Massachusetts bishop apologizes for false allegations about IDF

Harris admitted on August 9 that she did not personally witness the events she had described to her fellow bishops at the convention.

High altar of an Anglo-Catholic church ad orientem style.  (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
High altar of an Anglo-Catholic church ad orientem style.
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
A bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts apologized on Friday for having made false allegations about atrocities carried out by IDF soldiers.
Bishop Gayle Harris said at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in July that she had personally witnessed an incident in which IDF soldiers shot a Palestinian teenager ten times, killing him.
She also alleged that she had personally witnessed IDF soldiers handcuffing a three-year old Palestinian boy after his rubber ball fell off the side of the Temple Mount and over the Western Wall.
These allegations were lambasted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which pointed out that a high stone wall rises above the western side of the Temple Mount preventing anything from simply rolling off.
The center also said that Harris had failed to respond to all requests to provide information about the gunning-down of the teenager she claimed to have witnessed, asserting that no such incident had been reported or recorded anywhere apart from in her allegations.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA) also filed complaints to the diocese, where Harris serves as Suffragan (assistant) Bishop to the head of the Massachusetts diocese Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, and both it and the Simon Wiesenthal Center compared her allegations to medieval blood libels.
In response to these complaints, Harris admitted on August 9 that she did not personally witness the events she had described to her fellow bishops at the convention, but was merely passing on what she had heard from others during her trips to the region.
On Friday, Harris issued a more comprehensive apology.
“After reviewing my words in the House of Bishops from a transcription, I now acknowledge that I reported stories which I had heard and framed them unintentionally as though I had personally witnessed the alleged events. I sincerely apologize,” Harris said in her statement.
“I acknowledge also that I did not take the opportunity to verify these stories. I was speaking from my passion for justice for all people, but I was repeating what I received secondhand. I was ill-advised to repeat the stories without verification, and I apologize for doing so.”
Bishop Alan Gates said in the same statement that “We recognize that for Christian leaders to relate unsubstantiated accounts of Israeli violence awakens traumatic memory of a deep history of inciting hostility and violence against Jews – a history the echoes of which are heard alarmingly in our own day.”
He added that the diocese “grieves” the damage done to its relationships with “Jewish friends and colleagues in Massachusetts,” and that they “rededicate ourselves to those partnerships, in which we are grateful to face complexities together.”
CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile said that the incident showed that Christians visiting the region and dealing with the Israel-Palestinian conflict need to be more careful in what they believe.
“I regret her false claims were ever made,” Van Zile said. “I truly hope this apology causes the denomination to think seriously about its sources of information.”
“Reading between the lines, I think that Bishop Harris realizes that whoever told her these stories badly misinformed her. On my trips to the West Bank, I see a fair number of well-meaning Christians believing everything they are told by Palestinian activists – lock, stock and barrel. Christians need to listen to what they are told with a very critical ear.”