Presbyterians Respond to Criticism of Divestment Resolution

From the archive (legacy material)

Council for the National Interest | 15 October 2004

The Palestinian Solidarity Movement is meeting October 15-17 at Duke University to discuss divestment strategies, and the lead speaker is Dennis Brutus, the well-known anti-apartheid South African activist who is speaking on the usefulness of divestment in the struggle against oppression and how it helped to bring change in South Africa. The fourth conference of the PSM will focus on the move to divest from companies doing business with Israel and how to harness support for it on American campuses and among churches.
Last month, a group of 14 congressional representatives, headed by Howard Berman (D-CA), sent a letter to the leader of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly deploring the resolution calling on the Church to divest itself from companies doing business in Israel. It said that the resolution was “irresponsible, counterproductive and undermines the prospect of peace by emboldening those who seek to de-legitimize the State of Israel.” The full text of the letter is available on the Howard Berman website <
pub.php?module=URLTracker&cmd=track&j=10588507&u=92719>. In addition to Berman, the signers included the following: Roy Blount (R-MO), Deborah Pryce (R-OH), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), John Lewis (D-GA), John Linder (R-GA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Eric Cantor (R-VA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Tom Feeney (R-FL), Barney Frank (D-MA), and Lamar Smith (R-TX).
A week later, on September 23 Clifton Kirkpatrick, Slated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, sent the following powerful response, which the Council for the National Interest feels important that all Americans should read. It is particularly important for what it says about Congress’s habitual bias in favor of Israel and its refusal to address the quest of the Palestinian people to end the occupation and establish of a state of their own:
Dear Representative —-
I am in receipt of your letter indicating that you are “terribly distressed” by the action of the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeking a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I very much regret your disappointment, but in all candor, must also communicate with you that I am terribly distressed in the failure of the U.S. Congress to seek a peaceful resolution to this conflict that would both protect the right of Israel to live in peace with secure borders and the rights of the Palestinians to statehood and an end of the occupation of their territory. Perhaps if the U.S. Congress had been more forthright in seeking such a just solution for Israel and Palestine, it would not have been necessary for our General Assembly to take this further action to achieve our long term commitment for peace and well being for both Israelis and Palestinians. Let me give you a bit of background on the stand of our church.
In 1948 in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) declared that a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “will be achieved only by a return to the principle of faithful devotion to the welfare, needs, and rights of both the Jewish and Arab peoples.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) has long been concerned with finding a just peace in the region and over the last 56 years we have expressed our concern for peace between Israel, the Palestinian people and the Arab states. We have consistently called for US policies to encourage and to help to achieve the negotiation of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the region with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side with secure borders.
The decision made by the 216th General Assembly to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment from certain companies operating in Israel, which are profiting off the harming of innocent lives was not taken lightly. It was born out of the frustration that many of our members, as well as members of other denominations, feel with the current policies of Israel and those of our own government in regards to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
Neither the Israeli, nor the Palestinian, nor the U.S. leadership has taken the necessary and bold steps needed to achieve peace. However, the United States, both its government and its institutions and its citizens, has a unique role to play in the conflict. The governments and peoples around the world look to the US for the leadership necessary to implement peace accords, bring an end to the occupation, and bring peace and security to the people of the region.
It has been very disappointing to us that the U.S. congress has not proven to be an ally or a balanced arbiter in the negotiations for peace in the region. While congress has passed repeated statements against the Palestinian Authority, it has never passed a resolution condemning the continuous illegal construction of settlements in the West Bank. There has been nothing done by congress to pressure Israel to adhere to international law. Rather, Israel has been encouraged by congress to violate international law. The recent passage of House Resolution 713, which condemns the International Court of Justice and supports a wall that is in blatant violation of international law is one case in point.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian conditions in the occupied territories continue to worsen. Sixty percent of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank now live below the poverty line; almost 2.5 million subsist on under $2 per day. The West Bank has disturbing rates of acute malnutrition, and Gaza now faces a humanitarian emergency. The USAID found a direct correlation between the humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and the curfews imposed on the Palestinian population by the Israeli Government. The sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement that Israel imposes in the occupied territories are the main cause of the corrosion of the Palestinian economy and the extreme increase in unemployment and poverty.
While the Israeli government claims it is building the “separation barrier” between Israel and the West Bank, only a small percent will be on the Green Line, Israel’s 1967 border. The rest stretches into the West Bank, isolates huge amounts of land and affects the lives of many thousands of Palestinians. This year some 210,000 people will be economically and socially cut off from their neighborhoods. The route of the wall has been determined not by security, but by the political goals of maintaining the settlements and impacting future peace talks. (A wall built along the Green Line would be half the length of the current wall and much easier to patrol.)
The current wall ghettoizes the Palestinians and forces them onto what can only be called reservations. A just and lasting peace will only be achieved when BOTH people are able to live within secure boarders. A wall imposed by Israel on the Palestinians while maintaining the right to invade at anytime does not advance that goal.
The fourth Geneva Convention details the responsibility that an occupying power has for the civilians under its control. However, Israel has refused to apply this to its occupied territories. Just recently, Prime Minister Sharon repudiated the Road Map and announced that the illegal settlements in the West Bank are there for the long term. Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish peace organization has documented the most recent moves to expand these settlements. Israeli Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz has issued instructions to have 72,000 olive trees planted in huge areas of the West Bank near settlements for the settlers’ exclusive use. He stated “This is seizing lands and preventing them from being turned over to Palestinians. That is how we will strengthen our hold on Judea and Samaria.”
The unconditional support of Israel and Prime Minister Sharon, while the continuous assaults on Palestinians and their leadership by the Israeli army are broadcast all over the world does nothing to protect our security as a nation. It also does nothing to bring the security so needed to Israel. It is the occupation, not our move to consider divestment that threatens the existence of Israel. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to begin a process that might lead to divestment from companies profiting from the occupation because there is a strong feeling among many people, and most likely many people in your district, that the occupation needs to end in order that all people – Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans – can live in peace and security.
While I regret that you and the other fourteen of your colleagues who signed the letter are disturbed by the specific action of the Presbyterian General Assembly, I am encouraged by your assurance that you seek a peaceful and just solution to the conflict in the Middle East. Since we obviously both hope that the other’s institutions (Congress or the Presbyterian General Assembly) might change their actions, I would welcome an opportunity for constructive dialogue between you and your colleagues who joined you in signing the letter and the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Once I receive word of your interest in pursuing this dialogue, I will ask my colleagues in the Presbyterian Washington Office to be in touch with your staff to make the necessary arrangements for our conversation together on this most important concern for the well being of all the peoples in the Middle East.
May God grant peace with justice to all the people of the Middle East!
Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly