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By Eloise Cranke*
“Walking with Palestinian Christians” was the title and theme of a recent Conference, sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries and the Ginghamsburg UMC, in Tipp City, Ohio. About 250 United Methodists from annual conferences across the United States, including eight persons from Iowa attended.
Leadership for the six plenary sessions and three working groups included several people from Bethlehem, Palestine, as well as leaders from several General Boards, and others. Plenary topics included hearing the realities of life in Palestine, positions of the UMC and agency perspectives, as well as strong calls for action in response to the suffering of the Palestinian people. Working sessions addressed many other topics, such as “Theologies of the Land,” “Conflict Transformation Work in Palestine, “ “Making our Voices Heard in Congress,” “Ecumenical and Interfaith Advocacy,” “Boycott and Divestment as Nonviolent Moral Action,” and many more.
Many speakers spoke of the suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of the occupation and the blockade, and cited those things as the primary obstacles for achieving true peace. While everyone longs for an end to the violence, a cease-fire is only the beginning step toward justice for the Palestinian people. Some called this a Kairos Moment, the present moment, a time to act for justice.
Several speakers emphasized the importance of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement as the most effective nonviolent way to work for peace in Palestine. This would be similar to the action our UMC took in South Africa that helped to bring about an end to the apartheid there.
The UMC has, in fact, spoken out strongly on the Palestinian issue. In 1996 the UMC General Conference declared that continuing efforts by the State of Israel to build settlements in the occupied territories violates both international law and the spirit of the Declaration of Principles (the Oslo peace process). The Conference approved a resolution “…opposing confiscation of Palestinian land and the continued building of illegal settlements...” At the 2012 General Conference a resolution was approved that states in part, “…We ask all companies that profit from and/or support settlements through their business activities to examine these and stop any business that contributes to serious violations of international law, promotes systemic discrimination or otherwise supports ongoing military occupation…”
While we commend the Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for recently divesting from the G4S, which supports the prison industry in Israel, we urge them to take the next step and divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions, companies which continue to profit from, or are complicit in the violation of the rights of the Palestinian people. This is a Kairos moment, a time for the church to act, to oppose the illegal occupation, siege and blockade and to act for justice for Palestine. Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College, missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries shared these words, “I am concerned about the occupation of my homeland, the settlements, the separation wall and all the other forms of injustices, but as a Christian I am more concerned over the health of our Church. A Church that is not ready or willing to hear the voice of the oppressed and stand with justice is out of sync with the will of her Head and Maker. I ask you now to make the better choice.” Now is the time for a Kairos moment for justice for Palestine.
*Eloise Cranke was among the Iowa group that also included Christine Anders, Rev. Darrell Mitchell, Rev. Steven Braudt, Rev. Julia Poulsen, Rev. Martha Bennett, Sandra Petree and Rose Evans.