Friday, September 23, 2011

On a historic day for Palestine, rethinking the UMC's role

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just submitted a request to the United Nations for recognition of Palestine as an independent member state. Though the United States has pledged to veto the bid, it promises to be a historic day in the struggle for Palestinian rights. Predictions of the consequences abound. Some commentators fear an outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza. Some are optimistic about the possibilities of increased UN representation for a Palestinian state through action by the General Assembly. Others fear that the UN bid, whether or not it’s successful, could actually become an obstacle to Palestinians’ national aspirations. What seems certain is that we are at a particularly volatile point in the history of Palestinians and Israelis. The tension held in this moment could erupt in any number of ways.

For decades, the United Methodist Church has stated its opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. Our denomination has repeatedly called for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict, one which respects the civil and human rights of all people. The church has been clear that the continued repression of the Palestinian people and the expropriation of their land makes this impossible.

Today, those of us who seek justice and peace in Palestine/Israel must recommit ourselves to, in the words of the Kairos Palestine Document, “speak a word of truth and take a position of truth.” Truth, we know, will be a victim of the political and diplomatic battles that are to come. As the abuses of Israel’s military occupation continue – as they certainly will – we must not only speak out against them, we must refuse to be complicit.

Since 1968, the United Methodist Church has spoken words of truth about the Israeli occupation. But we have yet to take a position of truth. Despite our statements, our denomination’s financial resources are invested in companies that profit from the occupation and the expansion of settlements. We hold stock in Caterpillar, which produces armored bulldozers that an Israeli general called “the key weapon” in the occupation of Palestinian land. Using these bulldozers, the Israeli military has demolished over 24,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. The church also invests in Motorola Solutions, which provides surveillance systems to Israeli settlements and communications equipment to the military in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard, another company in the church’s portfolio, produces biometric scanning equipment used in checkpoints on occupied land. It also supplies Ariel, one of the largest West Bank settlements, with municipal data storage systems.

These investments represent a troubling contradiction between our words and our actions. Though we may sincerely hope for the occupation to end, we are implicated in its continuation as long as we help finance it.

The United Methodist Church has little if any influence over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved. We are not in a position to weigh in on the logistics of a political settlement. But we can and do influence the situation on the ground, and by extension, the factors that determine what kind of settlement is possible. Right now, our money helps to make the occupation possible. Removing our money will make the occupation less possible.

Over the next weeks and months, events in the Middle East may unfold rapidly and dramatically. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or helpless, we must focus on our own involvement in the occupation and change it.


Emily McNeill is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Project Manager of United Methodist Kairos Response. For more information about the movement to align United Methodist investments with resolutions on Israel/Palestine, visit

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thoughtful discussion about the UMC's responsibility through investing in companies that expand and maintain the occupation.

” These investments represent a troubling contradiction between our words and our actions. Though we may sincerely hope for the occupation to end, we are implicated in its continuation as long as we help finance it.”

I understand how it is that US politicians find it so easy to ignore the Geneva conventions that apply to the occupation as a politician told me two years ago that unless I could come up with $300,000 that pro-israel supporters were donating to his campaign he would not change his position. Clearly through this acknowledgment he knew that he was being paid for his position that had nothing to do with what was right or even what was good for America.

In the church we see other tactics being used, some involve money, others involve threats to end friendships or relationships. They believe that the UMC can be coerced to ignore the pleas from Christians who are suffering in this cruel occupation. They believe that the UMC does not believe in freedom and human rights enough to stand up against a well funded and powerful opposition that believes in the rights of one people while completely disregarding the basic human rights of another.

The question for the UMC is: What is the price of our Christianity?