pro-Israel church in Colorado who frequently travels and leads tour groups to the Holy Land, Jonathan Wiggins met Calev Myers in 2014 in Jerusalem, where the U.S.-born attorney defends both Israelis and Palestinians from human rights, religious, conscience and legal abuses at the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (http://jij.org/).
After graduating law school, Myers founded the JIJ, which also advocates for victims of human trafficking, provides affirmative action for Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, and represents soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces abandoned by their ultra-Orthodox families, due to their military service.
Wiggins, pastor of Resurrection Fellowship in Loveland, Colo., invited Myers to speak on the topic of Palestinian human rights at the inaugural meeting of the Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries (FIRM) at the church in 2015. Wiggins now serves on the FIRM board of directors.
Created by an Israeli Pastor Wayne Hilsden, FIRM exists to unite pastors and ministries that serve Messianic believers in the biblical Holy Land and around the world.
Now close friends, Wiggins and Myers are rallying Bible-believing Christians – who support both Israelis and Palestinians because they say their faith demands it – to lobby their congressmen for a redefinition of UNRWA’s mission.
“This is a call to action, an historic moment,” says Wiggins, whose congregation quickly jumped on board, garnering nearly 600 signatures to the JIJ’s websites, realhumanrights.org and colorado-calevmyers.nationbuilder.com. The goal is 10,000 petition signatures that will be presented to key senators.
The signatories to the petition demand that UNRWA advance refugee settlement in their countries of residence, or transfer responsibilities for Palestinians’ welfare to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which, since 1948 following the Israeli-Arab war, has helped tens of millions of refugees rebuild their lives, achieve citizenship, and gain self-reliance.
“UNRWA is bad for both Palestinians and Israelis,” says Wiggins, who frequently reminds his church members that holding a pro-Israeli position doesn’t make them anti-Palestinian.
“As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, and that their lives have the utmost value regardless of religious, ethnic or national affiliation,” he says.
Others agree with Wiggins that UNRWA perpetuates Palestinians’ refugee status, leaving them dependent on humanitarian aid like no other ethnic group. Ominously, UNRWA employs self-identified terrorists against Israel, and its facilities have been used as storage sites for missiles, Wiggins says, citing credible sources.
A former director of UNRWA, which was formed in 1949 at the behest of the Arab League in opposing the UNHCR, confirms in public statements what Wiggins, the JIJ’s Myers, other attorneys, authors and experts say about the agency and its policies.
“The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem,” says Ralph Galloway, who headed UNRWA. “They want to keep it an open sore…as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die,” he says.
Sandra, a former attorney and author of “Why Still Care About Israel,” cites former UNRWA director Galloway’s comments and his first-hand experiences at the UN agency in the book she authored.
But Teplinsky’s heart is passionately set on the Palestinians, who she says, are controlled by UNRWA’s policies that lock them into permanent refugee status.
“Jesus loves and died for the Palestinian people,” says Teplinsky, who writes authoritatively and passionately about both Jewish and Palestinian refugees in her book.
An ordained minister, Teplinsky is president of Light of Zion, a Messianic Jewish outreach to Israel and the church.
“He does not want us (Christians) to disparage them,” says Teplinksy, who is also a member of the FIRM board, promoting cooperation among Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus Christ through its activities and by advocating on behalf of Messianic believers.
Six months after Resurrection Fellowship hosted FIRM’s launch, the church is again leading the charge in cooperation with the JIJ – this one to transform UNRWA.
Applauded by the JIJ, the church is unashamed of its support – not only for the nation-state of Israel – but for the Palestinian people who reside in its territories and are spread among Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
Considered illegal aliens, Palestinians are denied citizenship and many die of starvation, particularly in Syria, according to a JIJ spokesman.
“Resurrection Fellowship was the tip of our spear effort and the first church that we’ve worked with,” says Chris Kuehl, the Israel-based JIJ’s director of strategy and development.
“JIJ believes the church represents a new generation of thinking about Israel and, through our partnership from Jerusalem to Colorado, we’ll be able to spread the torch to the next generation in ways that are unmatched,” says Kuehl.
In addition to the Loveland church, JIJ intends to rely heavily on a host of Jewish organizations and other Colorado congregations to collect signatures, says Kuehl.
He thinks the drive to obtain 10,000 sponsors will take about two months.
The petitions will then be delivered to Bennett’s office, where a spokeswoman for the senator indicated he will carefully review the language of and signatures to the petition.
Senator Graham’s office is a target as well because the South Carolinian serves on a congressional committee that authorizes funding, Kuehl says.
Photo captions: 1) Calev Myers speaking. 2) Pastor Jonathan Wiggins. 3) Steve Rees.
About the writer: Steve Rees is freelance Christian journalist who loves the church and writes about how it engages the culture and works toward fulfilling the Great Commission. He lives in Longmont, Colo. and attends Resurrection Fellowship, a nondenominational, missions-driven church that honors all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the five-fold ministry offices. The church is in Loveland, Colo. Rees formerly worked as a newspaper reporter and was among the first journalists who wrote about Promise Keepers before it spread nationwide from Boulder, Colo. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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