HEBRON REFLECTION: The Islamic Charitable Society and the Salvation Army

7 July 2008
HEBRON REFLECTION: The Islamic Charitable Society and the Salvation Army

by Kathleen Kern


Before I left for a CPT assignment in Hebron, a relative asked what I would be doing there. I told him I would probably be spending a lot of time at orphanages the Israeli military was trying to close down. "Why are they trying to close them down?" he asked. "Because they are run by an Islamic charity," I said. "Oh," he said, nodding, as though the word "Islamic" were a sound reason for depriving several hundred children of a home.

That reaction, however, did not surprise me, given the way that "Islamic" has become synonymous with "terrorist" in western and Israeli culture. And the Israeli military has used this prejudice to justify closing orphanages, schools and other institutions run by the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) in Hebron, citing a connection between the institution and Hamas. Yes, most of the Palestinians in Hebron are conservative Muslims-including the 550 employees of the Islamic Charitable Society--and many conservative Muslims support the Palestinian political party of Hamas, just as most conservative Christians in the United States support the Republican Party. That about sums up the connection between ICS and Hamas. A recent U.N. report notes that the Israeli military itself has not found any evidence of illegal activity happening in the ICS institutions.

As I looked for analogies that would explain the situation of the ICS, I thought of the Salvation Army. I remember how much I loved hearing the sound my coins made at Christmas time when I dropped them in the red metal pot, and the smile the old man in the Salvation Army uniform gave me as he rang his bell beside it.

My husband, however, associates the Salvation Army with Oliver North, whom it invited to speak at fundraising events. As someone who cared passionately about the human rights abuses the governments of Central America were committing against their citizens during the 1980s, he was appalled that a Christian organization would provide North a platform, given that North's work with U.S. intelligence agencies supported criminals responsible for the deaths of thousands of Central Americans.

No one suggested shutting down the Salvation Army's ministries because of their connection to a man who lied before Congress about selling weapons to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. No one in the United States would suggest shutting down charitable institutions for the needy run by conservative Republican Christians simply because a conservative Republican administration initiated the catastrophic violence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So our Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron will continue to sleep in the orphanages and schools run by ICS during this critical period, when most of the children are at home with extended families and the Israeli military might be more likely to wreck those buildings, as it has already wrecked ICS bakeries, warehouses, and workshops. Because they are facilities built for needy children, and all three Abrahamic faiths regard the care of children, especially orphans, as a basic hallmark of human morality.