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.”

Mainline churches have supported Israel since 1948 and reject terrorism; they also have longstanding ties to churches in the Holy Land and are critical of Israeli military practices in the territories. Illegal expansion of Israeli settlements and a new security wall that encroaches on Palestinian land are making a viable Palestinian state less feasible, Presbyterians and others say. With the US government taking little action to help matters, they add, unusual measures are required.

“The decision to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment … was not taken lightly,” the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a Presbyterian leader, wrote to members of the US Congress. “It was born out of the frustration that many of our members, as well as members of other denominations, feel with the current policies of Israel and those of our own government.”

The Presbyterians say their aims are to influence the practices of companies and use their resources – an $8 billion portfolio – in morally responsible ways. “We have to be principled; we respect human rights and the legitimacy of international law, and when Israelis or Palestinians breech either we’ll take a hard look at our investments,” says the Rev. Marthame Sanders, who was in ministry in the West Bank.

The church’s committee on socially responsible investment will identify firms that provide services or equipment to support the military occupation or Jewish settlements; finance or assist in building the wall; or provide help to Israeli or Palestinian groups that commit violence against innocent civilians.

It will seek meetings with corporate leaders, and possibly file shareholder resolutions, using divestment a last resort. Divestment decisions require approval by the church general assembly in 2006.

Some US Jewish peace groups support the initiative, Mr. Sanders says, including Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP has filed its own shareholder initiative asking Caterpillar Inc. to investigate whether Israeli use of its bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes violates the firm’s code of conduct. Other liberal Jewish groups, however, oppose it.

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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.

Is divestment anti-Semitism? No, the charge is rubbish.

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.

Free and open to the public. For info call 262-9036.

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.

There are consistent reports of ambulances containing gravely ill people being hit by gunfire, or detained at checkpoints while drivers and paramedics are interrogated, searched, threatened, humiliated, and assaulted. Wounded men are abducted from ambulances at checkpoints and sent directly to prison. Clearly marked clinics are fired on, and doctors and other health workers shot dead on duty.

Physicians for Human Rights (Israel) have lambasted the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) for its silence in the face of these systematic violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which guarantees the right to health care and the protection of health professionals as they do their duty. Remarkably, IMA president Dr Y. Blachar is currently chairperson of the council of the World Medical Association (WMA), the official international watchdog on medical ethics. A supine BMA appears in collusion with this farce at the WMA. Others are silenced by a fear of being labelled “anti-Semitic,” a term used in a morally corrupt way by the pro-Israel lobby in order to silence. How are we to affect this shocking situation, one which to this South African-born doctor has gone further than the excesses of the apartheid era.

Derek Summerfield, honorary senior lecturer
Institute of Psychiatry, London
derek.summerfield at slam.nhs.uk

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.”

An Israeli military source said: “The soldiers fired warning shots into the air. The figure dropped the bag and fled. The soldiers had no way of knowing it was a girl. The soldiers then fired at and hit the figure.

“The outcome was grave and regrettable.”

Coup de grace

But Israeli media, quoting unnamed soldiers at the scene, disputed the official military explanation and said the girl was shot at close range with the outpost commander even delivering a “coup de grace” to ensure she was dead.


The army says it thought the girl may have
been sent by fighters

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