Economic Justice Committee invests in Bank of Palestine

Posted Mar 21, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] As approved by the Episcopal Church Economic Justice Loan Committee (EJLC) of the Executive Council and as part of its economic justice portfolio, The Episcopal Church recently purchased a three-year certificate of deposit for $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine.

This action, approved in late January by EJLC, is in response to several resolutions affirmed by the General Convention, most recently Resolution B019 approved by General Convention in July 2012.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said, “I am delighted that The Episcopal Church has now made a positive investment in the Palestinian economy, an action which we have encouraged for some time.  This is tangible evidence of our commitment to a healthy economy in the Palestinian territories as a necessary instrument to building a lasting peace.”

The investment is part of the assets which were set aside by Executive Council in November 1989 for socially-responsible fixed-income investments. At year-end 2012, the investments consisted of $3.6 million in deposits at credit unions and similar intermediaries; and $2.1 million in loans to community development intermediaries made through the Economic Justice Community Development Loan Fund.

“Interest earned from these investments is typically below market rates, though an effort is made to achieve rates above the inflation rate in order to safeguard the principal available for future loans,” explained N. Kurt Barnes, Episcopal Church treasurer. “The interest earned in this program flows to the DFMS operating budget.”

In preparation for the purchase, the Episcopal Church Finance Office worked with several organizations, including the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, to identify business opportunities in Palestine. The EJLC concluded that an investment in the Bank of Palestine  made the most sense.  Barnes continued, “The primary mid-size to large businesses in Palestine are banking services, IT and Call Centers, hospitality and tourism.  The banking sector offers liquidity; and as the leading bank in Palestine, the Bank of Palestine is a logical candidate, which in turn will get the money out to community development activities within Palestine.”

Barnes, who met with senior management of the Bank of Palestine, noted that the bank:
• Has well-developed corporate-governance and risk-management structures based on best practices generally seen in North America;
• Makes nearly 20% of its $720 million loan portfolio available to micro and small businesses (SMEs) employing over 10,000 Palestinians;
• Has a green loans program, which encourages water wells, wastewater management and alternative energy sources in order to reduce reliance on often unstable Israeli-sourced energy; and
• Contributes 5% of its net profit each year to Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer, commented, “One of the ways we seek to serve at the churchwide level is to make it easy for the Church at the local level, dioceses and congregations, to act on our common convictions. Several dioceses have already approached us about helping them take similar action. Co-investing with us pools resources for good and allows smaller units of the Church to take advantage of the work done on their behalf and access services and opportunities that might not otherwise be available to them.  That’s what the churchwide level exists to do.”

Lindsey Parker, of the Diocese of Massachusetts and chair of the EJLC, noted, “We are pleased to receive the Bank’s assurance that the deposit will be directed to SMEs; the Bank’s Green Loans Program; or the soon-to-be introduced SME loans for women.”


Comments (5)

  1. Donna Hicks says:

    While it is good to see The Episcopal Church acting on Church policy on Palestine/Israel, I fear that the investment won’t mean much down the road. The Palestinian economy is shackled by the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – held to be a future State of Palestine. No amount of investment is going to help the economy until and unless the Occupation ends. That’s the lens through which I view actions taken: How does this help to end the Occupation? This investment does not meet that criterion.

  2. Cotton Fite says:

    The decision to invest 500k in the Bank of Palestine is an important symbolic expression of our support for the Palestinian people and their struggle to end an occupation that strangles their economy. Unless we accompany that, however, with a demand that our government hold Israel accountable for human rights violations and its continuing takeover of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it will mean little. We would do well to remember words just spoken by President Obama to Israeli young people: “As a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.”

    Take special note of that word, “demand”. That’s from our President.

    Cotton Fite

  3. Amy Kruse says:

    I fear this “positive investment” will largely become a symbolic gesture that isn’t likely to benefit the Palestinians in the spirit with which it was given. Were the Palestinian government a fledgling entity recognized by the world community as well as the government of Israel, this kind of investment would do wonders. Sadly the reality of occupation and colonization severely limits what this kind of ‘investment’ can truly accomplish. What good is a bank when the Palestinians are running out of land? How does this help them regain their property?

  4. Peter Cabbiness says:

    Why not just write a check to the Taliban, Al Queda, or any other anti-amercican, anti-christian group? The result is the same. This act is shameful and ill informed.

  5. Addison Bross says:

    This donation to a Palestinian bank is a valuable symbolic action. It manifests compassion for the suffering of the Palestinian people.

    The donation would also have positive, practical effect if the economic context into which these funds have been introduced were marked by freedom of movement for exchange of goods. This basic necessity for economic progress (or even for minimal economic activity) is not available for entrepreneurs and planners in the Occupied Territories — the West Bank and Gaza.

    We need to hear the voices of Palestinian entrepreneurs as they explain the facts governing their economic life — the many unpredictable and arbitrary restrictions which, via Israel’s well established policies, continually stifle attempts of Palestinian businesspersons to carry on manufacture and trade.

    A sample of these voices is available through a video at the following webpage: Ramy Abdeljabbar’s Palestine and World News ~ /03/25/embroidery-makers-of-gaza-2/; or at Common Dreams News Centeer ~

    Here Kokab Al-Qudssi, a businesswoman in Gaza, identifies her problem not as limited funds but as artificial restrictions forcibly imposed by an Israeli government — restrictions that block her from importing to her workshop tools and raw materials for sewing and embroidering the blouses, caps, scarves and bags that she attempts – unsuccessfully under Israel’s restrictions – to export to the West Bank or beyond.

    According to Sari Bashi, Executive Director of the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli humanitarian center in Tel Aviv: “The problem in Gaza is not a shortage of food but rather a violation of the right to productive, dignified work,”

    In 2011, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 83 percent of Gaza factories were closed or working at a capacity of 50% or less. Although the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access premits 400 trucks per day to carry goods from Palestine factories and workshops, only two trucks per day were allowed to leave during the winter farming season of 2011. Between May 12 and June 30, Gisha reported, “not a single truck [was] allowed to leave Gaza.”
    (The Jerusalem Post, 30 June 2011 ~ t-bring-food-into-Gaza-take-it-out.)

    Can our donated funds really ease these restrictions, which originate in official chambers of the State of Israel and in its military bases?

    Economic activities in the West Bank and Gaza occur only under Israeli military rule. Decisions regarding import and export activities are made from the headquarters of an Israel Defense Force officer — the “Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories” (i.e., the Occupied Territories) (acronym: COGAT). This “Government Activity” consists of regulating the lives of Palestinians in various ways. Along with all other phases of life, economic activity is subject to the changeable will of IDF officers headquartered throughout the territory.
    (“Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Coordinator_of_Government_Activities_in_the_Territories.)

    Stretching across the West Bank, COGAT has bases in the cities of Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilyah, Ramallah, Jerusalem Periphery, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jericho. Aside from these outposts, COGAT has its distinct Economics Branch, headed by a Lieutenant-Colonel.

    The Israeli military is in charge of all types of security for 82% of the West Bank (i.e., Areas B and C, where 45% of West-Bank Palestinians lilve). The Palestinian National Authority has charge of 18% (Area A, containing 55% of all West-Bank Palestinians).

    In the Gaza Strip, although Israel is said to have “withdrawn” from this area, economic and other activities of Palestinians are controlled by an Israeli military entity called Coordination and Liaison Administration of the Gaza Strip (COLA), headed by an IDF Colonel. (“West Bank” ~

    Major General Eitan Dangot, the COGAT officier, said that Israel controls commodities proposed by the Palestinian National Authority for entrance into Gaza based on “security considerations.” Rocket-fire into Israel, General Dangot noted, has continued: “What we are dealing with in Gaza is a terrorist regime,” he said. (Jerusalem Post, “Don’t bring food into Gaza – take it out,'”

    Import and export restrictions cannot, of course, be an effective response to Hamas’ illegal attacks on Israeli villas in Sderot. Kokab Al-Qudssi’s embroidered blouses, caps, scarves and bags — along with goods from other entrepreneurs still awaiting export from Gaza – will not diminish the frequency of Hamas’ rocket fire. Restrictions on Gazan businesspersons, who have not fired any rockets, constitute collective punishment. Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, collective punishment is a war crime.

    More detailed information for understanding the economic plight of the Palestinian people can be found in a report from PALTRADE (Palestine Trade Center) entitled “Investment in Palestine: The Reality” (October 2010). Authors of this document find that the major hindrance to economic development in Palestine cannot be lifted by foreign investment: “The uncertainty and lack of a political horizon created by the Israeli closure regime are hindering the potential of any future investments. The combined effect of the closure regime in the West Bank, the restrictions on the access and movement of investors, and the constricted trade between West Bank and Gaza have resulted in substantial increase in transaction costs, lowered the competitiveness of Palestinian products, and created a very poor investment climate in Palestine”

    If the Episcopal Church seeks to support and enhance the Palestinian economy — actually to aid Palestinian entrepreneurs in the manufacture and distribution of their goods and services — then decisions must be based on a clear understanding of the economic context in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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