Response to Criticism about Divestment Proposals
- Summary Reply to Fair Witness Letter
- Response to Letter from Fair Witness to General Conference Delegates
- Mission Study on "Israel-Palestine" Is Consistent with United Methodist Policy
- Response to JTA Article on United Methodist Study
- Response to Second Letter From Fair Witness to General Assembly Delegates
- Reply to CAMERA
- Response to MJ Rosenburg of Israel Forum
Photo by Jacob Pace
On February 5, a group called Christians for Fair Witness in the Middle East (CFWME) sent United Methodist General Conference delegates serious misstatements about proposals for divestment from companies supporting Israel’s occupation. These must be corrected.
Divestment proposed by United Methodists does not “target the Jewish state,” as CFWME has claimed. It is not aimed at Israel or at Israeli companies or at companies that do business with Israel. It concerns only US and foreign companies that sustain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Ending the occupation is an established goal of our denomination, overwhelmingly approved in 2004. Current proposals seek to relate our investments to our resolutions so that we are not making money from a situation we oppose.
CFWME has attacked a study guide published by the United Methodist Women. CFWME demands “balance,” which means giving equal time to myths we know are not true. When stories about Israel’s past and present have been proven false, we are not required to include them in our educational materials.
Israeli historians using newly opened archives have exposed many myths, including the voluntary departure of Christians and Muslims from their homes. Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians is clearly visible in the ruins of destroyed villages, in photographs of fleeing refugees, and in the present realities of land theft and settlement expansion. By acknowledging what really happened, we are providing balance that has long been missing from discussions about the conflict.
CFWME faults the Palestinians for not accepting the “Clinton parameters”, though President Clinton and Robert Malley, his chief negotiator at the Camp David talks, have contradicted this assessment. Malley says: “Those talks failed, and in the aftermath a myth was born that has had a lasting and devastating effect: that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the most generous offer possible, but that Arafat summarily turned it down.” This myth is among many that our educational materials seek to correct.
It is a common tactic when anyone wants to discourage others from learning about an issue to say that it is “very complex” and that we need more time to study it. Like any other situation, this conflict has events and attitudes that caused it and that keep it going today. We have confidence that, when presented with compelling evidence, Methodists are capable of discerning the truth.
Speakers at the Pre-General Conference briefing have provided many sources to support their remarks. These are available at: www.unitedmethodistdivestment.com. The purpose of the briefing was not to discuss the Middle East conflict, but to address divestment proposals before the General Conference. Each speaker was given only 8 minutes. Nonetheless, the firing of Qassam rockets at Israeli towns was mentioned. United Methodists have been consistent in advocating for Israel’s security.
CFWME’s claims that Presbyterians and the UCC were persuaded by CFWME to reverse their earlier stances on divestment are not true. Divestment remains an option for both of those denominations if talks with companies fail to produce results. This is one more example of false information CFWME is using to poison attitudes toward divestment. We stand ready to meet each misstatement with facts (see the detailed reply below). We urge General Conference delegates to approve proposals that make the denomination’s investment policies consistent with its resolutions.
February 15, 2008
Statement: We are very concerned that Divestment, which in other contexts has been a good and a powerful tool for social justice, is being used here as a weapon to unfairly target the Jewish state and greatly oversimplify the very complex Arab/Israeli conflict.
Response: Divestment proposed by United Methodists does not “target the Jewish state.” It is not aimed at Israel or at Israeli companies or at companies that do business with Israel. It concerns only companies…most of them in the US and other nations…that help sustain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
It is a common tactic when anyone wants to discourage others from learning about an issue to say that it is “very complex.” This admonition has successfully frightened many people away from even attempting to understand the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Like any other situation, this conflict has events and attitudes that caused it and that keep it going today. Many United Methodists have spent time in the region and have seen for themselves what is taking place. We are obliged to share with others what we know to be true.
Statement: “There was little or no discussion of Palestinian suicide bombing and other forms of terrorism aimed at Israeli civilians, the Palestinian refusal to accept the Clinton peace parameters which would have ended the occupation in 2000 and/or Israeli suffering resulting from years of Palestinian suicide bombing and four years of almost non-stop Qassam rockets terrorizing the town of Sderot.”
Response: Each speaker was given only 8 minutes to discuss the resolutions coming before the General Assembly in April. In the guidelines, they were asked to explain these resolutions, and their position for or against them. This format was not designed for a full discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. United Methodists had already voted overwhelmingly in 2004 to oppose the occupation, and the speakers’ job was not to revisit this, but to relate this and other existing United Methodist policies to the proposals at hand. Nevertheless, at least one speaker did mention the Qassam rockets fired at Israel when she described the worsening situation in the region.
With regard to the Clinton Parameters, we refer to a speech by President Clinton in January, 2001, in which he said: “Both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have now accepted these parameters as the basis for further efforts. Both have expressed some reservations.” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/clintplan.htm We also suggest an article entitled “Behind the Camp David Myth” by Robert Malley, Clinton’s Special Assistant for Middle East Affairs at the Camp David talks. Malley says: “Those talks failed, and in the aftermath a myth was born that has had a lasting and devastating effect: that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the most generous offer possible, but that Arafat summarily turned it down.” (http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3103&l=1 )
Palestinians have often been blamed for not accepting peace proposals which were never accepted by Israel. After Palestinians and Israelis signed the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, Israel put into place severe closures in much of the West Bank and accelerated the building of settlements on Palestinian land. Israel had actually doubled the number of settlers on occupied land by the time of the Camp David talks in 2000, placing pressure on Arafat not to accept these new “facts on the ground.” The large settlements which Barak proposed keeping cut deeply into the West Bank in many places. The resulting disconnected series of Palestinian communities was far different than the contiguous state which had been envisioned by Palestinians and the larger world during the Oslo process. The Palestinians embraced the Roadmap without reservation, but Israel immediately produced 13 caveats which rendered the agreement meaningless. Immediately after the Annapolis conference, Israel resumed its deadly raids on Palestinian refugee camps and villages, and announced new settlement construction in one of the most sensitive areas of the West Bank.
Statement: We are disturbed by the lack of balance and fairness manifest in this presentation and the misinformation that was conveyed.
Response: “Balance and Fairness” in this context means giving equal time to myths we know are not true. When a given narrative has been discredited by many Israeli historians as well as other scholars, we are not required to include it in our educational materials. When the evidence of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians is clearly visible in the ruins of destroyed villages, in photographs of fleeing refugees, and in the present realities of land theft and settlement expansion, it would be dishonest to say that it has not taken place. When we have seen with our own eyes the brutal persecution of one people by another, we do not have to yield to political correctness and make the actions of both parties weigh equally on the scales of justice.
Everything in the Ft. Worth presentations on behalf of divestment has been documented. (See examples below.) Many United Methodists have witnessed the realities on the ground. Jewish Israelis, as well as Christians and Muslims, have helped us confirm our facts.
Statement: “We are disturbed by the underlying presumptions and attitudes it may be suggestive of.”
Response: This is a thinly veiled reference to anti-Semitism, a label often applied to critics of Israel’s policies, whether they are Jewish or not. It is designed to intimidate people and keep them from speaking out. An eye-opening list of efforts to label Israel’s critics anti-Semitic may be found at www.muzzlewatch.com . This charge has been lobbed at churches hosting conferences of Palestinian Christians, at professors using information from Israel’s own archives, and at eyewitnesses to the persecution of Palestinians. For many of these witnesses, Jews as well as Gentiles, it is impossible to remain silent in the face of crimes that are ongoing and that have been misrepresented for so long in our press. Most of us have decided that God knows our hearts and that speaking out against persecution is a vital part of our faith, no matter what ethnic group the parties belong to.
Statement: There was also misinformation given about an alleged “enormous gap” between the “Israeli rich” whom the speaker erroneously claimed were mostly “connected to the Military” and the rest of Israel which she claimed was “suffering.”
Response: The enormous gap between rich and poor in Israel is well documented, as you can see in the many attached links. Money is being diverted from basic social needs for Israel’s poor and toward military spending and settlement construction. This results in higher incomes for those associated with these sectors, while leaving critical shortages in programs for education, health care and other social needs.
Statement: Although the session on Divestment was supposed to include the Sudan, the speakers focused almost entirely on the Middle East.
Response: Several of the speakers addressed the situation in Sudan, but made it clear that United Methodists are not supporting this situation with our investments. A search of all the companies that have been mentioned as even loosely involved with the Sudanese government turned up only one that might be included in United Methodist portfolios. This has already been reported to investment managers within the conference. Our discussion was focused on areas where our policies are contradicted by our investments, and at present that is in companies that support the Israeli occupation.
Statement: We do not believe that the UMC is prepared to make a decision on such an important issue at this time.
Response: The important decisions have already been made. A decision to oppose the Israeli occupation was made in 2004. A decision that United Methodists should not profit from investments in companies that directly or indirectly violate human rights was made even earlier. It is contained in our Book of Discipline. These previous decisions already form a basis for United Methodist investment managers to withdraw funds from companies that meet that test. The divestment proposals simply remind these investment managers of their obligations to adhere to policies already set by the denomination. They affirm our decision not to profit from activities that violate our social principles. And they let the companies know that participation in Israel’s occupation, which violates international law, has consequences.
Statement: The “Mission Study,” however, makes no attempt to present the facts and the history of the conflict in an honest or balanced way. It is replete with factual errors, misrepresentations, material omissions and distortions that serve to portray Israel as the sole villain in the Middle East. Most disturbingly, we found blatant attempts in the “Mission Study” to portray Jews and Israelis in as damning a light as possible, even resorting to stereotypical racist caricatures.
Response: If there are specific errors which Fair Witness wishes to present, these will be carefully examined and responded to. Blanket accusations are not helpful. The study contradicts myths that Americans have been exposed to for years. This does not make it distorted. It is a valid effort to present facts of which the authors have direct knowledge, as well as facts which have been unequivocally proven by Israel’s archives and by many Israeli Jewish historians. Reverend Sandra Olewine served for years in Bethlehem, and knows the situation of Palestinians and Israelis intimately. Reverend Stephen Goldstein is himself of Jewish origin and can hardly be accused of being racist.
Statement: In 2007, the United Church of Christ Synod passed a resolution on Israel-Palestine which acknowledged that it “may have overlooked many aspects of an extraordinarily complicated situation . . .” and obligated the denomination to engage in “ongoing balanced study, commentary and critique related to the conflict in the region.”
Response: Both the Presbyterian and UCC denominations received significant pressure from organized groups ~ including Fair Witness ~ to back away from earlier principled decisions not to invest in the occupation. While they issued statements pledging, in the case of the Presbyterians, to invest only in companies engaged in peaceful pursuits and, in the case of the UCC, to study the issue in a balanced way, both remain committed to avoiding investments that support Israel’s occupation. The United Methodist church has always stood for justice, and we do not depend on the actions of other denominations to form our policy.
Statement: We entreat you not to vote on the issue of Divestment at this time.
Response: Inaction is a vote to let things continue as they are in Israel/Palestine. All resolutions brought before the General Conference represent hard work and dedication to a process long accepted by United Methodists for establishing church policy. The resolutions concerning divestment simply link already accepted statements of policy, and we are confident they will be voted on just as other issues that are put before the General Conference. Eight annual conferences and two United Methodist organizations have approved some form of selective divestment from the occupation. The issue cannot be ignored.
Statement: This is too serious an issue, with too many significant and potentially far reaching consequences for the UMC to make a strong public statement without having a solid grasp of the facts.
Response: We believe a majority in the UMC do have a strong grasp of the facts. Many have seen first-hand the impact of the occupation on the daily lives of Palestinians. Their experience of staying in Palestinian homes with water shortages, encountering locked gates that keep families from their farmland, and waiting in hot lines at checkpoints with Christians and Muslims provides the credibility our critics lack. What we know compels us to speak out. The consequences for the UMC are far more significant if we remain silent in the face of such clear persecution. It is hypocricy to make money from an illegal occupation we formally oppose. All the conference resolutions ask is that Methodists not profit from a situation our denomination is working to end.
While there will be criticism no matter what we do, we know that in the long term many will be inspired by our principled stand and will be drawn to a denomination that actually puts courageous action behind its words.
Statement: We ask instead that the General Conference commit to taking a long and serious, but most of all balanced and unbiased look, at this conflict. We ask you to make a serious effort to listen to all voices so that we can work cooperatively for peace, rather than merely condemning and attacking one side.
Response: United Methodists have been taking a serious look for a long time, and looking at the situation has not yielded results. We have listened to all voices, and we are glad many voices that have been previously suppressed, especially those of our own faith in the Holy Land, are finally being heard. We are working with many Jews, Christians, and Muslims who know the occupation stands in the way of a just and lasting peace. This occupation is constantly expanding. Divestment from it is simply taking the side of peace.
For citations on Israel's income gap and military spending, see:Citations for the Israeli Income Gap, Military Spending
A joint statement of the General Board of Global Ministries and the Women's Division
GBGM Press Release - February 19, 2008
For Immediate Release
A comprehensive 1996 statement on Christian-Jewish relations by The United Methodist Church's legislating General Conference strongly reiterated the denomination's opposition to all forms of anti-Semitism.i Four years later, the quadrennial General Conference, which is the only entity that speaks for the whole church, urged United Methodists to observe Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust Memorial Day,ii and also addressed Israeli-Palestinian relations in the Middle East. The latter action endorsed two United Nations' resolutions that asserted the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. The UN measures called for Israeli forces to withdraw to the borders that existed prior to the 1967 war as a contribution to a permanent peace.iii The 2004 General Conference opposed Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and called for study of the matter.ivThe United Methodist Church also has a long history of opposition to violence,v including notation that "targeted assassinations, suicide bombings, and attacks against civilians by both Israelis and Palestinians heighten the fear and suffering of all."vi
These actions and positions form the background of a current United Methodist mission study entitled Israel-Palestine, published in the late spring of 2007 by the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. This publication is part of its 77-year-old Schools of Christian Mission program. This program develops annual or biennial study guides on selected spiritual growth topics, societal issues, and geographical areas, either country- or region-specific. The printed material for the Israel-Palestine study is a study guide, not a "manual" on Israel and Palestine. The guide was used without controversy in scores of regional and annual conference Schools of Christian Mission in the summer of 2007 and in local congregations and units of United Methodist Women beginning in the fall of that year.
We were surprised when, in late January 2008, the mission study became embroiled in a public debate triggered by an informational session at a briefing for delegates to the forthcoming 2008 General Conference. A panel presentation at that briefing included pro and con considerations of economic divestment as a church strategy for pressuring companies to adopt just practices, particularly in Sudan and Israel-Palestine. One issue in the discussion was a petition to General Conference seeking United Methodist divestment from a company whose equipment is used in enforcing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.vii The Israel-Palestine mission study was not mentioned.
Subsequent to the panel, an organization called "Fair Witness on the Middle East" stated in letters to some General Conference delegates that The United Methodist Church was not prepared to make a decision on divestment and cited the mission study as support for deferring a decision. The letter charged that the mission study represents a "bias to the point of antipathy against Israel and perhaps even Jews on the part of the people responsible for its publication."viii A later "Fair Witness" press release attacked the study even more directly, labeling it as "unbalanced" with regard to its treatment of Israelis and Palestinians.ix
These charges are untrue. Enclosures provided with the letter from "Fair Witness" suggest that the claims are based on a twisted reading of the author's family reminiscences that are included in the study.
The mission study's perspective is in keeping with the thoughtful, informed, and consistent position of The United Methodist Church on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The United Methodist Church is not neutral on the question of military occupations. Israel-Palestine is a regional study, not an exploration of ethnic identities or faiths. It deals with Israel as a secular nation-state. The study analyzes political actions and aspirations. It seeks to expand the dialogue regarding this matter by including viewpoints rarely heard in public discourse. Many of the phrases and concepts challenged by "Fair Witness" are common in current academic and interfaith discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United Methodist Church is on record as a firm advocate of both Israeli and Palestinian rights. The mission study was prepared with the goal of helping United Methodists appreciate the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the context of our commitment to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The General Board of Global Ministries and the Women's Division will continue to be guided by the policies and actions of General Conference on issues related to Israel and Palestine.
Bishop Felton E. May
Interim General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries
Deputy General Secretary
- Building New Bridges in Hope: Statement of The United Methodist Church on Christian-Jewish Relations, 1996. (Available online at http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=999).
- "Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah)," continued in 2004, Book of Resolutions 2004, #75, pp. 213-214.
- "United Nations Resolutions on the Israel-Palestine Conflict," continued in 2004, Book of Resolutions 2004, #323, pp. 811-812.
- "Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land," Book of Resolutions 2004, #312, pp. 787-790.
- "Plan to Eliminate Terrorism," 2004 Book of Resolutions, # 336, pp. 838-841.
- Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Lands, op. cit., p. 787.
- Requests for information on divestment should be directed to the General Board of Church and Society, specifically to Wayne Rhodes, information officer, email: email@example.com.
- Letter of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, February 5, 2008, p. 2.
- "Fair Witness Is Disturbed by Methodist 'Mission Study'," Press Release, February 13, 2008
by Susanne Hoder
Member, New England Conference Task Force on Divestment.
The JTA article calling a United Methodist study on Israel-Palestine a hate document is inflammatory and without foundation. There is no doubt the study contradicts myths Americans have been exposed to for years. This does not make it distorted. Its authors are bringing balance to a discussion that has long been dominated by one point of view. There are two parties to this conflict and two narratives about what has happened in the region. The study JTA condemns is a valid effort to present facts of which the authors have direct knowledge, as well as facts which have been unequivocally proven by Israel’s archives and many Israeli Jewish historians.
When a given narrative has been discredited by respected scholars, we are not required to include it in our educational materials. When the evidence of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians is clearly visible in the ruins of destroyed villages, in photographs of fleeing refugees, and in the present realities of land theft and settlement expansion, it would be dishonest to say that it has not taken place. When United Methodists have seen with their own eyes the brutal and ongoing persecution of one people by another, they do not have to be silent.
One of the study’s authors, Reverend Sandra Olewine, served for years in Bethlehem and knows the situation there intimately. Reverend Stephen Goldstein is himself of Jewish origin and can hardly be accused of being racist. Many Jewish people have gone through a similar process of rejecting previous notions about Israel after seeing what that country is doing to another people.
In November, a survivor of Auschwitz was a guest in our home for several days. He had come all the way from the Netherlands to speak against Israel’s persecution of Palestinians and to advocate for divestment.
I recently received a letter from a Canadian Holocaust survivor who said, “We must stand firm against these [Israel’s] crimes and employ the tactics of the world movement against South African Apartheid.” and “To demand justice for the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic -- it is a cry for peace and love, and an end to racism and hatred.”
Writing to support United Methodists, a Jewish group from New York said, “We can think of no greater act of friendship than to risk being defamed in order to remind one's friends of their own ideals when they, themselves, have forgotten them… we believe that the day will come, be it in five years or fifty, when the Church’s action in this matter will be remembered with love and gratitude by Jews around the world. There are 22 pages of statements from Jewish groups supporting divestment at www.neumc.org/divest.
This is not a struggle between Jews and United Methodists, but between people who support equality for all and those who support domination by one group over others. It is between people who know what is happening in the occupied territories and people who cling to myths that suit their purposes. It is between people of all faiths committed to a just peace, and those committed to the status quo….which means continued loss of land for Palestinians.
With their fingers in the dike, many well-financed groups in this country are trying to prevent the flood of information about Israel’s conduct from washing over the American consciousness. They are too late. The evidence is too overpowering. The ongoing crime is impossible to ignore.
Susanne Hoder is founder of the Interfaith Peace Initiative and a member of the United Methodist New England Conference Divestment Task Force.
by Steven Sprecher
Chair, Peace with Justice Work Area, General Board of Church and Society
The letter from Fair Witness is as inaccurate and as unbalanced as it claims other presentations to be. It spends much time focused on a document entitled “Israel-Palestine: A 2007-2008 Mission Study,” which was not part of the Fort Worth presentation, nor the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) resolution on Caterpillar, nor the in-depth study our board has taken over the past four years.
The letter wrongly claims the only focus of the discussion at Fort Worth was on divestment from Israel. There were two foci – divestment from a single corporation (Caterpillar), and divestment from the government of Sudan. There was no call to divest from Israel. I spoke of our resolution to divest from Sudan, although few seemed interested in asking follow-up questions in that area.
The GBCS resolution on divesting from Caterpillar has received all the attention and misinformation. The resolution is not anti-Israel, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.
Our resolution is a faithful effort to implement current United Methodist Church (UMC) policy. Our denomination has a long history of support for the state of Israel. It also has deplored violence on all sides in the Middle East, and has a long history of support for human rights and international law. Based on these foundations, the 2004 General Conference passed Res. 312, calling for the end of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, saying in part: “We seek for all people in the region an end to military occupation, freedom from violence, and full respect for the human rights of all under international law…”
The question is, how do we make our beliefs more than just words? Our Book of Discipline mandates that “It shall be the policy of the UMC … to avoid investments … likely … to support … violation of human rights [among other things] … Boards and agencies are to give careful consideration to shareholder advocacy, including advocacy of corporate disinvestment.” [para. 716]
GBCS takes seriously our responsibility to implement church policy. We recognize that these issues are complex. During the past four years we have prayerfully studied and discussed these issues, involving a number of people from a variety of viewpoints beginning with a representative from the American Jewish Committee.
Our proposal is simply to sell the stocks we as a church own in only one corporation that is fully aware of how their products are used –Caterpillar.
Why Caterpillar? It builds a huge bulldozer specifically designed to Israeli military specifications for destruction of Palestinian olive groves and homes, and for building the illegal Wall of Separation inside the occupied West Bank. Since a bulldozer ran over and killed Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist in 2003, many organizations have called on Caterpillar to implement its own Code of Worldwide Business Conduct, which it has refused to do.
We do not call for ending support for Israel or for changing UM policy. We simply do not want our own pension dollars invested in this form of violence.
While we would hope that Caterpillar would respond to dialog such as shareholder action, we recognize that our own Board of Pensions has been part of such a dialog with Caterpillar for over three years with no response.
Our denomination should not make money from the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people. Therefore, we believe it is time to call for divestment of Caterpillar stock until it decides to follow its own Code of Worldwide Business Conduct.
Dear Mr. Van Zile,
We received a copy of your August 7 letter to William Aldrich, Chair of the Divestment Task Force of the United Methodist Church New England Conference. We, too, are very eager for accurate reporting about the Middle East in the American media, and for that reason have responded to each of your questions thoroughly. We will be posting this exchange on our web site.
The Task Force stands 100% behind the material included in its report. We also insist that it be accurately portrayed, and would like to call your attention to many errors in your description of our work, both in your letter and on your web site. These will be handled separately, with responses to your letter first. Your comments are in blue. Our responses are in black.
Mr. Van Zile: As you are well aware, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church recently issued a blacklist of companies that do business with Israel’s military in hopes of encouraging UMC churches and members to divest from these companies.
Answer: The New England Conference report was not presented as a “blacklist.” That is your term. The Task Force report is an informational document naming some of the publicly held companies which support or sustain the Israeli occupation. It was made available as a service to Methodist investors who have a right to consider whether they want their money to be used in furtherance of an illegal activity. Each investor may consider information gathered about a given company’s role in the occupation and decide how to respond.
Mr. Van Zile: A press release issued by the conference office in Lawrence, Mass., quotes you as saying: “The goal is to make all United Methodists and other Americans aware of their relationship to companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation, and to give them an opportunity to withdraw from such relationships so they are not participants in human rights violations that go against Christian principles of international law.” Another press release quotes Rev. Peter Weaver, Bishop of the New England Conference as saying: “Ending the Israeli occupation is a stated goal of The United Methodist Church. This report provides concrete information that can be used by New England Methodists in working toward that goal.”
Answer: These are simple statements of fact about our process, and we are not sure why you felt the need to repeat them to us in your letter. Both William Aldrich and Bishop Peter Weaver stand by the statements they made in the press release.
It is a fact that ending the Israeli occupation is a stated goal of the United Methodist Church. The national body of the United Methodist Church approved a resolution at its 2004 General Conference calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. As stated by Bishop Weaver, the divestment report provides concrete information that can be used by New England Methodists in working toward that goal.
Mr. Van Zile: In addition to the list, the New England Conference issued documents that level serious allegations against Israel and offer troubling assertions of fact. I write this letter in hopes of discovering the sources upon which these allegations are based.
Answer: The documents we issued do indeed level serious allegations against Israel, and though the assertions of fact may be “troubling” to you, they are accurate and have been carefully documented. Actually, we hope these facts are “troubling” to everyone who reads the report, because what is happening to Palestinians in the occupied territories is horrifying, and people all over the world need to know about it.In addition to the hundreds of sources listed in our report, we used the first-hand eyewitness reports of members of our task force who have spent time in the West Bank.
Mr. Van Zile: CAMERA also has some questions about the process used to gather information and the philosophical and theological assumptions about the divestment campaign adopted by the New England Conference.
Answer: The process used to gather information has been carefully described on the www.neumc.org/divest web site, and the philosophical and theological assumptions are clearly presented in the supporting statement for the resolution that established this task force. This is also available on the web site.
Your questions contain many inaccuracies, and we answer them primarily because our own constituents need to know the facts.
Mr. Van Zile: The first set of questions relate to the following allegations and statements of fact in the “Report of the Divestment Task Force.”
1. “In 2004, the International court of Justice (ICJ) ruled by 14-1 that Israel should halt and dismantle the Wall being constructed illegally in occupied Palestinian territory, and make reparation for the damage arising from its unlawful conduct.”
The issue was brought before the ICJ by the UN General Assembly, not by a party of the Arab-Israeli conflict. (We never stated otherwise!)
Issues brought before the ICJ by other international bodies are not considered binding unless the dispute is between the UN and its employees. Advisory opinions issued by the ICJ are just that – advisory. (We know this and have read the opinion along with all the supporting documentation.) The ICJ’s opinion on the security barrier is not legally binding as the task force suggests with the use of the word “ruled.” Why did the task for[sic] portray an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice as a legally-binding “ruling.”
Response: We never said it was “legally binding.” We used the word “ruling” just as Ariel Sharon, the Jerusalem Post and most newspapers around the world did when the opinion was handed down….to describe the result of the court’s deliberations. In fact, we used exactly the same term that CAMERA used in referring to the action of the court. A CAMERA article about the ICJ action used the words “ruled” or “ruling” eleven times. This was on your own web site on July 12, 2004! Have you questioned CAMERA’s motives in using the word? (http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=115&x_article=728).
The online Thesaurus lists the following synonyms for “ruling”: decision, verdict, edict, judgment, declaration, and decree. The International Court of Justice issued a decision, conveying its judgment and declaring that after examining all the relevant international laws, Israel’s wall is illegal.
Mr. Van Zile: 2. “More than 4 million Palestinian refugees live in poverty, while Israelis live in their homes and farm their lands.” The statement seems to suggest that all refugees under UNWRA’s jurisdiction (many of whom have never set foot in Israel, and who were born after the conflict that drove their parents and grandparents from their homes) have legal claim to land inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Does the divestment committee mean to suggest that Palestinian refugees have legal claim to land inside pre-1967 Israel as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
Answer: The committee’s report does not discuss legal claims of Palestinian refugees. It is beyond the scope of our work. We do, however, stand by this statement. Palestinian families hand down their trees and their property to their children and grandchildren. This is their legacy, passed down from generation to generation. This legacy is being denied to Palestinians. They would not be living in the refugee camps if their family’s land had not been taken from them.
An Israeli group called Zochrot is working to uncover the ruins of more than 500 Palestinian villages inside pre-1967 Israel that were destroyed by Israeli troops. As Jews and Israelis, Zochrot members have developed the following position on refugee rights: “Acknowledging the past is the first step in taking responsibility for its consequences. This must include equal rights for all the peoples of this land, including the right of Palestinians to return to their homes.” (http://www.nakbainhebrew.org/index.php?lang=english)
We have read many Israeli Jewish historians’ accounts of the way in which 750,000 Palestinian refugees were either forced to flee from their homes or intimidated through massacres and other atrocities into fleeing. These charges are confirmed by documents in Israel’s military archives which are now available. Ilan Pappe, Tanya Rinehart, Tom Segev, Benny Morris, Michael Hoffman II, Moshe Lieberman, Avi Shlaim and Ran HaCohen are just a sampling of Jewish authors who have written about Israel’s beginnings using this documentation.
One does not need to read history to see what happened. The process of dispossession is still taking place. Members of our task force have been inside Palestinian Christian dwellings and seen the deeds to their ancestral homes in Jerusalem framed on the walls or kept in dusty folders. They have talked to prominent and highly respected Christians who were forced to flee their homes, some hiding behind cupboards to escape the Israeli troops who came to drive them out. Israel has no legitimate claim to homes seized in this manner, any more than a thief has a claim to jewelry handed down through the generations in a family and then stolen. It matters not when the theft is proven or acknowledged. The thief must return it to its owners. He cannot, under pressure, return the Timex watches and costume jewelry while keeping the diamonds and rubies for himself.
The armistice of 1949 provided explicit protection to Arabs in certain villages inside Israel. Some of these villages were emptied out by Israeli troops despite the legal documents that protected them. The village of al-Fallujah is one example. After its inhabitants were forced to leave, it was completely destroyed and replaced with an Israeli town named Kiryat Gat. An Intel plant has been built on land that was taken from Palestinians in that town.
The taking of homes and expulsion of their inhabitants violates both the Israeli Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These actions constitute theft, and where homes were stolen from Palestinians, Palestinians have a right to return and claim the land where their homes stood as well as to receive reparations for those that were destroyed.
Mr. Van Zile: If so, does the task force also feel that Jews driven from the West Bank in 1948 also have legal claim to their homes?
Answer: Again, the task force has not addressed this issue, except to say that international laws should apply equally to all people. If there were Jews forced out of the West Bank in 1948, they should have a chance to return to their homes and be compensated for any property that was destroyed. I am not aware of many native Jewish inhabitants being forced to flee the West Bank in 1948, but would be glad to consider any specifics you can substantiate. It’s my understanding that Arab riots and massacres in 1929, followed by more riots in 1936, had already forced most of them to flee. When Jordan took over the area, most Jews were already gone. A United Nations map of property ownership in Palestine in 1945 would seem to confirm this. (http://domino.un.org/maps/m0094.jpg) In four of the five districts that became known as the “West Bank,” Jews owned less than 1% of the land. In the Jerusalem district, Jews owned 2%. Certainly there was no parity between the numbers of Palestinians displaced by Israel and the number of Jews displaced within the West Bank.
Mr. Van Zile: Why is there no mention of the approximately 850,000 Jews driven from Arab countries and Iran in the aftermath of the 1948 war?
Answer: That exodus did not take place with financial assistance from the United States and Methodist investors. We have addressed a current situation for which we are responsible and which we have the means to end.
The flight of Jews from Arab countries after the war had many causes. One was active encouragement by Zionists inside Israel and the spreading of fear and rumors by Zionists inside these Arab countries. Another was public response in those countries to the massive influx of Palestinian refugees pouring across their borders with horrifying accounts of massacres, crop burnings, well poisonings, and other acts at the hands of Zionist forces. No expulsion of people from their homes is permitted under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our denomination has been consistent in supporting this.
Mr. Van Zile: 3. “83% of the West Bank’s water has been taken for Israeli use, leaving Palestinians with desperate water shortages.” What is the source of this allegation and what period of time does it cover?
Answer: We have used many sources in our extensive research on water distribution and resources. Among them are studies done by the Woodrow Wilson Institute at Princeton University and the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, as well as the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Below are links to these and other sources.
We note many assertions on your part that are not accompanied by sources and we would like to know where you got your information. Please define what you mean by “stored water” that you claim is primarily under pre-1967 Israel. You claim that Israel “shares” its water resources with Palestinians, while the reality is that Israel’s Merkerot water system pumps water from the Mountain Aquifer, most of which lies below the West Bank, then sells a small portion back to the Palestinians at exorbitant prices. Israel’s separation fence and wall often prevent farmers from reaching the wells on their own land, thus forcing them to rely on the more expensive water purchased from neighboring towns or from Israel. I spent time in the West Bank with a hydrologist and saw the disparity in water resources first-hand. Israel’s “generous sharing” of water is a myth.
Mr. Van Zile: (Quoting from the Methodist report) “Palestinian Christians are being forced to leave the Holy Land. Their land and water have also been taken by Israel. They now comprise less than 2% of the West Bank’s population, and there are very real fears that there will be no Christian presence in the land of Christ’s birth.”
What about Arab Christians living in Israel? (The Arab-Christian population in Israel has grown continuously in Israel since 1948.)
Answer: Before 1948, Christians made up about 15 percent of the population in historic Palestine. (http://www.elca.org/ScriptLib/CO/ELCA_News/encArticleList.asp?article=3517)
The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics lists 146,400 Christians living in Israel in 2005, out of a total population of 6,990,700. That is just over 2 per cent. By the end of 1948, the Arab Christian population in Israel had been decimated.
A book by Israeli Jewish historian Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949, Cambridge University Press, 1988, Appendix I. states that the total official number of "non-Jewish persons living in the part of Palestine that became Israel was given by the British as 725,000 before the state was established. (That is about 10,000 less than other estimates by Palestinians, so let’s use Morris’s figure to be conservative.) By November 1948, Israel’s own Central Bureau of Statistics lists the total number of non-Jews in Israel at only 156,000. (http://www1.cbs.gov.il/reader/shnaton/templ_shnaton_e.html?num_tab=st02_01&CYear=2006).
According to these Israeli sources, it is clear that at least 570,000 non-Jewish Palestinians fled the Zionist troops or were driven from their homes during that time. Between 50,000 and 60,000 of them were Christians. The ethnic cleansing of towns and villages continued through much of 1949, with a total of about 750,000 non-Jews losing their homes and fleeing across the borders to neighboring countries.
Over the past 60 years, some 230,000 Arab Christians have left the region (Dr. Bernard Sabella, Bethlehem University), including refugees from 1947 and 1967; moreover, some 35% of the total Palestinian Christian population has emigrated since the Six Day War, in June 1967. (http://www.hcef.org/index.cfm/ID/286.cfm) Many have been replaced by Russian immigrants, 50 % of whom are not Jewish and may account for some increase in Israel’s Christian population. It’s my understanding that some of the more recent Ethiopian immigrants are also Christian.
Every religious group in Israel has had an increase in its absolute population numbers since 1948. It is the displacement of the native Palestinian Christians by Israel that we referred to in our report.
Mr. Van Zile: Although numerous credible reports indicate that mistreatment of Christians by Muslim extremists is a key factor in the Christian flight from the region, the committee only highlights alleged Israeli culpability for Christian flight from the region. Reports by Khaled Abu Tomeh, an Arab Muslim who writes for the Jerusalem Post and by Justut Reid Weiner, a researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, indicate that Christians suffer from daily acts of intimidation at the hands of their Muslim neighbors in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 2005, the Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa affirmed the substance of these reports in an interview with Chiesa, a Catholic publication: (quote follows)
Answer: When I was in Israel and the West Bank in 2004, I met with many Christians. Often, they took me aside and said, “Look, we want you to go home and let Americans know that all this talk of discord between Christians and our Muslim neighbors here is propaganda. We suffer together, side-by-side under Israeli rule. We have lived together in peace for hundreds of years and we respect each other.”
Christian clergy and lay people who have been interviewed since Hamas was elected in 2006 have even voiced confidence in the ability of Hamas to protect their freedom of religion as Muslims have in the Holy Land for 1300 years. I heard occasional talk of jealousy that many foreign aid programs have focused more on Muslims than Christians, and there may be some instances of discord resulting from that. But on the whole, the interaction I witnessed over and over was one of mutual respect, and as a Christian I was warmly welcomed into many Muslim homes and communities.
Chiesa is not a “Catholic website.” It is a web site run by a man named Sandro Magister who claims to be a Catholic. The article on that web site you referred to was written by him. The interview he has supposedly quoted from is not consistent with anything else I have read by Father Pizzaballa, and I question its authenticity. Google produces nothing confirming this interview other than the Chiesa source, and there is nothing in the archives of the newspaper CORRIERE DELLA SERA (which supposedly conducted the interview) on Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa. The only other mention I could find of this quote is from Front Page Magazine, a very right wing, pro-Zionist publication. It carries the same quote that was in Chiesa. There is no confirmation anywhere that the newspaper in which it supposedly appeared actually carried that quote, which Front Page attributed to a September 4 interview by Father Pizzaballa with Lorenzo Cremonesi. There is an article in Ha’aretz Newspaper on September 4, mentioning an interview Father Pizzaballa had with Lorenzo Cremonesi who supposedly wrote the article in the Italian paper. Yet nowhere in the Ha’aretz report of their interview was there any mention of remarks about Muslims like those Chiesa reported.
Other quotes by Father Pizzaballa from legitimate Catholic sources include the following: “In this land where dialogue with Islam prevails, the Custody has built schools, hospitals and social centres which are open to all.” (http://18.104.22.168/opt/xampp/custodia/?p=2159) and “As religious we must stay out of politics. Politicians must concretize that which religious say in prophetic ways. We must work especially hard at inter-religious dialog. Indeed, one cannot make distinctions between religions and society in Israel and the Holy Land. Yet we must limit ourselves to act within inter-religious, educational and cultural fields when arousing public opinion. And, wherever possible, we can inspire politicians to meet with each other….… Nowadays there is much talk about (links between) Islam and terrorism. It is because of this very bias, brought on by fear and ignorance, that the only constructive position is still that of St. Francis.” (Building bridges for Jews and Muslims by Bernardo Cervellera May 26, 2004: “An interview with Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, the Vatican's new Holy Land Custos”, http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=864)
For years we have witnessed the efforts of Zionists to portray Muslims as the cause of Christian emigration from Israel and the West Bank. It has been an aggressive effort, and in some cases has succeeded in driving a wedge between individuals. You mention two sources that I would not rely on for assessing the Christian experience in the Holy Land.
One is Khaled Abu Tomeh, who as you said is a Muslim on the payroll of the conservative Jerusalem Post. He participated as a speaker in an Israeli activism training course at the Jewish Student Information Center of Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (http://www.jeffseidel.com/israel_activism_syllabus.html) He also spoke at a program called “Write On for Israel,” an advocacy journalism program for high school students sponsored by The Jewish Week and funded by the Avi Chai Foundation, which is “committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism and the centrality of the state of Israel to the Jewish people.” He is undoubtedly paid well for saying things that make Israel look good and Muslims look bad.
The other is Justus Reid Weiner, again, an unlikely authority on the Christian experience despite a “study” he has written. He works for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which is headed by Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and author of a book claiming that radical Islam has long desired to seize Jerusalem and cut it off to Christian and Jewish believers.
I prefer to listen to real Christians discuss their experience with Muslims in the Holy Land and their views on why Christians are leaving. Below are some sample articles:
1. From The Holy Land's most endangered flock
by Andrew Mills for the Toronto Star -
“After last year's elections, when Hamas took control of the Palestinian Authority from the formerly entrenched Fatah party, many Christians feared the hard-line Islamists would make little room for them, especially since most Christians support making peace with Israel.
But those fears haven't come true in Taybeh or elsewhere in the territories.
"With the coming of Hamas, the fact that we have been able to continue living as before is an indication that Hamas respects the traditions of mutual openness and tolerance between religions," says Bernard Sabella, a Fatah party member of the Palestinian legislature and a Palestinian Christian. "We should give them credit for that."
Says [Father Raed] Abusahlia: "Hamas has dealt with us Christians better than anybody else because it is in their favour to show the world that they are not fanatics. "But the world did not give them the chance to govern." …
"Jesus Christ was mighty," says Father David Khoury, pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox church here. "He could have cleared all the checkpoints in His way by saying a word. But people like us, we're powerless. We can't resist the gun. We can't resist the bulldozer. We can't resist the checkpoint."
Villagers are allowed to cross the separation barrier only if they hold special travel permits, a constant reminder of the occupation, which Palestinian Christians blame for the social and economic hardships that have been forcing their people to emigrate overseas.
Before Israel became a state in 1948, Christians made up 7.3 per cent of the population of the Holy Land. Now, at fewer than 160,000 people – 110,000 in Israel and just 50,000 in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – Christians account for only 1.7 per cent of the population, according to a survey conducted for Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian grassroots group in Jerusalem….”
Separation wall is causing extreme hardship in Holy Land
With its establishment in 1948, Israel drove nearly 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, among them 50,000 to 60,000 Christians. Some neighborhoods in Jerusalem where mostly Palestinian Christians lived, such as Qatamon, emptied overnight and were seized by Israel for newly-arrived Jewish immigrants.
As a child, I heard my parents speak of their home in Qatamon. Though painful, the conversations were always infused with hopes of return. Their generation died holding onto those cherished memories. Nevertheless, they never lost hope for a solution and were always willing to compromise to resolve their people’s tragedy. Yet the tragedy of 1948 continues today with the emigration of our youth. An unbearable political and economic situation, exacerbated by Israel’s separation wall, is literally pushing us out of our homeland.
Our relations are periodically tested by outside developments such as the Pope’s recent comments on Islam. Acts of church vandalism in the West Bank and Gaza followed, and troubled us all, Christians and Muslims, particularly in light of centuries of Muslim respect for Christian and Jewish communities, both here and elsewhere in the Middle East.
We were supported by our Muslim neighbors, religious leaders and the Palestinian National Authority in condemning these acts and promising to pursue the perpetrators. Muslims sat side by side with Christians in churches that were vandalized….”
3. From a Christian priest in Gaza:
Gaza Christians have faith in their relations with Hamas
Friday, March 03, 2006
GAZA CITY: Hundreds of Muslims pressed their way down the narrow street that leads to the Greek Orthodox church of Saint Perfilios in Gaza City, as the Islamic world raged over the cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. Father Artemios Dimitriades, 28, a priest from Greece who has spent more than half his life in the Holy Land, went down with his bishop to meet them.
But he had no fear that the church would be stoned or set on fire, not only because the crowds included a large group of Christians who were offended by the caricatures but also because one of the Muslims was carrying a framed copy of the Covenant of Omar, a document little known outside Christian and Islamic circles in the Holy Land.
The Al-Uhda al-Omariyya was signed in 683 by the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem, Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab, in which he promised the city's patriarch, Sophronios, to protect the lives, property, churches and worship of Christians.
It guaranteed that they would "not be coerced in their religion."
Among the marchers that day in late January were members of Hamas.
Since Hamas' victory, there have been murmurings of unease by some Christians that the new government might seek to impose rigid Islamic law.
Moreover, there are fears about mandatory segregation of boys and girls in schools and of children being forced to take classes in Islamic religion.
The future under "Hamas could be kind of scary," one Roman Catholic priest in Jerusalem, a Westerner, told AFP.
But Father Artemios and others in Gaza, both Christian and Muslim, say such concerns are baseless.And if anyone has apparent cause to feel threatened, it is the Christian community here of around only 3,000 souls among some 1.4 million Muslims.
Artemios says "we are not afraid of anything, because the Muslims and the Christians here, from the time Islam came, are living in peace and love."
That was the message which he said the marchers brought to the church: "We don't have any problems with the Christians. We respect each other and we believe in freedom of religion."
But if the new government were to seek to impose Islamic law, or Sharia?
One answer comes from Hosam al-Taweel, 42, an independent who was elected as one of the six Christians guaranteed seats in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council.
He got the highest number of votes of the six, because he had the backing not only of Hamas itself but also of other nationalist groups."
Hamas knows that Palestinian society contains many different shapes, ideas and political colors, and knows also that if it were to try to force the whole of society to act against their beliefs and against their will, it will lose in the long run," he said.
As Christians, "we are sharing the same problems, the same suffering from the [Israeli] occupation, the high rate of unemployment, the bad economic situation.
We are living in a united society; there is no kind of division, or any kind of discrimination" by Muslims.
And he points to the Covenant of Omar, saying both Christians and Muslims see it as having the force of law, even after more than 13 centuries.
Today, the Palestinian Basic Law, or Constitution, reflects that. It stipulates that "freedom of belief and performance of religious rituals are guaranteed [unless] they violate public order or public morals."
Taweel's uncle, Antoun Shuhaiber, scornfully dismissed "foreigners always asking when they come here, 'will Christians be worse off under Hamas?'"
Shuhaiber is a 68-year-old doctor who studied in England. He is also a member of the church council and the board of the local Young Men's Christian Association, which he says has "left its fingerprints" on Gazan society through the cross-community work it does.
He counted as friends Hamas leaders Ahmad Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, both assassinated by Israel, and points to a spot on his sofa where they used to sit."
I am not afraid of Hamas, even of the Islamic religion," he said. For Christians, who read the Koran carefully and with an open mind, "there is no fear."- AFP
Mr. Van Zile: We also have questions related to the “List of Organizations Deserving of Support.” This document describes Sabeel as a peacemaking organization that seeks “a just peace based on two states – Palestine and Israel – as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.” In fact, sabeel supports the creation of a bi-national state and has for several years. For example, in 2004 Sabeel issued a statement describing its vision for the future as : “One state for two nations and three religions….
What evidence did the committee use to make its assessment that Sabeel is truly committed to a two-state solution?
Answer: Your information on Sabeel’s position is from 2004. Sabeel’s founder and director Naim Ateek spoke at the National Press Club on Monday, February 12th, 2007. A report on his talk states “Rev. Ateek cited scripture's command to "do justice and love mercy" as a reason why he once advocated for one state in Palestine, where, he said, "Jews, Muslims, and Christians can live together democratically." Later, he said he came to see that a one-state solution "may not be fair for a Jewish state," but that "a 'Jewish state' cannot be democratic." As a Palestinian Christian, he argued that, in the same way, an Islamic state in Palestine would not be democratic for the Christian minority. A one-state solution to the conflict would represent "justice without mercy.” As long as the final outcome is based on prior UN Security Council resolutions and international law, Ateek said that he would support a two-state solution. Specifically, he said that any solution must address the current disconnect between nationality and citizenship in the conflict. For example, he argued that Palestinians who live in Israel with Israeli citizenship, like himself, are not considered part of Israeli society, just as Israeli settlers living in the West Bank do not consider themselves Palestinian. He stated that he would tell the Israeli settlers, under any future agreement, "You are welcome to become Palestinians," but that until then, they are living illegally on Palestinian land. Any arrangement that takes justice and mercy as its basis must "protect the sovereignty of both states," which includes keeping "Palestinians secure from encroachment from their more powerful neighbor."
Mr. Van Zile: At Notre Dame in 2001, Ateek preached on “The Zionist Ideology of Domination versus the Reign of God.” He identified “Jesus Christ, living in our country as a Palestinian under occupation,” and declared that “Israel has placed a large boulder, a big stone that has metaphorically shut off the Palestinians in a tomb. It is similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. That same year, for his Easter message, Ateek proclaimed: In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around Him…The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.” At a worship service in Jerusalem in April 2002, he stated: “Palestinians have been condemned as a nation by Israel, and sentenced to destruction. The accusations of people in power are strikingly similar throughout history to the charges leveled against Jesus in this city – terrorist, evildoer, or rebel and a subversive person. Palestinians are being crucified today for refusing to succumb to Israel’s demand for greater concession on land. Given the history of this type of rhetoric in generating hostility toward Jews, can an organization whose leader uses this type of imagery truly be called a “peacemaking” institution?
Answer: At least two committee members know Rev. Naim Ateek personally. We have had Communion with him and his organization in Jerusalem and have high regard for his work to develop a non-violent theology of liberation for Palestinians. We know of his tireless work for peace and reconciliation among the people of the Holy Land and we have read his book, “Justice and Only Justice.” We agree with his assertion that only justice can bring peace.
During the Easter period, it is customary for ministers to use imagery dealing with crucifixion and apply the situation to today’s world. As Christians, we believe Jesus lives in each person who accepts him as the Son of God. Therefore, Jesus lives in every Palestinian Christian who is under occupation. Jesus said ,” When you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me.” If the followers of Jesus living under the occupation are persecuted, Christ is persecuted. There might as well be boulders at the openings to the occupied territories. The checkpoints and roadblocks are just as effective. It is a fact that Palestinians have been condemned by Israel and sentenced to destruction. We see evidence of this every day. Jesus was demonized by the Romans. Palestinians are being demonized by Israel. If Israel is concerned about statements that point out its actions against Palestinians, it should stop those actions rather than trying to silence those who tell the world about them.
Mr. Van Zile: We are also concerned about the presence of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions on the list of organizations deserving support. Its founder, Jeff Halper said to a UN conference in 2003 that he is opposed to the notion of a Jewish state: “A Jewish state has proven politically, and in the end, morally untenable.”
Answer: Mr. Halper moved to Israel and raised his children there because of his love for the Jewish state and his desire to participate fully in it. He has been dismayed by the actions of Israel’s government in recent years, and like many patriotic people in the United States, tries to show how these actions make widely assumed goals impossible. Since the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel has more than doubled the number of settlers on Palestinian land in the West Bank. This is not a step toward peace or toward the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
In a 2004 article explaining his position on the two-state solution, Halper states: “As Israel continues to strengthen its grip over the Occupied Territories (the “Separation Barrier” being only the latest development), the two-state solution appears to be slipping away before our eyes.” (http://www.icahd.org/eng/articles.asp?menu=6&submenu=2&article=132) He offers other suggestions, including a two-state federation which would become part of a regional federation. As he says, these remaining possible solutions defy sound bytes.
In a recent Washington speech at the National Press Club, Halper said he believes that while a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an article of faith among Israelis, Palestinians, and virtually every other party involved or interested in the conflict, activists should admit that such an outcome is no longer possible because of Israel's policy of apartheid in the territories. In other words, it is not Jeff Halper that makes such a solution impossible, but Israel’s creation of facts on the ground.
Anyone with knowledge of Israel’s dramatic settlement expansion in the past few years knows that a viable Palestinian state is not conceivable as long as these settlements remain. Most people, when contemplating such a state, assume it would be established on the 22% of the British Mandate of Palestine that lies east of the pre-1967 Israeli border and in Gaza. Yet Ehud Olmert has declared his intention to keep all of the Jordan Valley, which comprises about a third of the West Bank. He has also declared that major settlement blocs including Maele Adumim would be kept. Maele Adumim literally cuts the remaining part of the West Bank in half. Ariel and other settlements he intends to keep divide what is left still further. The world will not accept Olmert’s plan to offer desert land in the Negev in exchange for the fertile land atop the major aquifer where these other settlements lie. Moreover, no state should have to depend on tunnel roads under settlements to achieve contiguity.
We have worked with many fine Jewish people and others in The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We applaud those who bring people of different faiths together in reconstructing the homes Israel has destroyed, and are proud to include them in our list of organizations to support.
Mr. Van Zile: Is it appropriate for groups like the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church to invoke Israeli self-criticism in justifying its critique of Israeli policies without taking into account the general lack of freedom of speech in Palestinian society?
Answer: Again, this statement has no basis in fact. Palestinians do enjoy freedom of speech. I have spent a good deal of time in the West Bank. There are no limits on free speech in Palestinian society, other than those imposed by Israel. For the most part, Palestinians are highly educated people who freely engage in open discussion about government policies and world affairs. Even farmers and those in rural areas have lively debates and conversations about politics. Palestinian writers publish freely and Palestinian media is full of open discussion and varied opinion.
Mr. Van Zile: The record does not indicate that the conference, nor the task force it created, gave Israeli officials, or other potential interlocutors, a chance to respond to allegations against Israel.
Answer: Allegations against Israel’s government are included in our report. Israeli officials or other parties are welcome to respond to these. We have provided many sources to validate the statements we made. We shared what we had learned with our denomination in New England. We were under no obligation to consult those who would defend Israel’s actions in advance. They have had many opportunities to present their opinions to the public.
Mr. Van Zile: When the conference approved Resolution 204 (the resolution that created the Divestment Task Force), did conference leaders work to include all relevant voices in the debate over divestment, or did it include testimony only from groups critical of Israel policies? What groups made presentations to the conference regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict when it voted to create the task force?
Answer: When the conference met in 2005 to consider Resolution 204, the United Methodist General Conference had already established a goal of ending the Israeli occupation (General Conference Resolution 312, adopted in 2004). Our task was to present a concrete way of working toward this established goal.
At the 2005 conference, we had presentations by people with first-hand experience of the occupation. These included people of the Jewish and Christian faiths who had spent time in the occupied territories. These were “relevant voices”….. people with intimate knowledge of the daily lives of Palestinians under occupation. With the exception perhaps of some soldiers, I am not aware of any Jews who have lived among Palestinians under occupation who would support or defend this policy. Many soldiers and pilots have spoken out against Israel’s policies after serving in the occupied territories. These include people of every rank, including Colonels and a Brigadier General. Groups who support Israel’s policies would be by definition those who support the occupation. That philosophy runs counter to international law and to the established principles of the Methodist church. It would not have been relevant to our discussion to hear from people who deny things that we have actually seen taking place.
Mr. Van Zile: Were leaders of mainstream Jewish groups informed of the impending vote before it took place?
Answer: Those Jewish groups with the largest budgets and the best media access in this country do not necessarily represent the “mainstream.” Nor do they represent the majority of Jewish thought about the occupation. A Los Angeles Times poll showed that American Jews approve of an independent Palestinian state, 68% to 19%. (http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/timespoll/la-980419jewishpoll,1,3166803.story?coll=la-news-times_poll&ctrack=1&cset=true) This is not possible as long as the occupation continues. Our action is aimed at ending the occupation so an independent Palestinian state can be established.
Methodists have a long tradition of dialog with Jewish groups and individuals in New England. Those relationships are important to us. We have met often with and will continue to meet with them, and listen to their views. However, the groups you mentioned endorse the policies of the Israeli government, and their views would not have been relevant as we considered ways to change these policies. We found Jewish Voice for Peace, which shares our goal of ending the occupation, to be very helpful as we discussed ways to achieve this.
Mr. Van Zile: How did the conference leadership respond to overtures from mainstream Jewish groups (such as JCRC), before and after the 2005 vote?
Answer: Neither the Conference secretary nor Bishop Weaver remembers a request from JCRC to schedule a meeting on this issue. Bishop Weaver has always been eager for meetings with Jewish leaders and has responded in a timely way to all such requests he is aware of.
Mr. Van Zile: As far as conflicts go, the Arab-Israeli conflict causes a relatively small number of deaths and casualties, but generates a disproportionate amount of activism on the part of the New England Conference of the United Church of Christ….Can the task force or anyone else involved in the New England Conference explain the difference in the amount of the conference’s activism related to the Middle East and Africa?
Answer: (We are a task force of New England Methodists. We know you have written similar letters to the United Church of Christ, but must answer only those questions pertaining to our denomination.)
First, let’s be very clear. New England Methodists are concerned about every situation in the world that involves injustice. We pray for healing in all the world. We do not measure our concern by the number of deaths and casualties, believing that each life is sacred. The first intifada was largely non-violent on the part of the Palestinians. 160 Israelis were killed. Israel killed more than 1,000 Palestinians. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Intifada) During the second Intifada, there have been more than 4,000 Palestinians killed by Israelis and about 1,000 Israelis killed by Palestinians. (http://www.btselem.org/English/Statistics/Casualties.asp) We mourn every life lost to this conflict.
Second, as Americans and as investors, we are heavily involved in sustaining this occupation. This is something within our ability to change. This is the main reason we focused on the conflict in the Middle East. We have the ability to make a difference.
Third, the Holy Land is the cradle of our faith. It is where Christ was born, and where the first followers of Christ established His church. On the day of Pentecost, Arab followers of Christ were among those first commissioned to spread the word of His ministry (Acts 2, vs. 11).
Fourth, the Holy Land is also important to the Muslim faith. We will not stand by while claims of Christians and Muslims to the Holy Land are denied, and while adherents of these faiths are forced to leave their homes.
It is astonishing to see you suggest that “Palestinian Christians….by virtue of their connections to Christian communities in the West and higher levels of education can migrate out of the region.” Neither Palestinians nor Muslims should have to “migrate out of the region” to escape persecution by Israel. They are descendants of Abraham, to whom God made the promise of creating from his descendants a great nation. Their roots are here, and have been here uninterrupted for 2000 years and 1300 years respectively. They had nothing to do with driving the Jews from the Holy Land. Suggesting that people should migrate out of the region because of their ethnicity or their faith is ethnic cleansing, and as Christians we will do all in our power to stop it.
Mr. Van Zile: Are Christians suffering attacks in Nigeria and Egypt somehow less important in the New England Conference’s eyes than those in the Holy Land? Are Christians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip somehow more “elect” than Christians living elsewhere?
Answer: Again, we are responsible for the situation in the Holy Land through our tax and investment dollars. There is no such cause and effect relationship when it comes to Christian suffering in Nigeria and Egypt. As we seek to restore our world, we must first concentrate on those situations within our ability to change by changing our own behavior.
Mr. Van Zile: Why is such harsh and detailed language used to describe Israeli policies while benign and diffuse language is used to describe Palestinian violence?
Answer: We have said repeatedly, both in our resolution and our supporting statement that all life is sacred and we condemn all violence. Without Israel’s persecution of Christians and Muslims, there would be no intifada. Without the occupation, there would be no reason to resist it. Without the theft of Palestinian land and water, there would be no Methodist opposition to these practices. Our goal is to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, for which we are partially responsible, in order to end the resistance to the occupation which has claimed many Israeli and Palestinian lives. Justice and equality for all the people of the region is the only way to achieve a lasting peace.
Mr.Van Zile: In particular, Camera notes the presence of Israeli and Jewish groups in both the “List of Organizations Deserving Support” and in Supporting Statements from Jewish Organizations,” which accompanies the conference’s blacklist. Nevertheless, we are concerned about the apparent absence of other groups that represent a larger portion of Jews in the United States and Israelis….All of these groups have raised profound questions about divestment campaigns targeting Israel.
Answer: We are not concerned with what portion of any ethnic group has an opposing opinion. This is not a popularity contest or a numbers game. We are concerned with the truth. We have been to the region and seen the truth. We have listed organizations that have also seen what is happening in the occupied territories and support our position. We are in no way obliged to include opinions of groups who would deny what we know to be true.
Mr. Van Zile: CAMERA also has concerns regarding the singular focus on Israel exhibited by the resolution, the blacklist, and the accompanying materials. Several of the companies on the blacklist sell to the US military, which is currently involved in military operations in Iraq. In 2003, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church condemned the Iraq War, from which these companies profit…..Why is it that the New England Conference has used Israeli, and not American military operations as an anchor for its divestment campaign?
Answer: This is not about military operations. Many military companies are already on a separate list of companies in which Methodists are discouraged from investing. This is about opposing the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the many companies that sustain it. We didn’t need an “anchor” for our divestment campaign. We needed a divestment campaign to help end Israel’s occupation.
Mr. Van Zile: As far as conflicts go, the Arab-Israeli conflict causes a relatively small number of deaths and casualties, but generates a disproportionate amount of activism on the part of the New England Conference of the United Church of Christ….Can the task force or anyone else involved in the New England Conference explain the difference in the amount of the conference’s activism related to the Middle East and Africa?
Answer: Again, we assume you are referring to the United Methodist Church and not the United Church of Christ. We can easily answer your question. We are paying for Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinian people through our investments and our tax dollars. We are not directly responsible for the situations in the Congo, Darfur and Rwanda, to which you refer.
The task force focused on a conflict which we sustain with our investments and taxes. We have been clear and consistent in condemning all violence and addressing violence for which we are responsible.
March 22, 2008
Dear Mr. Rosenberg,
Your recent article entitled "Divestment No" is based on a significant misunderstanding of United Methodist proposals. No United Methodist entity has ever proposed divesting from Israel, from Israeli companies in general or from companies that do business with Israel. United Methodist divestment proposals should not have any impact on the Israeli economy at all. The only companies of concern to United Methodists are US, French, Swedish, Irish, Dutch and other international companies that are making a profit on the occupation or helping to sustain it. Only if an Israeli company meets those criteria and is traded on stock exchanges that make it a possible component of Methodist portfolios would it be included. Out of 20 companies we've identified, only one was Israeli.
Most United Methodists believe in a strong and vibrant Israeli economy, and in security for Israelis as well as Palestinians. The occupation is endangering both. We work closely with Israeli Jewish citizens who have gone into the occupied territories to photograph and document activities of companies building settlements and segregated roadways, uprooting trees and destroying homes. We have done extensive research to confirm these things, and after two years of studying company involvement, we have compiled a list of companies that are sustaining the occupation. These companies have been contacted and given a chance to respond.
Our denomination, like many religious groups and government bodies around the world, has taken a position that the occupation must end. President Bush has called for its end, as have many Israeli security chiefs, pilots, soldiers, and world leaders. We have published research into these companies and their practices, while making sure that no company was listed on the basis of doing business with Israel.
Like all investors, United Methodists have a right to be sure their investments are consistent with their values. Current proposals before the General Conference would simply make sure we are not profiting from a situation we oppose. This is far different than targeting companies that do business with Israel, and I hope you will correct this misimpression for all your readers.
Member, Divestment Task Force
New England Conference of the
United Methodist Church.