An open letter to the Methodist Church on their decision to Endorse BDS

Dear Sir or Madam,

The decision of the Methodist Church to endorse the BDS Campaign, has not alone been greeted with huge respect by those concerned with the near unique plight of Palestinians, attacked, evicted, walled in or excluded, land divested for sixty two years, but has also restored faith in what believers are : adherents to peaceful justice wherever the opposite is found.

In the light of the silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury on Palestine and Iraq since moving in to Lambeth Palace – added to his deafening muteness after the acts of kidnapping, murder, piracy, theft which befell the aid flotilla on 31st. May – your stance is faith restoring, in both senses of the word, for those of all faiths and of none.

The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, lies in the dust of the Middle East, from Mesapotamia’s Ur, to Palestine’s “Little Town.” Surgeon David Halpin (http://www.doveanddolphin.org.uk ) who, with others, also nearly lost his life, attacked in international waters, when sailing to deliver donated aid, says of these disasters: “Those children are my children.” Indeed. From denial of the basics to sustain life, to Operation Cast Lead, this is genocidal in the legal definition. If governments stand silent, “we the people”, must collectively say: “Not in our name …”, until they listen.

What society can stand by as oxygen for the sick, gasping for breath, is denied, electricity to keep incubators going – or batteries for the hearing aids of children in a school for the deaf? The list is near endless.

Should there be any soul searching within your congregation regarding this decision, the latest document from Defence for Children International, provides more woeful evidence as to further lack of adherence childrens’ rights, alone: http://www.dci-pal.org/English/Doc/dbulletin/Issue_06.pdf The EU is Israel’s largest trading party. If they collectively had as much moral conscience as has been shown by the Methodist Church, the siege, the wall, the land/homes appropriations, destruction of the history of the Holy Land itself, the deaths, the heartbreak, would arguably be halted.

Thank you for your decision, your conscience and your humanity.

Felicity Arbuthnot (Dr. Hon. Phil.)

write a letter to thank them yourselves at this address: helpdesk[at]methodistchurch.org.uk

fact sheet in question and answer version

http://www.unitedmethodistdivestment.com/QuNAnsUMDivest.html

Questions and Answers about Divestment from a North American Unite Methodist site

Q. Why are you recommending divestment?

A. Divestment is a form of nonviolent moral action to change unjust practices. It is a longstanding practice used by the Methodist Church for decades to counter human rights abuses around the world. The United Methodist General Conference has long affirmed divestment as a legitimate tool for churches to use, both in our Book of Discipline and in our Book of Resolutions.

For years, our churches have said we oppose Israel’s occupation. In 2004, the United Methodist General Conference passed Resolution 312, stating that “The United Methodist Church opposes continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the continued building of illegal Jewish settlements, and any vision of a ‘Greater Israel’ that includes the occupied territories and the whole of Jerusalem and its surroundings.”

It is time we translated these words into action. At the very least, we should make sure our church funds are not being invested in companies that profit from the occupation.

Q. Is the New England Conference alone in this initiative?

A. Not at all. There are a number of other annual conferences within the United Methodist Church that have adopted some form of divestment resolution: Cal-Nevada, Cal-Pacific, Rocky Mountain, North Central NY, New York, Virginia and Northern Illinois.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a process of selective divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation in 2004. This was refined in 2006 to focus on progressive engagement, with divestment still an option if companies do not change their policies. (This is much like our approach, which gives companies a chance to engage in discussion of the issues through written correspondence and telephone conversations, then provides for divestment if companies do not indicate a willingness to change their policies.)

Divestment discussions have also been taking place in other denominations. The United Church of Christ has approved the use of “economic leverage” to end the occupation. The World Council of Churches has urged its members to adopt divestment from companies that profit from the occupation. Various Anglican and Pax Christi groups have approved divestment. Many Jewish groups in Israel and other countries have called for divestment as a tool to end the occupation.

There are divestment campaigns under way in many U.S. colleges and universities, including Tufts, Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers University, Columbia University, Howard University, the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2006, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario voted to begin a divestment campaign. CUPE Ontario represents 200,000 workers in Canada’s most populated province. In April, 2008, the 50,000 member Canadian Union of Postal Workers voted to support the global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid.

Divestment was endorsed by the 1.2 million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu has called for divestment

A county in Norway and a major Dutch bank have recently announced divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation. A divestment proposal in Somerville, MA won significant support on the November ballot.

Q. Why Israel? Why not focus on China or other countries that have terrible records on human rights? What about Russia in Chechnya?

A. First, because our tax dollars and investment dollars are paying for this. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid. Americans are making money on Israel’s occupation. We cannot criticize other countries as long as we are paying for the persecution and dispossession of Palestinians.

Second, because Israel’s actions endanger Christians in the cradle of our faith, and as members of the Body of Christ, we have an obligation to defend them. We also advocate for all who are persecuted.

And third, because Israel’s blatant violations of human rights are fueling terrorism and anti-American hatred around the world. For years, the US has vetoed efforts by the United Nations to end this conflict. We are seen as the reason this conflict continues.

Q. Won’t divestment harm Israel’s economy?

A. No. It is not directed at Israeli companies in general, or at companies that do business in Israel, unless they profit from the occupation.

There are many kinds of divestment. The one chosen by the New England Methodist conference focuses only on those companies that make money from or help sustain the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Most of the companies listed by the New England Conference are American and international companies. Only one at present is an Israeli company, and it was included because it profits from the occupation and is traded on an American stock exchange, making it a more likely choice for New England Methodist portfolios.

Actually, the occupation endangers Israelis, and whatever we can do to end it will provide Israelis a more secure and prosperous future.

Q. How is the occupation harming Israel?

A. In Israel, the expense of wars and military occupation is draining the Israeli economy and having a negative effect on its society as a whole. Today, 1.6 million Israelis live in poverty. Beginning in 1998, the US contributions to Israel’s domestic economy have declined as its military contributions have increased. Last year for the first time, all US aid for Israel went to its military.

In a recent article in the London Review of Books, Israeli writer Yitzhak Laor stated, “Even while they are still serving, our generals become friendly with the US companies that sell arms to Israel; they then retire, loaded with money, and become corporate executives. The IDF is the biggest customer for everything and anything in Israel. …”

He goes on to say, “Military thinking has become our only thinking. The wish for superiority has become the need to have the upper hand in every aspect of relations with our neighbors.”

Q. This is the wrong time for divestment. There is a peace process under way.

A. The “peace process” is asking the Palestinians to sit down and “negotiate” with Israel over how much of the territory Israel has confiscated illegally will be returned to them. At best, it will legitimize the existence of Palestinian mini-states that are completely surrounded by Israel. Ehud Olmert has stated repeatedly that he will never relinquish control of the Jordan Valley, which is the eastern third of the West Bank. Israel is asking that a permanent Israeli Army presence remain for an extended period in the Jordan Valley, and that in the case of an emergency Israel could also deploy in essential areas of the West Bank to thwart a treat of invasion from the East. No sovereign state would agree to these conditions.

Quoting from an article in an Israeli newspaper, “Israel would like the U.S. to agree to a number of limitations on the future Palestinian state’s sovereignty. Israel wants Palestine to be completely demilitarized, and for Israel to be able to fly over Palestinian air space. (Israel conducted flyovers with sonic booms in Gaza almost nightly for weeks after it withdrew to Gaza’s perimeter.) Border crossings would be monitored by Israel in such a way that the symbols of Palestinian sovereignty would not be compromised, but Israel would know who was coming and going.”

Under ordinary circumstances the West Bank would be completely demilitarized, with only internal Palestinian security forces on duty. Israel’s ongoing assassinations and raids on Palestinian towns and during the peace process have made harder than ever for President Abbas to convince his people to forfeit their weapons.

Q. In the last elections, the Palestinians elected Hamas, which refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist. How can Israel ever make peace with these people?

A. We must ask which Israel Palestinians are being asked to accept. Israel has never defined its own borders and is constantly expanding. Palestinians have repeatedly offered to recognize Israel within its internationally accepted borders west of the Green Line. Israel has rejected these boundaries, and is continually seizing more and more Palestinian land and water. Yet Palestinians are faulted for not affirming the amorphous, expanding entity that is destroying their lives.

In 1988, Yasser Arafat accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 138, which called for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied lands and respect for the inviolability of all states in the region. The Palestinians declared a state on only the West Bank (including occupied East Jerusalem) and Gaza, which together comprise 22% of the former British mandate of Palestine. This would have left Israel with 78% of the former Palestine. In 1993, Arafat sent a letter to Israel making recognition of Israel more explicit. Yet Israel continued its expansion into the West Bank.

The kind of diplomatic recognition Western leaders have demanded implies endorsement, and Hamas refuses to endorse the means by which Israel attained its current parameters. Palestinians know that Israel exists and are prepared to make peace with it, but many will never acknowledge the right of Israel to evict almost a million people from their homes and replace them with people of another religion, especially when this displacement is ongoing.

Q. Doesn’t the Hamas charter call for Israel’s destruction?

A. Yes. We reject all calls for destruction of any nation or people. Both Israel’s Likud party and Palestine’s Hamas party believe that the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River was given to the people of one faith by God. The Likud Party platform states “The government will oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. …The Jordan River shall be the eastern border of the State of Israel…” In essence, this would mean the destruction of Palestine.

There are many recorded instances of Hamas leaders saying they would recognize the state of Israel and live in peace with it if it withdraws to the 1967 borders. Israel has never recognized the rights of Christians and Muslims to exist with equal rights and freedom in a land where many of their families have lived for more than a thousand years.

Q. Hamas has refused to accept prior peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

A. We forget that Israel has not accepted prior peace agreements either. In fact, Palestinians have concluded that these agreements were largely smokescreens for allowing the settlement movement to continue. Under Oslo, which was enthusiastically embraced by Palestinians, the number of settlers in the occupied territories almost doubled. According to a former Israeli soldier and member of the Israeli Knesset, “most of the violations have come from the Israeli side (they did not implement the third troops’ deployment, did not open the four agreed “safe passages” between Gaza and the West Bank, they have embezzled the tax and customs money collected for the Palestinian Authority, refused to negotiate in good faith about Jerusalem, settlements and refugees, as stipulated in the agreements, etc.) …. even Mr. Rabin announced that ‘there are no sacred dates,’ thereby relieving himself of the duty to fulfill any obligation at the agreed time.”

Palestinians accepted the Roadmap in its entirety, but Israel introduced 13 caveats that rendered the agreement meaningless and began attacking Palestinians within days.

Every Palestinian leader, including Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, has offered to make peace with Israel if it withdraws to the 1967 borders and allows a just solution for refugees. This is unacceptable to Israel, so it continues to claim there is “no one to talk to” in Hamas. It conducts violent raids and assassinations, knowing full well there will be a violent response. We cannot wait while this carnage continues. Withdrawal is the bottom line for a just and lasting peace, and we believe principled action by churches, universities and municipalities can help make it happen.

Q. Churches should not take sides in this conflict.

A. Divestment is taking the side of a just and sustainable peace for all. It is not anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. It is directed at companies that support and benefit from the ongoing conflict.

Through the enormous flow of US dollars to Israel’s military, and through investments in companies profiting from occupation, we have actually been taking sides. Divestment is an effort to stop being one-sided in our practices.

The occupation endangers Israelis as well as Palestinians, and we are responding to pleas from many Israeli and Jewish organizations around the world to help end it.

Q. Won’t the church’s divestment action destroy relationships between Methodists and Jews?

A. The Methodist Church has long valued and nurtured relationships with Jews around the world. The divestment action is supported by many Jewish organizations. It is aimed not at Israel or companies that do business there, but at companies that profit from the occupation, which is doing great damage to Israel.

For too long, we have allowed our concern for interfaith harmony to take precedence over Christ’s command to stand up for those who are oppressed. We must reach out in love to our Jewish brothers and sisters, helping them to see the reality that has been kept from all Americans and letting them know that people in our own faith community as well as theirs are being destroyed by the occupation.

Q. How will you respond to charges of anti-Semitism which are often directed toward those that criticize Israel’s actions?

A. We can offer the words of a group called Jews Against the Occupation in a letter received by United Methodists just before Resolution 204 was passed:

“All too often, when a non-Jewish group or individual speaks out against blatantly unjust Israeli policies and actions, they are accused of acting on that unreasoning hatred of Jews and Judaism that is commonly called anti-Semitism. Yet to an anti-Semite, Jews are inherently evil, and can only be improved by ceasing to exist as Jews. Issuing a moral rebuke such as a targeted divestment shows a respect for Jews and Judaism that is fundamentally incompatible with anti-Semitism. Such an act is predicated on the belief that the recipients of the rebuke are capable of reevaluating their actions and turning onto a more just path. We can think of no greater act of friendship than to risk being defamed in order to remind one’s friends of their own ideals when they, themselves, have forgotten them…. we believe that the day will come, be it in five years or fifty, when the Church’s action in this matter will be remembered with love and gratitude by Jews around the world.”

Q. Don’t the Palestinians want to drive the Jews out of Israel?

A. No. Israelis have been using this claim for years to justify more aggression against the Palestinians. Most Palestinians simply want to live their daily lives in peace with Israelis Actually, many Palestinians remember a time when people of three faiths lived together in relative harmony in the Holy Land. They are eager to do so again once Israel stops taking their land and water and treats them as equal human beings.

Driving through the West Bank, one can see construction cranes almost everywhere, expanding the settlements that are quite literally driving the Palestinians out of Palestine.

Q. Why can’t the Palestinians use non-violent resistance?

A. Palestinians have a long and inspiring history of non-violent resistance to the occupation. They have been attacked by Israeli soldiers as they marched with signs and flags in their own towns and on their own land to protest the loss of their property. They have knelt on their land and prayed. They have chained themselves to their trees as bulldozers approach. They have conducted hunger strikes. Their daily struggle to maintain life under tremendous hardship on the land that is left to them is a form of non-violent resistance. Our newspapers don’t report these acts of courage. They only report the violent resistance engaged in by a minority.

Q. How can Israel make peace with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a terrorist organization?

A. Both Fatah and Hamas include militant groups that have engaged in terrorist operations against Israeli civilians. Many suicide bombings have been carried out by groups loyal to Fatah, such as Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as well as by those loyal to Hamas. We strongly condemn all acts of violence against civilians.

Israel has also engaged in acts of terror against Palestinian civilians. The terror Palestinians live with is that American-made bulldozers will appear at any moment to destroy more homes and olive trees, that access to farmland and water wells will be denied, or that soldiers will burst down the door in the middle of the night to take away sons and husbands and hold them without charge in Israeli jails. They also fear targeted assassinations that often kill innocent civilians and are illegal under international law. There is no trial, no evidence, and no need to prove the charges. Anyone Israel targets can be dismissed as a “militant.” These things happen with frightening regularity in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel’s displacement of Palestinians from their land began in 1948 and continued with the occupation in 1967. Hamas was not formed until the 1980s (with the help of Israel and the United States, which were seeking to weaken Fatah at the time). Now Israel and the United States are seeking to weaken Hamas and strengthen Fatah, which is seen as more likely to support Israeli goals. To that end, the US has been training and (by some accounts) arming Fatah militia to strengthen Fatah against Hamas. Singling out Hamas as a terrorist organization serves a political end, and ignores the fact that every party to this conflict has both positive and destructive elements.

At the same time that all of these groups engage in acts of terror, all have other dimensions that must be considered. Hamas has long been recognized for its provision of social services to Palestinians, often doing so more efficiently than the government led by Fatah. During his years as Palestinian president, Abbas accomplished very little in the way of tangible improvement in people’s lives. Land and water continued to be taken. New settlements kept expanding, and new Israeli-only roads connected them and divided the West Bank. No progress was made toward negotiations or peace.

Palestinians had grown tired of what they believed was corruption in the Fatah party led by Abbas. They viewed Abbas as a weak pawn of Israel and the United States. Encouraged by America to solve their problems through democracy, they did exactly what a democratic system allows: they voted for the opposition party. Most did so to send a signal to Abbas that they wanted honest government. Few thought Hamas would actually win.

Having won, Hamas leaders made many promising statements and signaled a willingness to turn from violence to political solutions. Before they were given a chance to implement their policies, Israel arrested most of the Hamas government and withheld taxes belonging to Palestinians. Withholding of funds by the United States and other countries has weakened Hamas’s ability to govern and is creating a major humanitarian crisis. Goods and services cannot flow freely through checkpoints, creating an economic disaster. Unemployment, hunger and discontent have resulted in more violence, which Israel uses to claim there is no one to talk to on the other side. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements are expanding, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

Q. Palestinians were offered a great deal at Camp David in 2000, but Arafat refused. He wanted nothing less than the destruction of Israel, so he walked away.

A. The prevailing myths about the Camp David offer have been rejected by Robert Malley, President Clinton’s negotiator at those talks, and by many others with direct knowledge of what took place.

There was already widespread unrest among Palestinians about the results of the Oslo agreement, which had created high hopes for a new era of peace. Instead of beginning settlement withdrawal, Israel had almost doubled the number of settlements in the occupied territories between the signing of the Oslo Accords and the meeting at Camp David. Oslo had given Palestinians day-to-day authority over parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, yet Israel exercised its control by frequently sealing off the Palestinian-governed areas from the rest of the Occupied Territories and from Israel. It continued to confiscate lands and destroy homes. Popular unrest mounted.

Despite this, Yasser Arafat had gotten the factions to agree to accept a Palestinian state on only 22% of historic Palestine….the West Bank (including Arab East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip.

At Camp David, the Palestinians were offered a state comprised of disconnected enclaves separated from each other by Israeli-only roads and by settlement blocs that stretched like giant fingers over the West Bank, impeding travel and commerce. There was no guarantee that these settlements would cease to expand. About 80% of the settlers would have remained. To travel from one part of Palestine to another, Palestinians would have to pass through checkpoints manned by the Israeli army.

Israel would have been given the right to lease areas in the Jordan Valley or maintain temporary sovereignty over them for up to 25 years.

Israel would have kept military installations in the Palestinian state, such as early warning stations, and reserved the right to send troops into the Jordan Valley if there was a perceived threat from further east.

Israelis would have retained control over Palestinian water resources, borders, electromagnetic fields and air space. Israel has taken 83% of the water underlying the West Bank for years, leaving Palestinians with desperate shortages. This would not have changed.

The Palestinian state would not have been allowed to form alliances with other countries without Israel’s approval. It would not have been allowed to maintain a defense force or to be armed.

After Camp David, Israel was to retain “temporary control” over much of Palestine for an indefinite period of time. This would allow a foreign power to control the sovereign land of another nation without any timetable for phasing out this control. Palestinians were expected to relinquish control over the land along the borders essential for the absorption of refugees from neighboring countries and for the development of trade and tourism.

Most important, the refugee problem would have remained unsolved, with 4 million refugees living in squalid camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring countries, while Israelis live in homes taken from their families and built on their land. Yet Barak wanted Arafat to sign a document stating the agreement would end all claims by the Palestinian people against Israel and would represent a resolution of all outstanding issues. According to Rabbi Michael Lerner, “No Palestinian leader could have signed that agreement and abandoned the needs of those refugees.”

I'm a teacher, writer, and activist based in Bangalore. I am dedicated to various issues including #BDS and Palestine, living Zero Waste, and reversing the effects of climate change.

Posted in BDS Success, Boycott, British Organizing, Church Organizing
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