Peace and justice in the Holy Land high on convention’s agenda

By Matthew Davies
Posted Jun 24, 2015

[Episcopal News Service] Peace, justice and security in the Holy Land are the focus of seven proposed resolutions to be considered by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, ranging from calls for deeper investment in Middle East partnerships to placing economic pressure through boycotts against, and divestment from, companies and corporations engaged in certain business related to the State of Israel.

The Episcopal Church’s interreligious relations and its partnerships with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its social service institutions have long been a major factor when taking policy decisions on peacemaking in the Middle East.

These considerations led to the 2012 General Convention passage of Resolution B019, which affirms positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories.

Moving forward from B019, Bishop Prince Singh of the Diocese of Rochester, co-chair of General Convention’s legislative committee on social justice and international policy that will tackle the resolutions, told Episcopal News Service that he hopes “the deliberations on peace and security in the Holy Land will be thoughtfully engaged by the deputies and bishops to make a difference on the ground for common Palestinians, Israelis and others who dwell there, and for the most part refrain from scoring political points.”

Singh was a member of an interreligious pilgrimage, led by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, that traveled to the Holy Land in January to hear a wide range of perspectives on Middle East concerns and to discern how the three Abrahamic faiths might be better agents for peacemaking.

The 15-member delegation of Jews, Christians and Muslims met with grassroots peacemaking initiatives and engaged in a series of high-level political and religious meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, including with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and current Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

While the group heard deep concerns, frustrations, and strong sentiments of distrust in the midst of a stalled peace process, they agreed that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires people of faith to be effective partners, committed to hearing multiple narratives and investing in initiatives that seek to build community.

Recommended by Resolution B019, the pilgrimage “is proving to be an iconic and dynamic template for interacting face to face with people of various persuasions out of a deep desire to listen, learn and pursue justice with peace for our common transformation,” Singh told ENS.

Bishop Nicholas Knisely of the Diocese of Rhode Island, the proposer of two resolutions endorsed by 10 other bishops, said The Episcopal Church needs “to be an agent of reconciliation in the world,” and that divestment is not part of the gospel mandate.

Resolution B012 calls on The Episcopal Church to seek “new, creative and effective ways forward in its work toward peace and justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorse a model of Restorative Justice that invites all persons affected by the conflict to work toward the right relationship with one another by identifying and meeting the needs of all affected communities and, in turn, creating an atmosphere of peace, justice, reconciliation and cooperation.”

Resolution B013 challenges the United States government – in coordination with global partners – “to offer a new, comprehensive, and time-bound framework to the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the conclusive negotiation of a two-state peace agreement and the resolution of all final-status issues … recognizing that simple calls for the parties to return to the negotiating table are no longer sufficient to the urgency of the situation.”

“We are asked to be missionaries,” Knisely said, “so to break relations with people doesn’t seem to be keeping the gospel value. Helping the victim but maintaining the relationship with those people with whom you disagree and calling for repentance while you sit at their table and share a meal with them, that’s the gospel model.”

The additional bishops endorsing the resolution offered by Knisely are Sean Rowe of the Dioceses of Northwest Pennsylvania and Bethlehem; John Tarrant of South Dakota; House of Bishops Vice President Dean Wolfe of Kansas; Jon Bruno, Diane Bruce, and Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles; Greg Rickel of Olympia; Barry Beisner of Northern California; James Magness of the Armed Services and Federal Ministries; and Peter Eaton of Southeast Florida.,

The Rev. Canon John E. Kitagawa, a deputy from the Diocese of Arizona, has served on the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace With Justice Concerns, one of the church’s interim bodies that is proposing Resolution A052 for consideration at General Convention.

A052 calls for an “intentional process of Ubuntu,” and “peaceful, mutual discernment” regarding Episcopal Church policies “toward advocacy, economic investment or divestment, humanitarian mission, and peacemaking in Palestine and Israel.”

Ubuntu is a Zulu/Xhosa word that describes human identity as being formed through community and encompassing a sense of caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation.

The resolution suggests that a collaborative group should facilitate the process, collect and disseminate educational resources, and consult with a wide range of policy experts, humanitarian aid organizations, and ecumenical and interfaith groups “to inform and enliven a process of listening and conversation among those of differing convictions … so that The Episcopal Church in its deliberations and advocacy efforts might model the love of God and the possibility of civil dialog over controversial and confounding issues of global conflict.”

Kitagawa, vice chair of General Convention’s international policy legislative committee, believes that Resolution A052 is the best approach at this time for The Episcopal Church on peacemaking in Israel and Palestine.

The Rev. Vicki Gray, a deputy from the Diocese of California, disagrees.

As a sponsor of the diocese’s Resolution C012, Gray told ENS that The Episcopal Church’s long-standing policy of positive investment “has proved woefully inadequate in addressing the situation in the Holy Land or expressing proper moral outrage. In the face of the deteriorating situation on the ground the possibilities for a two-state solution are rapidly disappearing. We are now faced with the need for urgent, forceful action.”

Gray, who has visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories three times, said that her support for the movement that supports economic pressure through boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), comes primarily from what she describes as a “painful personal experience,” meeting with Palestinians whose lives have been devastated by the occupation.

“I know that some call C012 one-sided,” Gray said. “It is – for the situation it addresses is one-sided. One people – the Palestinians – are on their knees. The other – the Israelis – has a gun to their heads. And we – we Americans – have paid for the gun.”

Gray reiterated C012’s resolve that rejects attempts “to equate honest and legitimate criticism of unwise policies of the Government of Israel with anti-Semitism.”

“I know that there is a fear in the upper reaches of the church that adopting a BDS resolution would damage or end the interfaith dialogue with those purporting to speak for American Jewry,” she said. “The question must be asked, however: ‘What do we talk about?’ Friends don’t ask friends to close their eyes to injustice. Friends don’t ask friends to ignore their conscience as the price for continued dialogue. Friends don’t dictate to friends what they can or cannot talk about. And friends don’t act as enablers of their friends’ bad behavior. Let us act as our conscience dictates, confront injustice, and hold open our desire for honest, sincere dialogue. That is what friends do.”

Since 2012, the world has observed the collapse of peace talks brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry; a devastating war between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip that claimed more than 2000 lives, mostly Palestinian civilians; an increase in targeted terrorist attacks; the ongoing construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land; and a series of divisive actions and statements by Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

In response to these developments, a small group of deputies recently formed the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine, which drafted Resolution D016 calling on The Episcopal Church to begin a process of divesting from companies that continue to profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Proposed by the Very Rev. Walter Brownridge, a deputy from the Diocese of Hawaii, D016 calls on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council to compile a list of U.S. and foreign corporations that provide goods and services that support the infrastructure of Israel’s occupation and determine if any of the companies fall into the investment portfolio of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Thereafter, the resolution suggests that The Episcopal Church should divest from such companies if those businesses, following corporate engagement, should not withdraw from the aforementioned operations.

Brownridge, in an email to Episcopal News Service, emphasized that the resolution is not calling for “total or across-the-board divestment, boycott, sanctions.” Rather, he said, “we are saying that as a matter of corporate social responsibility, The Episcopal Church should not be investing in companies that serve the infrastructure of the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.”
In addition to California, the dioceses of Hawaii and Washington, D.C., also have submitted resolutions for consideration at General Convention.

Resolution C003 from the Diocese of Hawaii, where Brownridge is dean of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Honolulu, also calls for a process of selective divestment and a “no-buy policy” from companies that may be supporting the infrastructure of the occupation, including Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, G4S, and Motorola Solutions.

T. Dennis Sullivan, chair of the Executive Council Investment Committee, said the committee has discussed these issues and unanimously requests that any resolutions calling for divestment should “be rejected or not moved forward until the economic and social consequences of such divestment are thoroughly evaluated.”

Knisely said that a major downside of divestment is that it “would cause us to lose our voice at the stockholders meetings, and make our ability to speak to both sides in this conflict significantly reduced. I really am drawn to this idea of strategic investment.

“As I’ve traveled along the West Bank and talked to Palestinian leaders, they also are asking for investment in construction for the Palestinian people. … Using economic resources in a thoughtful and constructive way seems a lot more appealing.”

Many Episcopal Church dioceses and individuals have long-standing partnerships with the Jerusalem diocese and support the ministry of its more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. The institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities.

The diocese and the institutions also are supported by the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a nonpolitical, nonprofit organization established in 1985.

Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has said that he prefers to hear people talk about investment rather than divestment.

Dawani was not himself present, nor was he officially represented by anybody from the Diocese of Jerusalem, at the General Convention. Jefferts Schori invited Dawani to be a guest of hers at the convention, but he was unable to attend due to other commitments in his diocese.

In response to such calls from the Episcopal Church’s partners in the Holy Land, as well as to Resolution B019, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society invested $500,000 in the Bank of Palestine in 2013 for the purpose of economic development in the Palestinian Territories. The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council has endorsed expansion of that investment.

Supporters of BDS have compared the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories to that of apartheid South Africa, acknowledging that divestment and economic sanctions succeeded in overthrowing that regime.

However, a 2005 report from the Episcopal Church’s Social Responsibility in Investments committee noted that the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories is not the same as the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

“In the case of South Africa, the entire system of apartheid was illegitimate, and no actions short of dismantling it could be countenanced by the world community. The goal was the end of that South African regime,” that report said. “The case of Israel is different. Church policies clearly support Israel’s right to exist, and no companies should be involved, however inadvertently, in any way with organizations engaged in violence against Israelis. Companies can and should operate in Israel proper.”

With the exception of the situation in South Africa, where the apartheid regime was seen globally as a pariah, Knisely said that using money as a weapon has very rarely been an effective strategy.

He cited examples of corporations responding positively to engagement from investors and shareholders, such as Apple’s environmental initiatives in response to challenges from Greenpeace. “Those corporations didn’t boycott the product but engaged in the conversation.”

Carbon divestment also isn’t working, he said. “The environmental companies are agreeing that they need to engage with the companies” to effect change in policies and practices.

“We must approach this whole thing with a deep humility and openness to all the voices,” Knisely said, “and as I’ve listened to voices I’ve been more and more convinced that whatever happens in a tense situation has to be very thoughtful and careful.”

Brownridge said that he understands, from his contacts in the Palestinian Christian community, that they favor positive investment in the Palestinian economy and their social service infrastructure.

“I support and advocate such investment in schools, hospitals, social welfare services, and companies that will build up the Palestinian community,” he said. However, “I must ask those opposed to our resolution, what is ‘positive’ about investment in companies that destroy Palestinian homes, spy on Palestinian people, and otherwise maintain the machinery that allows for the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. Those actions have a negative impact on the Palestinian people and the prospects for a just and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Resolution C018 from Diocese of Washington calls for continued support of the Diocese of Jerusalem and its institutions, especially Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, which was deeply impacted by the 2014 Gaza War.

While the resolution calls for a full and public report “documenting all actions, including corporate dialogues and shareholder resolutions … regarding companies that contribute to the infrastructure of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and companies that have connections to organizations responsible for violence against Israel,” it stops short of calling for divestment. Rather, it suggests that The Episcopal Church “should contribute to a just and peaceful solution to the continuing crisis in the Holy Land through responsible and informed action.”

From his experience on the interreligious pilgrimage, Kitagawa said it was clear that transformation happens at a very personal level, through person-to-person contact, and that the best chance for a lasting peace and security can be found in the grassroots initiatives that seek to combat fear and build trust between Israelis and Palestinians through dialogue and a process of reconciliation.

Among those grassroots initiatives are the Shades Negotiation Program and Roots, which bring together Israelis and Palestinians to hear and learn from one another’s narratives, and to build a peaceful society in which everyone can prosper.

Although the political negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders have stalled, Kitagawa acknowledged that if people on the ground are not prepared for peace deal when it comes, it will be difficult for any diplomatic agreement to succeed.

“God’s power to touch and transform life is not stuck in the past. As the baptized and a baptizing community, we are called to be vessels of God’s power to touch and transform life,” he said. “Against all odds, many individuals and groups work daily and sacrificially hard towards peace with justice and mutual security. Many times we heard how few opportunities there are for creative contact between Israelis and Palestinians. Now is the time to encourage and support people-to-people contacts, and creative ways to bring the Children of Abraham together.”

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (5)

  1. Anne Lynn says:

    If we view our Holy Land through a political lens, the problems are deep and intractable. As a faith community, we have the opportunity to choose positive investment in the people of the region. And build peace from the ground up. Those with hope for the future will work toward stability. Several resolutions included positive investment, but only one supported the existing work of the Diocese of Jerusalem. The powerful witness our denomination offers through this work should be honored and supported. Through the existing schools, hospitals and institutes for the disabled, the Diocese of Jerusalem creates jobs, educated future leaders and healthy, productive citizens. This work is actionable now. While we all work toward a just peace, families need help today. Christian communities need stability now. Let’s own this work and include it in our resolutions.

  2. Donald Johnson says:

    All this talk of positive investment has an Orwellian ring to it, because it doesn’t make distinctions. Are we talking about investing in companies that supply bulldozers that destroy Palestinian homes or weapons that blow them up? Are we talking about Israeli owned factories in settlements that are in the West Bank–if so, why would the Israelis withdraw? One might defend that sort of investment if it provides jobs for Palestinians, but it is difficult to see how it makes an Israeli withdrawal more likely.

    I really can’t tell what people are defending and what issues they are dodging and I strongly suspect that is the point.

  3. Donald Johnson says:

    Incidentally, I agree the church should not be involved with organizations that use violence against Israelis, but given that most of the civilians killed are Palestinians killed by the Israeli government, does the standard apply to both sides?

  4. Isaac Miller says:

    Amen to both Donal Johnson’s comments. I would suspect tat the Diocese of Jerusalem, which certainly does do amazing work in the area, would support a positive vote on BDS, as would the vast majority of those whom we serve as a Church.

  5. Janet Thebaud Gillmar says:

    Here is the response from a Palestinian friend who is a doctor in the Galilee:
    Hello all,
    I am not your best resource on theological issues. I was tempted to write back and tell you my gut level rejection of the Episcopal bishops’ short range pragmatic stand. Instead I put the question to a group of friends and relatives that happened to congregate at my house this afternoon, a total of 11 adult Palestinian citizens of Israel ranging in age from mid-thirties to eighty years old. 5 were women and 6 men; 3 were Christians and the rest Moslems. There was a complete consensus rejecting the stand of the Episcopal Bishops. The following are some of the opinions that were expressed in the spontaneous conversation:
    1. True divestment will upset Israel and Zionists and this is likely to cause them to inflict greater suffering on Palestinians, partly by obstructing the good relief work of the church. This is all in the short run. In contrast and in the long run, divestment will end occupation and apartheid and lessen suffering at source.

    2. The bishops’ stand is focused on alleviating physical suffering. What is worse is thee Palestinians’ psychological trauma and that is served better by divestment.

    3. The bishops seem to fear the wrath of Israel more than the wrath of God.

    4. They care more about keeping the church in the business of servicing needy and disadvantaged Palestinians than they care about alleviating their disadvantaged position. That is classic colonial mentality.

    5. We doctors distinguish between primary and secondary prevention. Treating hypertension to prevent stroke is primary prevention. Physiotherapy for a stroke patient to help him/her regain muscle function is secondary prevention. The bishops should aim their efforts at primary alleviation of suffering of the Palestinians.

    6. The Episcopal bishops put their trust in the magnanimous goodwill of Netanyahu et. al. The current fascist clique, admittedly representing the majority of Israel, will not stop at anything to expel Palestinians from their dream ‘Greater Israel.’ Temporising and compromising in the face of such evil is wrong.

    Best of luck on your effort to rectify the bishops wrong stand.

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