The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States is in session as I write. Yesterday the preparatory committee voted in favor of a motion calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel.
It is a welcome sign that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining increasing momentum. Last time around, the resolution didn’t pass committee level.
Rev. Dr. Walt Davis, Co-Chair of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is quoted in the Israeli daily Haaretz, as calling the decision “an encouraging step”, adding that “It’s been a long and thorough process and it’s finally time for the church to stop profiting from the suffering of the peoples of the Holy Land.” A sincere statement that commands our full attention.
Economic boycotts of individual companies or states that are seen to ignore humane or moral standards of behavior have a strong, if controversial, tradition in Norway. Earlier this year Norwegian retail chain VITA stopped all sales of Ahava products which originate from illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.
Their decision echoes the words of Dr. Davis and came after a period of active lobbying from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the 320,000 member strong Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (NUMGE). Human rights activists in Norway have also focused on Ahava and a new campaign has been launched aimed at convincing other stores to follow.
Only three weeks ago Norway’s finance ministry excluded Shikun & Binui from its Government Pension Fund (GPFG), citing the company’s role in the construction of illegal Israeli colonies in East Jerusalem as the reason.
The campaign to boycott, disinvest and sanction is not merely a political issue it is very much a moral one. It is a weapon in the nonviolent tradition of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and the Irish civil rights movement I grew up with in Belfast.
The BDS movement was started by the people on the receiving end of the oppression that is being challenged – the Palestinians themselves. They see it as a non-violent alternative to challenging the oppression which confronts them on a daily basis.
Almost forty years have passed since Israel’s illegal, forced military occupation of Palestinian lands. The Israeli state is presently in the process of unilaterally annexing occupied East Jerusalem and large parts of the West Bank by means of the so called Separation Barrier.
A majority of Palestinians are stateless refugees and Israel’s entrenched system of racial discrimination against its own Arab-Palestinian citizens remains intact. The similarities to the racial bantustans of the South African apartheid regime are there for all to see.
They were clear in their support for an economic boycott as a non-violent means of opposition. Their representatives reflected an attitude that was prevalent and resurfaced at various meetings with our project partners.
“We are suffering injustice, oppression and state violence. Someone is making money out of it. That cannot be right.”
The final vote at the General Assembly of the US Presbyterian Church is expected later this week. We wish the delegates well in their deliberations and hope you will join us in extending the General Assembly’s international solidarity to the Palestinian people. Your support counts.