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 www.kairosresponse.org.