How best to invest in the Holy Land: Deputies debate divestment

In the third of a series of viewpoint essays, Deputy John Kitagawa and Deputy Sarah Lawton of California debate how the Episcopal Church should use its financial leverage to purse peace in the Holy Land. Lawton supports a strategy of limited divestment as embodied in resolutions such as C012. Kitagawa opposes and favors what has been called a policy of constructive engagement. He supports A052.

Sarah Lawton

After a decade of implementing the Episcopal Church’s policy of “constructive engagement” with companies profiting from work in the Occupied Territories, it’s time for us to join the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church in taking further measured action to press for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. (The United Church of Christ will consider similar action at their meeting this month.)

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent statement that there will never be a Palestinian state on his watch only confirms what is happening on the ground. Settlements are expanding with support from the Israeli government in the form of roads, water, electricity, and security.  There were 430,000 settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 2005; there are 650,000 today. Israel has used the two decades of unresolved peace talks to expand settlements in the very lands where a Palestinian state is proposed, thus endangering the basis of a two-state solution.

Living under occupation, Palestinians experience demolition of homes and farms; unequal distribution of resources, such as roads and access to water; multiple security checkpoints that turn short journeys into long, unbearable commutes; and mass incarceration, including the incarceration of young people, many of whom who are held under “administrative detention” without access to trial for extended periods. The occupation is unjust and it is also unsustainable.

Two resolutions would move the Episcopal Church, joining our voices with other churches and institutions, to press more forcefully for a negotiated solution:

  • Resolution D016 would establish an ongoing process of accountability for implementing corporate engagement and would add a policy of divestment from companies that are deemed intransigent in profiting from the occupation.
  • Resolution C012 asks the Episcopal Church to divest from four carefully chosen international companies: Caterpillar, which produces heavy bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes; G4S, which provides security devices for Israeli prisons; Hewlett-Packard, which provides computer services to the Israeli military and settlements and makes the high-tech identification cards that Israel uses to operate checkpoints in Palestinian territories; and Motorola Solutions, which constructed and maintains the West Bank communications network linking illegal settlements and Israeli forces. Resolution C012 also calls on Episcopalians to boycott products that are manufactured in the illegal settlements in the occupied territories in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Unlike some voices within the broad “Boycott, Divestment and Sanction,” or BDS, movement, neither the authors of these resolutions, nor the policies of our sister churches call for a general boycott of Israeli companies or for sanctions against Israel. The Episcopal Church has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to exist, and these proposals do nothing to shift that position. If anything, we have a sense of urgency that the window to a peaceful settlement, including the possibility of a two-state solution, must be kept open, for the sake of Israelis as well as Palestinians.

The Episcopal Church historically has used divestment to press against injustice; currently, we screen our investments for companies whose operations in Sudan may contribute to human rights violations (similar to what is proposed in C012 and D016).  In order to align our funds with our values we also screen for companies that run for-profit prisons or that profit primarily from the manufacture and sale of tobacco or weapons. Divestment and boycott are nonviolent and legitimate tools of protest and witness, and are also compatible with continued positive action such as investment in Palestinian economic development.

General Convention in 2012 called for respectful engagement with our Jewish and Muslim neighbors at local and high levels, and said that interfaith dialogue must continue. We recognize the complicated history of this conflict, and that there are legitimate truths and grievances held by all sides. However, we reject attempts to equate criticism of destructive or illegal policies of the government of Israel with anti-Semitism, and we note that the Jewish community is itself not of one mind or voice on this issue.

Dialogue and positive investment are commendable, and still needed, but at this juncture further inaction supports the status quo; and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, in calling churches to divestment actions, “Israel will either end its occupation through a one- or two-state solution, or live in an apartheid state in perpetuity. The latter option is unsustainable and an offense to justice.”

Sarah Lawton, a lay deputy from the Diocese of California, is a member of the recently formed Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine, and of the legislative committee on Social Justice and United States Policy.. A recipient of the House of Deputies medal for her social justice advocacy, she has worked on human rights and labor issues for more than 28 years

John Kitagawa

My support of Resolution A-052 was strengthened by my participation in the Interfaith Pilgrimage led in January by our presiding bishop.  It was an expression of the “Ubuntu” (You in me and I in you) approach commended in A-052.  It was a direct response to 2012 Resolution B-019, and a witness to the potential impact of interreligious respect, dialogue and commitment to peace and reconciliation.

The pilgrimage group consisted of Episcopalians, American Muslims and American Jews.  In many ways the dialogue and deep sharing among pilgrimage participants were testaments to the “Ubuntu” spirit.  In a land where extremists dominate much of the religious narrative, our presence was received by many groups and individuals in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as a sign of hope.  In different ways, we were encouraged to return home to continue working together for peace, justice and security in Israel/Palestine.  Interfaith study of one another’s Sacred Texts was suggested as a significant way forward.  In fact, a member of the Knesset told us religious language is much more creative than political and diplomatic language, and could enrich the dialogue and bear fruit.

The Gospels point to God’s power to touch and transform life—whether on the grand scale of reconciling two peoples and three faiths in Jerusalem; whether it be on a lesser scale of transforming a neighborhood; or, at a very personal level. Our pilgrimage group met individuals whose lives had been transformed by person to person contact, and who courageously work at the local level to build towards a greater peace and reconciliation.  For example, we met a woman from Eco Peace Middle East, who works on Jordan River watershed management.  This requires building trust among neighboring Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians in order to forge common solutions to fundamental issues of water usage and conservation.

We met a young man who served in the Israeli Defense Force in Gaza for five years.  At the end of his service, he realized that he had not met a Palestinian he had not arrested or in some way pushed around.  He sensed he had damaged his soul. So, he enrolled in a program that brought him to the U.S.A. to live with an American family and a Palestinian man of about his age.  The first thing the Palestinian man said to him was on the order of:  “You’re responsible for ruining my life.”  Amazingly, these men later co-founded a project called SHARES.  With Harvard School of Negotiations SHARES brings together future Israeli and Palestinian to develop constructive problem solving skills and resources to identify and create opportunities for a peaceful and prosperous future in the region.

Through the ROOTS program, we met Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a settlement area.  In their own ways came to the conclusion that the way things are would never lead to peace and justice.  Their grassroots organizing includes engaging local leaders, non-violence workshops and religious dialogue.

“We know that there is great disagreement over many issues – over the facts of the past and even about the reality of the present – but we believe that effective dialogue is the secure place for argument and deeper understanding,” said another project coordinator.  “It is in this space that solutions can be built.”

There seemed to be a consensus among government officials, diplomatic representatives and religious leaders that the political/diplomatic negotiations have stalled.  We were given little reason to believe an agreement for peace and reconciliation is imminent.  Reflecting on this reality, His Beatitude Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine (Greek Orthodox) suggested that we are called to help prepare Christians, Jews and Muslims for peace.  If people are not prepared for peace, it will be difficult for a political/diplomatic agreement to succeed.

God’s power to touch and transform life is not stuck in the past.  As the baptized and baptizing community, we are called to be vessels of God’s power to touch and transform life.  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.  As one of the coordinators of the ROOTS project commented:

“Without building trust, the suspicions between us will suffocate the political peace agreements.”

The Rev. Canon John E. Kitagawa, a deputy from the Diocese of Arizona, is a member of the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, convener of the B-019 Coordinating Committee; and vice chair of the Legislative Committee on Social Justice and International Policy.