The 2 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) is about to make history in the Middle East, yet again. In the coming days, local delegates from the Church will travel to Detroit to attend the 221st Presbyterian General Assembly to consider a set of eight overtures that ask church leaders to review support of two states for Palestine and Israel in light of unfolding facts on the ground. Other issues to be considered are backing of equal rights and unblocked economic development for all inhabitants of Israel, and divesting from the likes of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions. The Church is clearly stepping up to the plate and realigning its policies with its values.
Political America and Corporate America should be taking note.
Reminiscent of the struggle against Apartheid South Africa, the Church is poised to step in where successive US administrations have failed to hold Israel accountable to international and humanitarian law, not to mention sheer common sense.
The U.S. has paid never-ending lip service to the need to end Israel’s 47-year military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. During the past two decades, the U.S. has coupled lip service with the monopolizing of a peace process that has led the international community to a dead end; not to mention leaving Muslim and Christian Palestinians on the ground, in the occupied territory as well as in Israel, standing naked in front of a state bent on militarily controlling another people and discriminating against over 20 percent of their own non-Jewish population. Presbyterians have had enough and are taking the lead to change the equation and stop the damage being perpetrated by Israel.
Political America should not take lightly the new reality that mainstream churches and civil society have reached a point where they can no longer blindly repeat calls for a resolution based on “two states” when Israeli actions on the ground, by way of continued illegal settlement building and much more, have created a single state reality between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. Secretary of State John Kerry alluded to exactly this at the outset of the last failed round of U.S.-led negotiations when he testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April 2013 and noted, “I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting, I think we have some period of time – a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it’s over.” The Presbyterian Church is crying out from the highest mountain it can that for a two-state solution not to be “over” immediate action must be taken. They are calling for the Church to review this core issue over the next two years.
Corporate America should also be closely following the Presbyterian General Assembly’s proceedings.
In the 2012 Assembly, delegates addressed the issue of divesting from firms that benefit from or contribute to Israel’s military occupation by attempting to pass a resolution calling for divestment from Israel. When the so-called pro-Israel lobby got word of this, they mobilized to introduce and pass a counter overture that promotes “positive investment” instead of divestment. In a perfected Orwellian move, these lobbyists publicly promote investment in Palestine, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the systematic Israeli polices strangling the Palestinian economy.
Investment in Palestine — without divestment from the Israeli occupation — only continues to underwrite the status quo of military occupation. For investment to be successful occupation must be dismantled and sovereign control of Palestine’s economic resources passed to the Palestinians.
In this month’s Assembly, the divestment resolution will be brought to the floor once again for a vote. Now it comes at the heels of Secretary’s Kerry’s failed blitz to resolve the conflict and a momentous trip by the Pope to Bethlehem where he prayed at the illegal Separation Wall. The US-based organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, recently noted that the Israel lobby’s efforts have included offering Presbyterian leaders all-expenses-paid trips to Israel. Presbyterians can use this opportunity to straighten the White House’s spine based on what the administration already knows: Israel is intentionally blocking progress in the peace talks while jeopardizing US strategic interests in the region, not to mention the fate of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Palestinian civil society and Palestinians — Christians and Muslims — have urged everyone interested in seeing peace with justice to divest from the occupation and to invest only where the occupation does not benefit. We struggle to remain hopeful while a cement wall as high as 24 feet tall snakes through our homeland. After all, we do not seek a beautified prison. We want the prison walls dividing Palestinians from Palestinians to come tumbling down, and that will not happen unless economic pressure is placed on Israel to end the occupation. Thus, the upcoming Assembly’s overture that calls for divestment from firms benefiting from the occupation, while affirming “Occupation-Free Investment in Palestine,” is spot on.
Palestinians did not invent the non-violent tool of divestment. After unsuccessfully trying to secure their rights using a multitude of other means, Palestinians have focused their efforts on non-violent methods of resisting military occupation that have been used throughout history by others: boycott, divestment, sanction, international law, civil disobedience, diplomatic efforts, economic resistance, and the like. Supporting these tools is supporting non-violence; the alternative is to push Palestinians into using violent means of resistance. If nonviolence is deemed unacceptable then violence becomes that much more likely.
The upcoming Presbyterian votes provides an important opportunity to say yes to nonviolence as the means to overcoming Israeli occupation and discrimination.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, the West Bank, and blogs at epalestine.com.