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  1. Opinion

Divestment will help ease Palestinian suffering

Published Apr. 24, 2012

The United Methodist Church is holding its General Conference in Tampa. One of the most important, and unfortunately controversial, resolutions to be taken up is the Palestinians' request for the world community to help them end the 44-year Israeli occupation.

We, a Jewish American, a Palestinian Muslim and a Palestinian Christian, support the Palestinians in their struggle for justice and freedom. We believe the Methodist Church's proposed resolution to divest from multinational companies profiting from the Israeli occupation will aid in ending Palestinian suffering.

Tragically, the Israeli occupation continues to strangle Palestinian society. Israeli political and religious leaders threaten Palestinians with transfer out of their homeland, enforce the occupation of the West Bank with incredible violence, and continue the naval blockade of Gaza which keeps the people there in dangerous deprivation. In the last 20 years, illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank have increased from 241,500 inhabitants to some 500,000, including East Jerusalem.

Israel's occupation practices impose severe hardships on residents. Palestinians routinely find themselves trapped by barriers and the Israeli separation wall — unable to visit family members, friends, schools, businesses and places of worship. Death, injury or arrest is a distinct possibility, even for nonviolent protesters demonstrating against home demolitions or land confiscation.

Palestinians, long denied freedom through negotiations with the Israeli government, have asked for the world to intervene in a humane and moral way to ensure that equality and justice are honored. Palestinian Christians issued the Kairos Palestine Document, "A Moment of Truth," in 2009 (Read the document in full at http://www.kairospalestine.ps/):

We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation. … The cruel circumstances in which the Palestinian Church has lived and continues to live have required the Church to clarify her faith and to identify her vocation. … Today, we bear the strength of love rather than that of revenge, a culture of life rather than a culture of death.

The document asks the international community to implement nonviolent tactics, such as divestment, to end the occupation.

Similarly, we urge the Methodist Church to divest from multinational companies that support the Israeli occupation. Divestment is required if we are to press Israel to uphold equality for all people in Israel and Palestine. Such pressure is long overdue and urgently needed for Palestinians. In fact, we believe that pushing for an end to the occupation and equal rights for Palestinians is fully consistent with securing a safer and better region for Jewish Israelis as well.

Forty years ago most of the land in and around Bethlehem was owned and inhabited by Christians. Today, the majority of the land is held, patrolled and settled by Israelis. For thousands of years people traveled freely between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, located just 5 miles away. Now there is a wall separating the two holy cities. Thousands of people are separated from family, friends, work and religious sites on the other side. Under these conditions of occupation, Christians by the thousands are making the painful decision to leave the site of Jesus' birth and make a life elsewhere. (See a 60 Minutes report from Sunday at tinyurl.com/tbt-60minutes.)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has asserted: "In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of nonviolent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime." This past summer in a Charlotte Observer column he noted "the apartheid perpetrated in the Holy Land" and encouraged "retirement giant" TIAA-CREF "to refuse to profit from oppression of a people, and thus to stand on the side of what is right: a safe, secure and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis."

Likewise, we appeal to the delegates of the Methodist General Conference to vote in favor of divestment from Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard, so long as these companies profit from the mayhem in the Holy Land.

Michael Berg is a Jewish native of St. Louis who bakes bread and does environmental activism. Hala Abdelaziz is a Palestinian-American who lived in the West Bank from 1995-1999. Sandra Tamari is a Palestinian-American Quaker who lives outside St. Louis.

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