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Church Delegates Address Occupation and Divestment

Church Delegates Address Occupation and Divestment

By Sonia Nettnin

Religious delegates discuss efforts to promote peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. (Left to right) John Bagley; Newland Smith; Rev. Bob Campbell; Clergyman James M. Wall; Rev. Dr. Said Ailabouni; and Rev. Dr. Robert Reynolds.

Church delegates from five, Christian denominations discussed their church’s positions on Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories and divestment.

At the Chicago Sabeel Conference, James M. Wall moderated the panel discussion. He is a United Methodist clergyman and senior contributing editor for “The Christian Century” magazine. He asked panel members the question: “What are churches doing to promote peace and justice in Israel/Palestine?”

John Bagley spoke on behalf of The Roman Catholic/ Pax Christi Diplomatic Church and Peace Church. For 25 years Bagley has been a member of Pax Christi and he is a founding member of the End the Occupation Coalition of Northern Illinois.

According to Bagley, President Pax Christi International Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem spoke against Caterpillar and Israel’s use of the trademark, yellow machinery for demolitions of Palestinian homes. On March 16, 2003 an Israeli soldier killed the first international, the late Rachel Corrie, a student with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, Gaza. While Corrie stood in front of a Palestinian home to prevent its demolition, the soldier killed Corrie with a Caterpillar D9R bulldozer.

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In November 2005 Pax Christi USA will have their annual meeting in Washington.

“A group in the Twin Cities (St. Paul/Minnesota, MN) has put together a divestiture resolution,” Bagley said. If they can add their presentation to the meeting’s agenda, then they will present it to church representatives.”

Pax Christi USA members believe in freedom of religion and free access to the holy sites. They believe politics must remain secular and that religion is deleterious to politics in the Middle East.

An elder of the United Methodist Church, Rev. Bob Campbell stated that the UMC opposes the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Campbell is on the board of the End the Occupation Task Force of the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC. The UMC is against demolitions of Palestinian homes, the confiscation of Palestinian land, the building and expansion of Israeli settlements and by-pass roads, as well as Israel’s control of water resources.

According to Campbell, two of the UMC’s most recent conferences have both passed resolutions calling for selective divestment. The idea of a phased, selective divestment is meant to pinpoint particular organizations in what the UMC believes are illegal activities.
Through selective divestment, “…the whole nation of Israel should not be harmed…” Campbell said, and “…an economic slap on the hand causing them to change their policies.”

From UMC’s position if they act upon their resolution, then they will have an inordinate amount of economic impact. “We’re a drop in the bucket compared to the work done on Wall Street,” Campbell added. However, the UMC believes it would raise American awareness of the conflict and it would encourage the U.S. Government to change the policies causing Palestinian suffering.

“A divestment resolution…captures the attention of people in other denominations and the message gets out,” he said.

When church delegates were asked what contingencies they have in place if they act upon their potential decisions, Campbell responded: “People will pull the anti-Semitic card but we are here for dialogue…there will always be backlash no matter what.”

The National and International Affairs legislative committee of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention Deputy Newland Smith said that the EC’s executive council has passed resolutions regarding the Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes. “It is illegal under international law and deterrent to the peace process,” Smith said. The EC believes in the Palestinian right of return and their right to self-determination.

In September 2004, 23 out of 38 EC provinces met in Jerusalem for ten days. Their position is for morally-responsible investments and they commend corporate investments that support the infrastructure of a Palestinian state. Moreover, they support dialogues with corporations connected to the occupation. Before the EC declares an official response, a 12-page investigative about the conflict was given to the ECUSA’s National Concerns Committee recently. The full council will decide whether or not they will accept the recommendations.

“The EC uses corporate engagement for positive investment, socially-responsible practices and encourages policy changes in the Israel Government,” Smith said. Moreover, the EC wants the Palestinian factions to oppose violence. The EC appropriated shareholder resolutions involving investment in the economic development of the West Bank and Gaza because it is a strategy for bringing corporate change.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Rev. Dr. Said Ailabouni urged political leaders to find humanitarian outcomes that include the end of the continued construction of the separation wall built on Palestinian Territories; the end of Israel’s occupation in the P.T.; and the international support for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

Ailabouni grew up in Nazareth and in 1948, during Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, his parents and family fled Tiberias. They lost their homes and possessions. Ailabouni expressed that the continued expansion of the wall is wreaking havoc on Palestinian hospitals and schools.

In an art exhibition, some children expressed what their lives are like living under military occupation. An article containing excerpts of their experiences is located here: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0403/S00075.htm

The ELCA believes negotiations for a final status agreement on a Palestinian state that includes East Jerusalem within the 1967 boundaries will bring vitality to the ELC. This Palestinian community is shrinking, according to Ailabouni. Through knowledge, commitment and engagement of the denominations through interfaith dialogue will bring awareness to church members. The ELCA stands for the stewardship of economic resources that will support the Palestinian people.

Rev. Dr. Bob Reynolds represented the Presbyterian Church USA. He said that the PC has received much attention for its potential divestment of church funds. Through a process of phased, selective divestment, the PC could divest from multi-corporations operating in Israel that continue to fuel conflict rather than work for peace.

The PC created a divestment list of corporations where they want to see a change in corporate behavior. Through “progressive engagement,” they have informed at least four corporations and conversations will ensue with their corporate leaders. If they cannot resolve the issues, then the PC may file for dissolution from these corporations.

“The soonest is in summer 2006 but it does not mean that it will happen,” Reynolds said.

Since 1948 the PC has affirmed Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinian right to self-determination.

Another article covering two other PC delegates and a rabbi’s response to the PC’s statements regarding this subject is located here: http://www.palestinechronicle.com/story.php?sid=20050304054953905

In December 2005, the PC’s General Assembly will make recommendations for investment and divestment.

When asked about the PC’s potential decision regarding divestment, Reynolds said: “Yes we have taken a bold step but the decision has yet to be made.”

At present, the PC’s GA is in the process of discernment and will continue pursuing dialogue not only with the corporations, but with the Jewish community. At present, they are on the verge of establishing conversation with the Muslim community.

In August 2005, one of the largest, grassroots, Jewish peace organizations in the U.S., Jewish Voice for Peace issued a press release in support of the PC’s decision. In the Jewish Voice for Peace Divestment Statement, they “…fully support divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.”* They referenced not only the Caterpillar Corporation, but “…Israeli companies who depend on settlements for materials/labor or who produce military equipment used to violate Palestinian human rights.”*

JVP pointed out: “…U.S. corporations receive an alarming subsidy from U.S. taxpayers, primarily in the form of U.S. military aid to Israel…” and that “….seventy-five percent of U.S. military aid to Israel must by law by spent in U.S. corporations, making corporations, not Israel or Israelis, the primary recipients of U.S. aid.”*

The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions reports that since 1967 Israel demolished over 14,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem, which displaced over 100,000 people. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention Article 53 states: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.”

Through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program, U.S. corporations sell products and services to Israeli forces for the military occupation; and on the receiving end of the occupation’s brutality are the Palestinian people.

*“Cornerstone,” Issue 37, Summer 2005, pp. 12-13


-Journalist Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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