Church representatives examine investment in context of Middle East

Church representatives examine investment in context of Middle East

Ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories with boycott and divestment would be like “snails confronting a tsunami,” David Wildman, executive secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice, general board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church in the United States, said last week during the United Nations Advocacy Week organized by the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Wildman made the comment while speaking in an Advocacy Week session on Israel-Palestine dealing with “Strategies for ending Israeli occupation”.

“Justice work means praying with our feet and raising our voices in public confrontation with unjust authorities,” he said, citing how the Presbyterian Church (USA) took on Caterpillar, Citigroup, ITTI Industries, Motorola and United Technologies concerning investment in Israel in June 2004.

Some member churches of the WCC have adopted divestment policies regarding firms that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine. The council has encouraged churches to use their investments “responsibly in support of peaceful solutions to the conflict” and to consider taking “economic measures that are equitable, transparent and nonviolent”. The WCC has no policy on boycotting the state of Israel.

The statistics Wildman presented in his case for divestment were enormously challenging to the audience.

Ninety-nine percent of children killed in the Israel and Palestine conflict are Palestinians. They fell to US-supplied weapons, he said. “We, US tax payers, have invested in them.”

“So, indirectly, I am funding terrorist attacks on my siblings.”

Wildman also said Israel is using sophisticated machines made by Hewlett Packard (HP) for screening its gates, so “indirectly we are also supporting this systematic discrimination”.

“The United Methodist Church’s principles are simple. Figures tell us that 10 dollars per person in the US is spent on arms sales. In short, our 10 million church members alone are responsible for arms exports worth 100 million dollars. We have also invested in other companies. Hence, it is possible for us to use divestment as an economic tool to control Israel,” Wildman said.

“The policy in the Methodist Church is to endeavour to avoid investments that appear likely, directly or indirectly to support violation of human rights,” he said. “And if all local churches take a pledge to divest in Caterpillar or not to use Motorola, that will mark a beginning.”

Speaking after Wildman, Dr Diana Dolev, university professor and member in the educational team of New Profile, Israel, highlighted their traveling exhibition which showcases the current militarization in Israel.

“Every advertisement has a military bias. Every product is sold using a campaign geared toward the fact of militarization. This is not good for us.” Dolev illustrated her remarks with the aid of slides showing advertisements that promoted products ranging from health drinks to stress-busters.

“Images of a militarized childhood are used for popularizing military ideas, there are exhibits on the road, children are allowed to climb on tanks for a ride, children are taken to army camps” she said.

Nidal Abuzuluf, manager of the YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative on strategies for ending Israeli occupation, said that the “Kairos Palestine” document of 2009 has brought some changes in the position of churches. The document is a biblically based theological argument for peace in Israel-Palestine that is based on a similar “Kairos Document” issued in the 1980s to address apartheid in South Africa.

“It needs to be communicated more. I am dreaming of the moment when every single Christian will have an idea about Kairos Palestine. It took six years in the case of South Africa, but we might do it in lesser time in this case,” he said.

We also need to develop a different political strategy to address powerful countries than attempting in bids to reach out less relevant countries that cannot impact policy in Israel, Abuzuluf said. “Let us also focus on the sports boycott, academic boycott and cultural boycott while we attempt other forms of boycotts,” he urged.

*Manoj K. Das is an editor for Asianet News T.V.