From churches, a challenge to Israeli policies

Some may wield an old financial tool – divestment – to register concern about peace prospects

Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor, DECEMBER 6, 2004

A vote by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to use economic sanctions against certain companies doing business with Israel – namely those that profit from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – has set off a quiet firestorm within the American religious community.

The Presbyterians’ decision to consider divesting such businesses from its $8 billion portfolio, coupled with the prospect that the Episcopal Church and other churches might do the same, is adding to tensions that have risen over recent years between mainline Protestant churches and the American Jewish community over their differing views of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

It is also stirring Jewish groups to try to head off divestment – and to rebuild a rapport with these churches, with whom they have long worked to further civil rights and social justice.

“To call for divestment played into all the language of boycott, from earlier periods in Jewish history to the Arab boycott of Israel. It caused an explosion in the Jewish community,” says David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

In some ways, last summer’s divestment vote has forced a conversation about the Middle East conflict. It also raises the stakes for those who, earlier this year, launched a bid to renew the old coalition. Christian and Jewish leaders have met twice, hosted by AJC and the National Council of Churches. From discussions on the “theology of land” to the divestment issue, the religious leaders “spoke from their pain” and asked tough questions of one another, says the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, NCC interfaith secretary.

Tensions rose when a Presbyterian delegation traveling in the Middle East in October met with members of Hizbullah, the Lebanese group on the US terrorist list. The church’s national leadership disavowed the action. Then in November, the church received a letter threatening arson against Presbyterian churches unless it halted the divestment process. Jewish groups condemned the threat.

Last week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs asked Protestants to reject divestment in favor of joint efforts to end the conflict. Elaborating on Jewish concerns, it said the divestment process is discriminatory, will provoke intransigence on both sides, and “is dangerously ill-matched to our passionately shared vision of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

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Saying no to Israel is not anti-Semitism

B.J. Paschal, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, December 1, 2004

DOES AN AMERICAN religious denomination such as the Presbyterian Church have the right to divest an $8 billion portfolio from Israel? Apparently not, according to the U.S. News & World Report, headed by Editor-in-Chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman and other pro-Israel embedded “journalists” such as John Leo.

How could this magazine, which claims to be “America’s most credible print news source,” attempt to vilify the Presbyterian Church General Assembly’s decision to selectively divest from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories? Answer: The “free press” clause in the First Amendment. But don’t the “religion clauses” in the First Amendment give Presbyterians the right to do what they believe is right? Don’t Presbyterians have the right to demand of companies that, before they buy their shares, they want them to share their values?

John Leo says “No!” These “leftists” simply “pummel Israel whenever possible.” Their “fixation on Israel” is a “one-sided expression of ideology.” Why not criticize “China, Libya, Syria or North Korea”? asked Leo. The answer is simple. We taxpayers give Israel more wrong money than any nation on planet Earth, and we demand very little of Israel. It’s time for a change.

The U.S. News (Oct. 19) used a report from the right-wing ideologues at the Institute on Religion and Democracy to call the General Assembly a bunch of “fringe leftists.” Rubbish!

Why didn’t Leo point out that 14 members of the House of Representatives (including three of 52 Presbyterians in Congress) have implored the Presbyterian Church to rescind its decision? That’s government interfering with people of faith. But the 14 representatives justify their “messing with religion” by pointing out that the church’s action is causing “terrible distress.” To whom? I hope to the government of Israel.

We Presbyterians have criticized the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to be a balanced arbiter for peace in the Middle East. Why did Leo fail to mention that fact? While Congress, the New Yorker and U.S. News have repeatedly denounced the Palestinian authority, they have never condemned Israel’s continuous illegal construction of settlements on the West Bank. Why?

The Anglican Church has announced its intention to adopt a corporate divestment strategy similar to that of the Presbyterian Church. What about the evangelicals? They believe they stand for high moral purpose in politics. They don’t. Therefore, don’t hold your breath for them to suddenly find Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

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October 23, 2004
Film: The Fourth World War

UW-Madison
Humanities, Rm 3650
7:00 pm

The Fourth World War will have its Madison premiere hosted by producers/directors Rick Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen. MRSCP is one of the co-sponsors of this showing.

Shot on the front lines of struggles spanning five continents, The Fourth World War is the untold story of people who resist being annihilated in the current global conflict. The film weaves together the images and voices of the war on the ground — in Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Palestine, Korea, Seattle, Genoa and New York. The intensity and immediacy of its images are beyond anything the mainstream media can shoot, the intimacy and passion of its stories are beyond anything it can feel. Narrated by Tony Award winner Suheir Hammad and Singer Michael Franti of Spearhead, it is a radical story of hope and human connection in the face of a war that shatters and divides.

Richard Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen are New York-based filmmakers whose groundbreaking feature documentaries Zapatista (1998), Black and Gold (1999), and This is What Democracy Looks Like (2000) have won top honors at hundreds of film festivals worldwide. Established video journalists, they have reported from Argentina, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, East Timor, South Africa, and Palestine, where they were the only video team to break the 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

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Palestine: the Assault on Health and Other War Crimes

PERSONAL VIEWS
British Medical Journal, October 16, 2004

Does the death of an Arab weigh the same as that of a US or Israeli citizen? The Israeli army, with utter impunity, has killed more unarmed Palestinian civilians since September 2000 than the number of people who died on September 11, 2001. In conducting 238 extrajudicial executions the army has also killed 186 bystanders (including 26 women and 39 children). Two thirds of the 621 children (two thirds under 15 years) killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest‹the sniper’s wound. Clearly, soldiers are routinely authorised to shoot to kill children in situations of minimal or no threat. These statistics attract far less publicity than suicide bombings, atrocious though these are too.

Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the killing of Asma al-Mughayr (16 years) and her brother Ahmad (13 years) on the roof terrace of their home in Rafah on 18 May, each with a single bullet to the head. Asma had been taking clothes off the drying line and Ahmad feeding pigeons. Amnesty noted that the firing appeared to have come from the top floor of a nearby house, which had been taken over by Israeli soldiers shortly before. Amnesty suspects that this is not “caught in crossfire,” this is murder.

Israeli military reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza‹a system of military checkpoints splitting towns and villages into ghettos, curfews, closures, raids, mass demolition and destruction of houses (more than 60 000), and land expropriations‹has made ordinary life impossible for everyone, and is driving Palestinian society and its institutions towards destitution. Moreover, Israel has been constructing a grotesque barrier that, when completed, will total over 400 miles‹four times longer than the Berlin Wall. Extending up to 15 miles into Palestinian territory, the real purpose of the wall is permanently to lock more than 50 illegal Israeli settlements into Israel proper. This is expansive, aggressive colonisation, in defiance of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the United Nations General Assembly resolution of last July.

Last year a UN rapporteur concluded that Gaza and the West Bank were “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.” The World Bank estimates that 60% of the population are subsisting at poverty level (£1.12; $2; 1.6 per day), a tripling in only three years. Half a million people are now completely dependent upon food aid, and Amnesty International has expressed concern that the Israeli army has been hampering distribution in Gaza. Over half of all households are eating only one meal per day. A study by Johns Hopkins and Al Quds universities found that 20% of children under 5 years old were anaemic, 9.3% were acutely malnourished, and a further 13.2% chronically malnourished. The doctors I met on a professional visit in March pointed to a rising prevalence of anaemia in pregnant women and low birthweight babies.

The coherence of the Palestinian health system is being destroyed. The wall will isolate 97 primary health clinics and 11 hospitals from the populations they serve. Qalqilya hospital, which primarily serves refugees, has seen a 40% fall in follow up appointments because patients cannot enter the city. There have been at least 87 documented cases (including 30 children) in which denial of access to medical treatment has led directly to deaths, including those of babies born while women were held up at checkpoints. The checkpoint at the entrance to some villages closes at 7 pm and not even ambulances can pass after this time.

As a recent example, a man in a now fenced in village near Qalqilya approached the gate with his seriously ill daughter in his arms, and begged the soldiers on duty to let him pass so that he could take her to hospital. The soldiers refused, and a Palestinian doctor summoned from the other side was also refused access to the child. The doctor was obliged to attempt a physical examination, and to give the girl an injection, through the wire.

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Israeli troops probed for killing child

Israeli troops who killed a Palestinian schoolgirl in the Gaza Strip have come under investigation for riddling her with bullets

Al Jazeera, 11 Oct 2004


Rights groups say the Israeli army uses
excessive force

Iman al-Hams, 13, was shot 20 times on 5 October as she walked past an Israeli military outpost on the way to school in Rafah, a refugee camp on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

The area has seen much violence during the four-year-old Palestinian intifada.

“Israeli soldiers stormed the area, the girl left the bag and tried to run,” Umar Abu Khalifa, 25, a Palestinian witness who lives nearby, said on Monday.

“Bullets hit the [girl’s] bag and then soldiers opened fire on the girl.”

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Donating to Apartheid

If the donor states now finance the upgrading of Palestinian roads, they will be providing the Palestinians with temporary relief. But they will be direct accessories in consolidating a uniquely Israeli regime of separation and apartheid.

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Sep 08, 2004

It’s only logical and self-evident that the road from Bir Zeit to Attara, north of Ramallah, be upgraded. It’s a narrow, dangerous road, without lighting, or median lines, or sidewalks or even shoulders to the road. For the same reasons, the Ein Ariq road west of Ramallah cries out for improvement, as does the Nahalin-Husan road west of Bethlehem. Those are only three arteries of the road network in the West Bank that the Palestinian Authority planned to improve by the end of the 1990s, with help from the donor countries as part of the Oslo process.

But over the last four years, those roads and others like them became the only roads, the main avenues that bore all the Palestinian traffic in their regions and between regions in the West Bank. Israel prohibits Palestinians from using the main inter-urban highways in the West Bank or it drastically limits their rights to use those roads, which are mainly for the use of the settlers. In recent years, thousands of Palestinian vehicles have been daily directed to use the secondary roads, banned from the main highways.

The three roads come from a list of 30 that Israel told the World Bank it wants to see upgraded. Other roads for Palestinians, some new, some existent, some to be upgraded with tunnels and rotaries, will be added to the list that Israel expects the donor states to finance.

The logic is clear here, too. The settlements are a given, a fact. The danger to the lives of the settlers and other Israeli civilians on the “joint” roads is tangible, as has been proven by many drive-by shootings. But freedom of movement for the Palestinians, as the World Bank has stated, is vital for economic recovery.

The donor nations are committed to help the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, build separate roads for the Palestinians. And since there is no partner for peace and negotiations, we will continue to develop for our citizens a separate network of roads, which will bring them even closer to sovereign Israel and continue to encourage new settlers to move to the settlements.

Seemingly, it’s a temporary, innocent solution, essentially reactive, answering the need to protect the safety of Israeli citizens because of the current reality. In effect, the creation of two separate road networks is a logical step, utterly not innocent or accidental, a part of the long-term systematic planning of the settlements that began almost as far back as 1967. Its purpose: to expand the borders of the state of Israel as much as possible, according to the spreading and strengthening of the settlements.

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Hilarity from Gaza

9/8/2004

Dear Jennifer,

I hope you are fine. I was reading the news on haaretz daily today when I encountered the following text:

    ‘The army’s presence around the southern town of Khan Yunis, however, is part of a routine operation to search for wanted men and weapons. Militants use tunnels running underneath the nearby border with Egypt to smuggle in arms’

I was surprised. Tunnels now extend from Khan Younis to the border of Rafah?!? Can you believe it? It is amazing how ridiculous the Israeli media can be, and even more the army media. They truly believe that people are idiots. –this claim is astounding, no?

I read an article by Amira Hass (Donating to apartheid, http://www.haaretz.com/donating-to-apartheid-1.134183) and think it is a very good piece. Try to read it if you have the time.

Have my best wishes.

Mahmud M. Abu Rahma
Coordinator of Training & Mass Communication Unit
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Tel/fax: +970 (0)8 2820447/2
Email: mahmud@mezan.org
Web: www.mezan.org

The direct distance from Khan Yunis to Rafah is 5 miles.

September 20-24, 2004
WHEELS OF JUSTICE TOUR

BRINGING THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ AND PALESTINE TO MADISON

On September 20th and 24th, the Madison Area Peace Coalition and Madison-Rafah Sister City Project host the Wheels of Justice Tour. Rolling into town in a full-size, brightly decorated school bus, the tour brings eyewitness accounts from Iraq and Palestine to challenge and educate Americans about the repercussions of war and occupation, both on people abroad and at home.

Having seen and lived with war, terror and occupation in Iraq and Palestine, participants in the Wheels of Justice offer first-hand experience irrespective of partisan politics. The tour travels on a converted school bus that doubles as a mobile billboard and peace center. In the past three years, the bus has traveled more than fifty thousand miles to over four hundred locations throughout the United States. For additional information, visit www.justicewheels.org.

Locally, the tour includes stops at a number of Madison-area schools and colleges, such as MATC, Edgewood College, and East High School. In addition, there will be a free public forum:

Monday, September 20th, 7:00 pm
“From the Mouth of Madness: Deep Inside the Occupations of Iraq & Palestine”

with speakers, Michael Birmingham & Mazin Qumsiyeh
Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W. Gilman St., Madison, WI

Following the discussion, Mazin Qumsiyeh will sign his latest book, Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle.

“We advocate justice and human rights as the only real roadmap for peace at home and abroad,” states Rae Vogeler of the Madison Area Peace Coalition. “We call upon the United States to recognize and adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to stop the violence of war and occupation, and to immediately withdraw troops and military funding from the Middle East.”

Nationally, the tour is sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness (www.nonviolence.org/vitw/) and the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (www.Al-Awda.org) with support from affiliates of the International Solidarity Movement.

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Letter from a friend in Gaza

8/19/2004

Here’s a message from a friend in Gaza. It talks about life in Rafah, Gaza City, working at the NGO Al Mezan. A true terrorist Palestinian with no other concerns than the destruction of Israel. — Jennifer Loewenstein

Dear J,

It was great talking to you yesterday.

When I told you I was tired, I was really tired; both physically and psychologically. Work’s craziness is unbelieveable, with every-day new tasks that I perform. As always there are several things to work on every day. Now, the follow up of the networks we are engaged with, the prisoners’ hunger strike, and the NGO monitoring on elections are the most urgent things. It’s unbelievable how much it takes to meet our obligation towards network, God, it’s too much, but so important, too.

Guests and social events never end in the summer. I went to Rafah on Thursday, and we made seven visits to people who we must visit. I had to develop a brief report on Beit Hanoun (with Sameer); and I had two very difficult days there.

I fasted until 9pm yesterday, trying to feel with prisoners; and I thought of them a lot. I am doing so today (only coffee, cigarittes and water), too. And life goes on.

You asked me about the bombing of Gaza yesterday. Well, there was an airstrike in Shijayia (east of Gaza City) on Tuesday, and 5 were killed. Yesterday there was a strike on Al Zeitun, also in Gaza City, but no ione was injured or killed. IOF said they bombarded a Qassam workshop. In Rafah, it is too difficult. And I mean much beyond how it used to be. The Israelis make everyday events (demolition, arbitrary firing, and now air strikes on empty homes at the border). In Tel Sultan, soldiers get amused every night when they fire on a major electricity transformer. The nieghborhood sleeps without electricity every night, really. The conditions in this town, God my town, are getting worse every day. Even the PA (Palestinian Authority) does not pay any attention to its problems any longer.

This is a kind of sad message, sorry, but it reflects what I am concerned about, among many other things. Life is really awful here, J, and becomes more diffcult every day. I hate this so much.

Still there are many things and people to live for and to appreciate. Sharaf is going to school in 12 days, can you believe this? It’s time to buy him the school needs (uniforms, a nice bag, and stationery). He will be a great schoolboy, I am sure, and proud of it. The girls grow so beatiful all the time. 

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