Rev. Helen Cox (1937-2008): passionate advocate for Palestine

The Reverend Helen Elizabeth Cox died on July 15 after a short illness in hospital in Melbourne. A service was held on July 21 at Doncaster East Uniting Church, and was attended by her extended family, friends and the many people touched by her ministries.

Helen's care for people was expressed initially in nursing. She trained as a nurse and joined the Australian Inland Mission at Kununurra, where her concern and respect for the local Indigenous people and their culture was demonstrated. Her call to the church came when her three children were still young; but she nevertheless completed her theological studies while caring for them.

Her ministry in the church oriented towards social justice. This was a constant in her life to which she gave great energy and in which she engaged many people with whom she came in contact.

She sought to fulfil her social justice vision with vigour throughout her life. Helen was also a loving mother and grandmother. She was a gardener, a wonderful cook, a gifted watercolour artist. She travelled widely and her accounts of some of her travels, particularly with her family, were often hilarious, sometimes even alarming. When the time came for Helen to retire, there was a thought that she might at last have time to devote to the piano, for she loved music; but there was never the time for this.

There were always important issues to command her attention: Helen could never ignore matters that oppressed or harmed humanity. When casinos were planned for Victoria, there she was demonstrating with her placard on the steps of Parliament House. Years later joined peace rallies to protest against the war in Iraq. She was always committed to peaceful protest and she was always forceful and vocal in her advocacy.

In 2002 Helen experienced a "defining moment" in her life, watching a program in which she described seeing "a Palestinian woman in her long black abaya running down a narrow, cobble street, the sound of gunshot rending the air as she held a baby under one arm, while a toddler clutched her free hand running as fast as his little legs would carry him while she cried out in anguish, 'where can I go, where can I go?'". Helen wept and from that moment she could not sit there and do nothing.

After learning more about the Palestinians' struggle for justice and peace, she felt compelled to make others aware of this massive injustice. She took a banner to Melbourne's city square: "One huge step for peace - Israel withdraw from the Occupied Territories". She talked to whoever would listen, offering them information on the situation in the Middle East.

Helen knew the struggle for justice in Palestine would be a long one. From that first foray into the public square, she worked tirelessly, even as her physical strength was failing her. As well as her writing, there were her public addresses at meetings, rallies and vigils.

Helen wrote frequently to the newspapers; she used every possible opportunity to inform and challenge on matters of social injustice, most particularly on Palestine.

Helen believed that today's church and broader society has lost its prophetic voice; she was openly critical of the failure of church leaders (apart from Archbishop Desmond Tutu) to speak out against the massive injustices in Palestine.

Through her ministry, Helen touched many lives with her wisdom, caring and sensitivity. Her journey through life was always vigorous and committed. She died peacefully surrounded by the love of her family.

Helen Cox will be remembered for her commitment to the helpless and dispossessed refugees who live in the largest concentration camp the world has ever seen: the West Bank and Gaza. Her journey through life, and her outstanding commitment to and advocacy for the Palestinian cause, will continue to encourage and inspire all those who had the good fortune to make her acquaintance or who received the gift of her friendship.

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