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.

The Jewish community has countered other divestment efforts. Campaigns on colleges have made little headway. A proposal to make Somerville, Mass., the first American city to divest from Israel is likely to be turned back this week.

It is making some inroads with the churches, too. Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, which has close ties to a neighboring synagogue, is asking the denomination to slow the process and engage the Jewish community. It proposes that, if divestment occurs, money from stock sales be reinvested in Israel in companies not tied to the occupation.

“I’ve tried to interpret to my Jewish friends that this is not an anti-Israel nor anti-Jewish decision, but an attempt by a church to speak a word of hope and justice for [Palestinians] for whom those words are pretty elusive,” says the Rev. John Buchanan, church pastor. But “I’m not convinced divestment is a wise thing.”

The US Episcopal Church, meanwhile, said in November it will begin to study how it should respond to companies that contribute to the occupation’s infrastructure or to violence against civilians. It will include Jewish groups, Palestinians, and the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem.

“For us, the term is not ‘divestment,’ ” says Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy for interfaith relations. “We’d be voting certain shareholder resolutions expressing concern to companies in which we own stock.” Jewish leaders are more approving of this approach.

Other mainline Protestants are also talking about the issue.

Continue reading

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

“There was a lot of shooting, but I did not take part. To me it [the figure fired at] looked like a girl,” a soldier, whose identity was withheld, said on Israel’s Channel 2 television.

A military source said an inquiry into Hams’ death was under way but “it is too early to speak of criminal charges”.

Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, the chief of army staff, told Israeli ministers on Sunday that troops at the outpost believed the girl had been sent by Rafah fighters to lure them outdoors so they could be picked off by snipers.

Human rights groups regularly accuse Israeli troops of excessive force against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and say few abuses are prosecuted.

Hams’ family had little faith in the Israeli inquiry.

“We demand the prosecution of Iman’s killer, [but] we do not trust the Israeli judicial system,” the girl’s older brother, Ihab, said.

“My sister was an innocent little girl.”

Olive harvest shooting

Elsewhere, an Israeli soldier shot and critically wounded a Palestinian farmer on Monday during a clash over an olive orchard, witnesses said.

Continue reading

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.

What makes the Israeli planning system so great is that every stage can be explained as an ad-hoc reaction, or the whim of this or that government or pressure group, ignoring the initial goal. Thus, at every stage, the silently compliant can be counted on to accept the latest development, even if they say they are against settlements in principle.

If Yossi Beilin now supports leaving Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev under Israeli control because they are large and established settlements, in another five years he and his colleagues from the Geneva initiative will be forced to support leaving Givat Assaf and Itamar in place, as each will be a well-established neighborhood of some full-fledged Israeli city.

The donor states, if they finance now the work on the Palestinian roads Israel wants upgraded and improved, will be contributing to the temporary relief of many Palestinians. But they will be direct accessories to turning available land for farming and construction into unnecessary asphalt, further damaging the landscape and environment; and they will assist in consolidating a uniquely Israeli regime of separation and apartheid, making permanent the separation of neighboring communities divided on ethnic grounds, in an area where most of the land has been taken away for the benefit of a dominant minority.

The Jews will have broad, expansive, green communities with “high” standards of living, a developed infrastructure, as much water as they want – the “First World.” Beside them will be a “Third World” of suffocatingly dense communities, cut off from other communities and limited in their contacts because of a web of endless roads, the Israeli law and its army, and subject to a strict regime of water quotas and allocation. And thus, while the international economic aid is meant to serve as a strategic instrument for a two-state solution along the borders of June 4, 1967, it is turned into an instrument of the Israeli settlement policies.

The donor states are so absurdly financing infrastructure work at the request of the PA, that the Palestinians have become unwitting accessories to the Israeli settlement enterprise. For long-term national reasons, they can oppose upgrading the roads that Israel allows them to use according to Israeli priorities. Then Israel will wave around the argument that the Palestinian leadership is once again sacrificing the welfare of its people – and continue to drastically limit the freedom of movement of the Palestinians. Or the Palestinians can agree to the paving of separate roads because of the clear and immediate needs of the residents. Thus they can free the donor states of the need to explain to their taxpayers why, as donor nations, they are helping to build and maintain a new apartheid regime.

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.

To schedule the Wheels of Justice Tour to visit your school, organization, media outlet, or place of worship, please contact Rae Vogeler at (608) 835-7501 or rae-v at charter.net.