Last week, the General Assembly of the United Methodist Church voted against divesting from International companies whose products are used by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. The conference opted for a more diplomatic approach, voting in favor of positive investment in projects that benefits the Palestinians. In addition, the conference voted in favor of boycotting Israeli companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The vote generated a lot of heat and discussion. Prior to the vote, near 1200 Jewish rabbis signed an open letter to the conference, saying that a vote to divest would damage the relationship between Jews and Christians in USA. Other Christians also lobbied against the resolution, calling it one-sided and merely part of the anti-Israel advocacy, and in the process making it a conservative vs. liberal issue.
Yet Palestinian Christians, including Evangelicals, thought the opposite, and were discouraged by the vote. Rev. Alex Awad, a Palestinian Christians and a Methodist missionary in Palestine and Israel, attended the conference in attempt to convince the participants to vote in favor of divestment. Awad wrote after the conference:
Shouts of injustice prevailed over the shouts of those who yearned to see actions promoting justice in Palestine. United Methodists and Jewish allies had come from around the world to stand in solidarity with Palestinian Christians who called for divestment to help end Israel’s occupation. But opponents spread fear and misinformation that carried the day.
Palestinian Christians have in the last few years issued a calling to Christians worldwide to take a stand with them against the injustices of the occupation. The Palestinian Kairos document is a theological document written by Palestinian Christian theologians and leaders, and was endorsed by all heads of the churches in Jerusalem. The document, which called the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel as sin, called for nonviolent resistance to this occupation, and advocated measures of Boycot, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to end the occupation.
Archbishop Desmund Tutu, who fought against apartheid in South Africa, was strongly in favor of divestment. He wrote a letter to the delegates urging them to vote in favor of the resolution, and wrote an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, in which he addressed and the vote and the rabbis' letter. Tutu, who went on record in calling the Israeli occupation "apartheid", wrote, "justice needs action," and called "to force an end to Israel's long-standing occupation of Palestinian territory and refusal to extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens who suffer from some 35 discriminatory laws." He drew a parallel from a letter written by MLK from a Birmingham jail, in which he was "gravely disappointed with the moderate white … who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.'"
Christians are not alone calling for action to end the injustices of the occupation. Jewish Voices For Peace campaigned in favor of a divestment vote and against the rabbi's letter. The words of Tutu were echoed by Jewish activists who wrote prophetically that charity is not a substitute for justice.
For some Palestinians, the fact that the issue of Palestinian and Israel was discussed openly in the general assembly of a major church in USA is in itself an accomplishment, in a time when many denominations still shy away from openly discussing injustice in Palestine. Yet a lot remains to be done. Christians cannot continue to ignore the elephant in the room: the occupation is real and it must come to an end. This is not the time for diplomacy and being politically right. Christians cannot remain apathetic about real injustices taking place under the pretext of security or the lame excuse that "all resolutions must come through the direct result of negations." Palestinian Christians are not asking for charity any more. We are asking for solidarity to end the occupation and obtain our freedom and equal rights.