Will Western churches fight injustice in Holy Land?

Injustice in Palestine

“Reverberations” expected as Methodists go out to consultation on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

By Stuart Littlewood

The Methodist Church in Britain has invited individuals, non-governmental organizations, faith groups and government organizations in the UK, Israel/Palestine and beyond to take part in a consultation exercise and answer questions on what it calls “the wider context around BDS“ [boycott, divestment, sanctions].

The aim is to produce a briefing document for the Church’s 2014 Conference setting out the arguments for and against applying BDS to Israel. It will be used to help Methodists decide how to respond to the call of the BDS movement, as explained here.

UK Methodists will be remembered for blazing a trail through the BDS minefield at their annual conference three years ago. They voted to boycott products from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, regarded as illegal under international law, and to encourage Methodists across the country to do the same.

This followed a call from Palestinian Christians, a growing number of Jewish organizations both inside Israel and worldwide, and the World Council of Churches.

Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships, explained at the time: “The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region.”

For decades the “goodwill” of the Jewish community has been worthless in securing justice for the Palestinians and ending their misery at the hands of the so-called Jewish state.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews promptly blew a fuse. In a joint statement with the Jewish Leadership Council they said the Methodists should “hang their heads in shame” and warned that the implications would “reverberate across the hitherto harmonious relationship between the faith communities in the UK”.

What upset them most was a report, “Justice for Palestine and Israel”, submitted to the Methodist Conference. It said, among other things, that in listening to church leaders and fellow-Christians in Israel and Palestine, as well as leaders of Palestinian civil society,

we hear an increasing consensus calling for the imposition of boycott, divestment and sanctions as a major strategy of non-violent resistance to the occupation. The conference notes the call of the WCC [World Council of Churches] in 2009 for an “international boycott of settlement produce and services” and calls on the Methodist people to support and engage with this boycott of Israeli goods emanating from illegal settlements (some Methodists would advocate a total boycott of Israeli goods until the occupation ends).

It also said the Methodist Church had consistently expressed its concern over the occupation of Palestinian lands, and its continuation not only compounded Israel’s illegal and immoral action, but also made any accommodation with the Palestinian people and future peace in the region less likely.

The chief rabbi called the report “unbalanced, factually and historically flawed” without saying in what way it was inaccurate. The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said the authors of the report had abused the goodwill of the Jewish community. “The Methodist Conference has swallowed hook, line and sinker a report full of basic historical inaccuracies, deliberate misrepresentations and distortions of Jewish theology and Israeli policy.

The deeply flawed report is symptomatic of a biased process… as crass as it is misinformed. That this position should now form the basis of Methodist Church policy should cause the conference to hang its head in shame, just as surely as it will cause the enemies of peace and reconciliation to cheer from the sidelines.

For decades the “goodwill” of the Jewish community has been worthless in securing justice for the Palestinians and ending their misery at the hands of the so-called Jewish state. If such a tirade is the only response to legitimate concerns about Israel’s barbarity towards Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land, the shame is theirs, not to mention the “breathtaking insensitivity”.

Crunch-time for Christendom in the Holy Land

As for those threatened “reverberations”, maybe that’s exactly what’s needed, not only here in the UK but around the world including (and especially) in the US.

A further initiative by the Methodists is therefore welcome. This time they hint at a total boycott. I hope they realize that Israel’s high command has recruited an army of cyber-scribblers and professional obfuscators for its propaganda unit and trained them in the despicable “arts” of deception, distortion and defamation. Not that this should put the Methodists off, but they will need to beef up their own communications and public affairs capability and brace themselves to withstand maximum interference and vilification between now and the conference next June.

If the inevitable showdown is coming, let’s all be part of it. These are the questions the Methodists want answered. The scope is good and figuring out suitable responses quite fun, so go visit the website and follow the link to the online survey (accessible directly here).

Everyone will have different ideas on how far BDS should go and the forms it should take. So rally round and help the church out. Join in the spirit of the game and submit your views!

Well done, Methodists. Here’s my two cents worth…

Consultation Questions

1. What do you understand to be the motivation/inspiration behind the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in relation to Israel?

To help end Israel’s illegal occupation, blockade and interference in Palestinian affairs. To express global disapproval and emphasize the necessity for respect and strict compliance with international humanitarian law. To “excommunicate” Israel until it behaves with decency.

2. In your view, what would be the essential elements of any peace agreement in Israel/Palestine?

All outstanding UN resolutions to be implemented, international law enforced, the Israeli military withdrawn behind stipulated borders, and free movement of Palestinian citizens and goods between the West Bank (including East Jerusalem and the Old City) and Gaza with contiguity guaranteed, and between all Palestinian territories and the outside world. Sea-lanes and all other trading routes reinstated; the right of return respected and fair accommodation made; natural resources restored (e.g. water aquifers, marine gas fields, territorial waters, airspace and electromagnetic spectrum); the Separation Wall dismantled and compensation paid. Full national sovereignty, security and trading rights respected and guaranteed. 

No negotiations until a level playing field is established. It is downright immoral to expect the weak and demoralized victim to negotiate with the armed aggressor for the return of his freedom and belongings.

Personally, I’d like to see Jerusalem as an international city administered by the UN, as stipulated in the 1947 Partition Plan. It is too important to too many people to be the subject of endless claims and counterclaims by warring religionists.

3. Do you support a boycott of products produced within Israeli settlements?

Yes.

4. Do you support the call for a wider consumer boycott of all Israeli products?

Of course. There can be no half-measures.

5. If you answer “Yes” to Question 4, what changes would you need to see to be content to end your boycott?

Nothing less than implementation of all the conditions indicated in 1 & 2.

6. What are the arguments against a consumer boycott of all Israeli products? What are the risks?

For some categories a total boycott of consumer products will be difficult or impractical – for instance pharmaceuticals and certain technology items. Advice on possible alternatives would have to be made available. 

As to the risks, Israel needs the UK far more than the UK needs Israel, although there may be retaliation against British firms and investors where Israel has leverage. The Israeli regime must be made aware of the risks to them of continuing to provoke a boycott.

7. If you do not support the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, could you ever see yourself supporting such a call in the future? Under what circumstances?

Not applicable.

8. What message does the call for a consumer boycott of Israel communicate to the general public? (please specify whether you are answering with reference to the public in the UK, in Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or elsewhere)

Campaign messages so far seem to have been confined to the boycott of goods from settlements and product mis-labelling. An entirely new, professional communications strategy, properly targeted, programmed and carried through by a suitably media-trained team, together with carefully prepared hasbara counter-measures, is cricial.

9. Do you support an academic boycott of Israel? Please explain your reasoning.

Yes. Since 2000 Israel has banned youngsters from Gaza from studying at the eight Palestinian universities in the West Bank. This not only breaches Israel’s obligations under international accords to treat the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a “single territorial entity” but also chokes any prospect of healthy development in Palestinian society. The regime’s separation policy includes a block on travel for work, for trade, for family reunion, for medical attention and for worship in Jerusalem. 

Those who piously reject the idea of an academic boycott include all the main political parties in the UK. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme [see video or read text of programme] revealed the influence of the Israel lobby and its money on the Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, at their party’s conference, tabled a motion squashing an academic boycott, saying that “Israeli universities are centres of free debate and discussion and that the universities contain Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis and Palestinians. Furthermore a boycott does nothing to resolve a negotiated solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict and is indeed counter-productive as it discourages dialogue.” 

How productive has dialogue-without-action been for 65 years? 

10. Do you support a cultural boycott of Israel? Please explain your reasoning.

A total boycott needs to be just that – total – for as long as Israel’s inhuman behaviour continues. Israeli culture and mindset appear to be at the heart of the problem. I have just read that Zionist rabbis are praying for peace negotiations to fail because they may result in land “concessions” (i.e. giving up some of the territory Israel has stolen at gunpoint).

Please merciful God, with your many mercies, annul severe decrees and don’t give your land to disgrace, to be controlled by gentiles. Protect and save us from our enemies, and give us the valour and courage to build and plant your holy land, and may we live to inherit our land.

The rabbis wrote in their manifesto: “For several months now, peace negotiations are being held around the demand for additional concessions of parts of the Land of Israel… The wholeness of the Land of Israel is in danger!” 

MP George Galloway has explained his boycott position on Facebook with characteristic bluntness: “No recognition, no normalization. Just boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the apartheid state is defeated. I never debate with Israelis nor speak to their media. If they want to speak about Palestine – the address is the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization].”

The PLO, of course, is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Galloway’s point is that BDS means, quite simply,

no purchase of Israeli goods or services, no normal contacts with individuals or organizations in Israel who support the existence of the racist apartheid creed of Zionism. That’s what I mean by boycott. That’s what I do. Israelis who are outside of and against the system of Zionism are comrades of mine…

Anyone who opposes an immediate end to the brutal occupation and offer excuses for prolonging the misery (like insisting on more lopsided “negotiations” when international law and UN resolutions have already spoken, or citing religious beliefs) surely deserve to feel the cold blast of a Galloway-style boycott.

11. Under what circumstances, if any, should the Methodist Church divest from companies operating in Israel?

Any circumstances that prick their moral conscience.

12. Should the UK government or European Union impose trade or other restrictions on economic relationships with Israel or alternatively limited restrictions on economic engagement with settlements? If so what form should such sanctions take?

The stated purpose of the EU-Israel Association Agreement is to promote (1) peace and security, (2) shared prosperity through, for example, the creation of a free trade zone, and (3) cross-cultural rapprochement. It governs not only EU-Israel relations but Israel’s relations with the EU’s other Mediterranean partners – including the Palestinian National Authority.

Fundamental to the agreement are undertakings regarding human rights and democratic principles as set out as a general condition in Article 2, which says: “Relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this agreement.”

This clause allows steps to enforce the human rights requirement and dissuade partners from policies and practices that disrespect those rights. The agreement also requires respect for self-determination of peoples and fundamental freedoms for all.

Israel has never complied and has no intention of doing so. The EU has been called on to discharge its obligation to suspend the agreement but chooses instead to enhance it for Israel’s benefit, thereby rewarding and encouraging the regime’s criminal conduct.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (who is proudly Jewish) asked point-blank in the House of Commons:

Is not the building of additional illegal settlements, in addition to settlements that already house 500,000 people, a blatant breach of international law, together with the theft by the Israeli government of huge sums of tax revenues belonging to the Palestinians? When will we take action such as economic sanctions or an arms embargo against this rogue state that is committing criminal acts?

Another MP spoke of “putting economic muscle behind our protestations”.

Richard Falk, the special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, told UN Radio: “Israel does not respond to language of diplomacy, which has encouraged the lifting of the blockade, and so what I am suggesting is that it has to be reinforced by a threat of adverse economic consequences for Israel.” 

13. What actions other than BDS might members of the Methodist Church take to encourage a political process that could deliver a just and sustainable resolution in Israel and Palestine?

Interfaith dialogue is no substitute for the enforcement of international and humanitarian law and the implementation of UN resolutions. In the context of the Palestine crisis it is a time-waster and an obstacle to justice, which the Israel lobby and its stooges exploit with great skill. Earlier this year the Representative Council of North-East Jewry wrote to the bishop of Newcastle complaining that he voted for a motion at the General Synod which supported the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) despite their “grave concerns… that it would encourage anti-Semitism”. His action, said the letter, “makes any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible”. 

According to the Church Times, the good bishop had agreed to speak at a conference, Peace and Justice in the Holy Land”, organized by a group of people who took part in the EAPPI programme. Its sponsors included Christian Aid, CAFOD and Friends of Sabeel UK. The chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews said that the conference had “the potential of becoming yet another anti-Jewish meeting, creating more anxiety and distrust between the north-east Jewish community and the church”. The Board of Deputies of British Jews chimed in, accusing the EAPPI of being “partisan” and “anti-Israel”. 

As Methodists and others know, the EAPPI brings internationals to the West Bank and provides a protective presence to vulnerable communities. When Ecumenical Accompaniers return home they campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.” (see http://www.eappi.org/ )

The programme was set up by the World Council of Churches, in response to a call by the churches of Jerusalem, and carries out its humanitarian work with great courage in the face of occupier hostility. Its success is apparently resented by the Jewish and Zionist end of the interfaith spectrum.

Despite having the moral high ground the bishop decided not to attend the conference “for the sake of good relations between all the faith communities in Newcastle”. The Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle also copped out, telling the Jewish Chronicle that he had become aware “that many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset”. Perhaps the angry and upset should go themselves to the West Bank and observe the behaviour of their brethren towards Palestinian women and children and the EAPPI volunteers.

The Israeli regime simply doesn’t do “harmonious relationship” in the occupied territories. Terror, oppression and land-grab are more their style. Have the Board of Deputies and other leaders of the Jewish community ever condemned or punished the regime’s crimes against humanity? Have they publicly distanced themselves from the cruelty committed in their name by the so-called Jewish state? 

Until they do, let them stew.

14. Is there any further theological or other comment that you would like to make in relation to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or are there papers or other resources that you would highlight?

Zionism is rampant among Christian churches and obstructs important initiatives. I commend “The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism”, a statement by the Latin Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued in 2006. It underlines how Christian Zionists have twisted the Christian faith and the Biblical message to serve the political agenda of the modern State of Israel:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation… We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine…. We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ…

The Church of Scotland came under great pressure to rewrite their recent report “The Inheritance of Abraham?”, which challenged the Jews’ divine right to the Palestinians’ homeland and was condemned by the Jewish lobby as a “truly hurtful” and “inquisition-era” document. But they actually beefed it up! The revised version not only restates emphatically that they do not support the idea that ancient scripture offers anyone a privileged right to territory, but also urges the UK government and the European Union to use pressure to stop further expansion of Israeli settlements, and to remove the existing ones. Bravo, CofS!

In 2008 a coalition of eight leading charities/NGOs, including Oxfam, Save the

Children and Christian Aid, issued a powerful report “The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion”, describing the appalling situation that had been allowed to develop by the international community. Its recommendations included:

(1) Asking the UK government and EU to actively promote plans for the reopening of the Gaza crossings in line with the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA), brokered by the US and EU in 2005, and to ensure its full implementation, including full provision for imports and exports of goods and the movement of people… 

(2) Calling on the UK government and EU to ensure that the Israeli government lifts movement and access restrictions throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories to facilitate long-term Palestinian economic development.

Remember that the West Bank is also blockaded and bottled-up. This report’s key recommendations seem to have been filed away in the “too inconvenient” tray and need retrieving. It also delivered a sharp rebuke to the Quartet: “We maintain that members of the Quartet (and the Middle Eastern countries involved in the negotiations) have an obligation, as state parties to the Geneva Conventions and other international human rights treaties, to ensure respect for international law.”

But who’s listening? The situation has been allowed to go from bad to worse. Those responsible must now be made to listen to an increasingly angry civil society. And that must include the churches of Western Christendom.

Finally, I offer you the words of a very great churchman, Fr Manuel Mussallam, the leader of Gaza’s Catholic community during Israel’s act of infamy – the blitz over Christmas and New Year 2008/9. He sent this message from the smoking ruins to anyone who would listen:

Our people in Gaza are treated like animals in a zoo. They eat but remain hungry, they cry, but no one wipes their tears. There is no water, no electricity, no food, only fear, terror and blockade… Yesterday the bakery refused to give me bread, the reason being that the baker did not wish to disrespect my priesthood by supplying me with flour unfit for humans. The good flour had run out, and what flour he had was unfit for human consumption. I have avowed to not eat bread for the duration of this war… Our children are living in a state of trauma and fear. They are sick from it and for other reasons such as malnutrition, poverty and the cold… The hospitals did not have basic first aid before the war and now thousands of wounded and sick are pouring in and they are performing operations in the corridors. The situation is frightening and sad.

In exasperation he added: “May Christ’s compassion revive our love for God even though it is currently in ‘intensive care’.” 

A few days later he wrote:

Hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured in the Israeli invasion. Our people have endured the bombing of their homes, their crops have been destroyed, they have lost everything and many are now homeless. We have endured phosphorus bombs which have caused horrific burns, mainly to civilians. Like the early Christians our people are living through a time of great persecution, a persecution which we must record for future generations as a statement of their faith, hope and love.

Are Methodists (or any other true Christians for that matter) seriously going to engage with people who support or excuse the thugs responsible for that?

And what has changed, you may wonder, in the four long years since then? 

Fr Manuel was also greatly troubled by the exodus of Christians escaping the never-ending Israeli oppression to seek a better life elsewhere, reflecting the worry expressed by many others that Christendom is allowing itself be ‘religiously cleansed’ from the Holy Land with scarcely a murmur of protest. He had seen Gaza’s Christian contingent dwindle to just 5,000 out of a tight-packed population of 1.5 million. 

What will Christendom do now? If it is worth anything at all in the modern age the Western churches will finally rise up and unite to defend their Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, and to protect the precious heritage and core of their beliefs – if it is not already too late.

Print Friendly