United Methodist Church’s shameful failure to divest from injustice

4 May 2012

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Many things in this conflict are counterproductive to peace, but divestment from Israel’s occupation is not one of them.

(Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

This week, amidst the incredible ongoing mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners, some of them on the brink of starvation, the United Methodist Church failed to pass a resolution to divest from three major beneficiaries of the most incendiary human rights abuses and colonial crimes of our time.

Among the heartbreaking collection of ignorant statements, delegates had the audacity to claim that divestment was divisive and counterproductive to peace.

Many things in this conflict are divisive and counterproductive to peace. A 30-foot concrete wall with guard towers not unlike those that once encircled the Warsaw ghetto is divisive and counterproductive to peace. Policies of the state purposely designed to make human beings, entire Palestinian families and communities, homeless, through systematic and regular home demolitions, is divisive and counterproductive to peace. The arrest, detention, torture of Palestinian children is divisive and counterproductive to peace.

The indefinite imprisonment of Palestinians without charge or trial is divisive and counterproductive to peace. Outright land theft, that Israel makes no pretense of hiding, is divisive and counterproductive to peace. Siphoning of water so Jews can have swimming pools while Palestinians must ration water is divisive and counterproductive to peace.

A total of 954 checkpoints and barriers peppered throughout the West Bank to impede movement of Palestinians is divisive and counterproductive to peace. “Battle testing” new weaponry on a principally unarmed civilian population with no place to run or hide is divisive and counterproductive to peace. Jewish-only housing and roads are divisive and counterproductive to peace. They are the epitome of apartheid; and apartheid is divisive and counter to basic human dignity.

Divestment is not divisive

Divesting from three of the chief corporate beneficiaries of these crimes that aim to wipe an entire native population off the map is not divisive. It is, in fact, a token expression of decency that acknowledges the basic humanity of Palestinians. It is a symbolic show of solidarity with an oppressed people who are facing imminent demise. And in that way, it was the smallest test of morality, which the United Methodist Church has so shamefully failed.

So there is no mistake of what this decision means, let me be very clear. Through their words, actions and financial investment, the United Methodist Church will continue to support three companies that profit from Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

The church has decided to support Caterpillar, which supplies the bulldozers and other earth eviscerating equipment used by Israel to demolish the homes, farms and orchards of human beings whose primary crime (let us not lie!) is that they are non-Jewish natives living on property Israel wants to steal and hand over to Jewish residents, most often imported from other countries.

The church has decided to support Hewlett-Packard, which provides advanced biometric technology that effectively monitor and confine 5 million human beings (all non-Jewish, of course) into small enclaves and open-air prisons.

And the church has decided to support Motorola, which furnishes surveillance equipment for illegal, Jewish-only colonies built on confiscated Palestinian land.

For an analogy of the meaning, change the date and the names of companies, perhaps to those that benefited from transporting Jews to death camps, or those that supplied weapons used to mow down schoolboys in Soweto, or bus lines that made black folk sit in the back and give up their seats for whites. Who would call divesting from such abominations divisive and counterproductive to peace? And tell me the difference between the behavior of those companies and the three aforementioned.

An utter disgrace

Kairos and people of conscience tried to find something positive in this ignominy, claiming it a victory for those fighting for justice because the divestment debate itself ignites a conversation from which there is no retreat. I don’t deny the truth in that. But it is wrong to stop there because it was so much more than that.

It was an utter disgrace, a blight on the church of the same magnitude as that which comes from the institutional failure to speak up for Jews in the late 1930s.

And when juxtaposed to the courage, principled fortitude, and ineffable will of 2,000 human beings with nothing but their hunger to protest Israel’s systematic destruction of Palestinian society — the actual natives of the Holy Land — the decision of the United Methodist Church delegates becomes vulgar and unforgivable.

Just this week alone, a woman in Gaza was shot by Israeli soldiers who opened fire on farmers working on their own land in Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis. In a previous incident of Israeli target practice on Monday, another Palestinian farmer was shot in the same area.

On Wednesday, Israeli bulldozers demolished 13 sheds and tents belonging to the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, near Jerusalem, leaving several families without shelter for themselves of their livestock. These ancient dwellers of the land have been particularly hard-hit by Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies, as their homes are routinely destroyed and they are pushed off their lands as if cattle in broad daylight.

Last week, Israeli forces evicted a Palestinian family from their home in Beit Hanina and moved Jewish settlers in their place, a scandalously racist Israeli practice that has escalated in and around Jerusalem to Judaize historically Palestinian areas.

At the same time, Israeli settlers this week constructed twenty new homes on privately-owned Palestinian land in an illegal outpost known as Ulpana, in Beit El settlement northeast of Ramallah.

There were at least 57 military incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip just this week alone.

Failure to take a moral stand

Reverend Alex Joyner, who opposed the resolution, said, “We are all concerned about the suffering and the ongoing occupation, because it is hurting Israeli and Palestinian society. But what the church has said is we want a positive step, and we reject punitive measures as a way of trying to bring peace.”

His platitudes and patronizing drivel aside, what measures, pray tell, does the Reverend Joyner propose to bring peace to Palestinian children who are systematically terrorized and traumatized by Israel to the point that 98.6 percent of them suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder? Or to the hundreds of children kidnapped in the middle of the night from their families and thrown into jails where their fragile spirits waste away without charge, without trial, without mercy?

The United Methodist Church had a historic opportunity to take a moral stand, however unpopular but undoubtedly moral. Instead, they took a decision that moves them toward the realm of moral irrelevance.

But to all Palestinians, to all people of conscience and to those Methodists who stood on the right side of justice, where Jesus would undoubtedly stand, take heart! Take heart! Palestinians may be starving, languishing and bleeding, but Israel and its backers are rotting at their core, because that’s what racism, self-interest at all costs, and cowardice does to the soul.

Take heart and do not despair. We have not reached the end of history. There is still blood in our veins, air in our lungs and brilliant souls in our wombs. They have but the cold steel of death machines and the moral void of lies, which cannot and will not prevail against naked hearts and empty stomachs taking up the good fight for freedom.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of the international bestselling novel Mornings in Jenin.

Comments

It is beyond belief that the UMC that purports to be committed to Christ, abdicates its responsibility to tend the suffering Christ in humanity by continuing to collaborate in Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Thank you Susan for a searing indictment of an unchristian act.

While I fully understand the great disappointment of those who support a just peace for Palestinians over the failure of the United Methodist Church in the USA, on this occasion, to divest from the three specific US (and multinational) companies, I draw their attention to Anna Baltzer's far more comprehensive and balanced comments (see http://mondoweiss.net/2012/05/...). Noting that some regional/city UMC groups have already agreed to divest, it seems to me that the momentum is very much in the right direction. I commend all who worked so assiduously to seek divestment nationally within the UMC to continue to "fight the good fight" and, in the meantime, to ensure that the boycotts and sanctions that were agreed to nationally are implemented as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.

This keeps me on track with what is happening around the world.

Merci pour cet excellent article !... suite à la honteuse décision de United Methodist Church de ne pas boycotter ces compagnies qui contribuent et profitent de la politique raciste et colonialiste d'Israel.

La lutte continue et la Palestine vivra !

What a missed opportunity and so specific. Hard to imagine such a social conscience religious group as the United Methodists as "passing" on this. This would have been putting their toes in the water, rather wading in (like the Boycott of Israeli Settlement Products), or diving in, like the Christian Peacemaker teams do, being on the front line areas in Palestine.

An early Quaker said "Christianity does not call us out of the world but into the world." That's what diving into the water is all about. Not getting your feet wet doesn't cut it.

A good example of what George Bernard Shaw called "pseudochristianity." I find no cause for joy, though, in the moral death Israel and its supporters are bringing on themselves. That is a tragedy also.

Susan's commentary brilliantly captures the outrage and injustice created by Israeli policies, and the complicit hypocrisy of its so-called "allies." We constantly hear about Israel's theoretical "right to exist," but little about the physical existence of Palestine, which is slowly being destroyed by the policies of Israel and its foreign benefactors.

Israel all but boasts that it could not exist without the systematic and perpetual violation of Palestinian rights, specifically including international law regarding the rights of refugees. As such, it proclaims itself an outlaw state, and thus voids whatever "right to exist" it ever had.

The failure of the UMC to divest from companies, that produce equipment which is used in the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people, is a display of lack of moral leadership. It is a stain on the reputation of the UMC. Its moral cowardice will haunt it in times to come.
Thanks, Susan Abulhawa, for your forthright comment.

The key is the now that support for the BDS campaign is won not at corporate level but heart by heart and pew by pew. The struggle has to be fought at an individual and church level. Many church leaders struggle with the tensions between the support of Jewish leaders for the civil rights campaign and the unqualified support of many of those same people with the policies of Israel. many people in the church do not see a difference between the Children of Israel and the political practices of the citizens of the State of Israel.

Hence despair and anger are not the ways forward. They are setsback in a struggle for justice but activists will have to attend bible reading sessions and Sunday school services and explain the cause. Israeli policies will be defeated one heart and one pew and one church after the other. The BDS structure, if built in that way will be strong enough to resist the onslaught.

Thanks for this powerful and eloquent statement by Abulhawa!
The divestment proposal was titled something like "Aligning United Methodist Investments with Policies". Unfortunately they only compounded the misalignment. They called for more boycott but failed to pass simple divestment from three corporations. Hewlett Packard has lost 50% of its value in the past 4 years so nobody can even say this is a good financial investment. In effect they decided to CONTINUE their investment in companies profiting from the Occupation while simultaneously ramping up the verbal boycott. Abulhawa's criticism, combined with congratulations to the minority which campaigned hard, is right on target.

With a Presbyterian Conference coming up soon, there will be another chance for a major church to get it right. That will take bucking the influential rabbis who use "interfaith dialogue" as a club to beat down a simple demand for justice and equality.

I hope we can get a large number of Presbyterian delegates to read this critique by Abulhawa.