Gaza War and Presbyterian Divestment

Gaza War and Presbyterian Divestment

by Jeff Warner, an ICUJP Reflection, July 18, 2014

Palestinian solidarity activists, and pro-Israeli activists, are more similar than either cares to admit. Both show images of death and suffering designed to gain sympathy.  Both insist on the rightness and purity of their position, that their claim justifies military action, and encourage their side to fight harder to rid the earth of the other.  Both call on the other to stop fighting and yield concessions. That was the message from both sides at demonstrations last weekend at the Federal Building.

There is another way: stop the killing and destruction.  The ICUJP statement issued last evening calls for an immediate cease-fire.  The LA Jews for Peace signs I carried at Saturday’s demonstration read:


And this from the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom.  It demands:


Gush Shalom follows their demands with criticism of both sides for shooting at civilians, and blames Israel’s blockade of Gaza as the root cause of past, current, and future wars.  

It is imperative for those of us seeking peace to point out sins, crimes, and stupid acts from both sides.  I was censored by the Pro-Palestinian group Women in Black’s listserv 2 days ago for doing just that. 

The June 12 abduction & killing of three Israeli teens was an immoral act by two individual Palestinians.  It was not excused by the cold blooded execution of two Palestinians teens on May 15, or by the even more immoral acts of the Israeli army in killing 1,526 Palestinian youth since 2000. 

The killings did not justify Israel’s illegal collective punishment of Palestinians intended to instigate the war now happening in Gaza.  Israel’s army rampaged through the West Bank arresting 500+ Hamas supporters and trashing 2,000+ Palestinian homes and institutions, and bombed Gaza.  And the killings surely do not justify the vigilante abduction, torture, and burning to death of the Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir, or the Israeli police brutal beating of Tariq, Mohammed’s American cousin.

I can understand the urge that drove the Hamas military wing to respond to Israel’s instigation by firing rockets deep into Israel.  But, besides being a war crime to target civilians, it was stupid to fall into Netanyahu’s trap.  Surely Hamas leaders knew their rocket barrage would be responded to with an out-of-proportion Israeli escalation; that they were outgunned by Israel; and most destruction and deaths would be Palestinian – 264:2 as of this morning.  These are real people – here are their names (attached).

And surely Hamas leaders knew that after a few hundred Palestinian deaths there would be a cease-fire and things would return to what passes as “normal” for Palestinians.

Worse for the Palestinians is their loss of world support.  Before the war started, world opinion favored Palestinians - it was critical of Israeli vigilantes who did a medieval auto-de-fé on Mohammed and Israeli police who beat Tariq.  

But the rockets and Israel’s crying victim ended that.  World opinion now sides with Israel defending itself from Palestinian rockets.  On Tuesday, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that included follow-up negotiations in Cairo.  Israel accepted and halted its bombing.  But Hamas rejected the cease-fire, legitimatizing Israel’s bombing and burying the fact that Israel instigated this war.  The bombing and killing resumed and resulted so far in another 69 Palestinians killed.  

This episode puts Palestinian reconciliation at risk.  The reconciliation government was only a tiny step on Palestinian’s path to freedom, but it was too much for the right-wing Israeli government. Destroying the reconciliation government is Israel’s goal, likely shared by Hamas’ military wing – lets hope they don’t succeed. 

In two sentences: Israel willfully and intentionally seized upon a crime to try to demolish the reconciliation government, and to significantly downgrade Hamas’ administrative, political, and military capabilities.  And Hamas fell into Israel’s trap, losing its PR advantage, and giving Israel justification for an intense bombardment of Gaza.

This episode demonstrates again the dire need for peace.  Without peace, occupation will continue and wars will occur again and again.  This is the future until Israel accepts that it must share the land with a Palestinian state.

The Presbyterian divestment was designed to push for peace, and triggered me to re-evaluate my analysis of BDS.

In March I said I support economic action against the occupation, but I shunned the BDS movement because it is tied to the destruction of a sovereign state - Israel.  That is still a worry, but the Presbyterian divestment shows us how to thread the needle between BDS one-state dreamers and two-state peace-makers.

The Presbyterian Church voted to divest from three companies that provide Israel tools to run the occupation.

I supported that resolution because it combined economic action with a commitment to a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as clearly shown by the resolution text (attached).

As Israeli BDS activist Dalia Baum emphasized, the goal of economic actions is to send two messages:

  • To Israel, that Western society and democracies disapproves of the occupation and will shun Israel if the occupation is not ended.
  • To United States political leaders that Americans, including Jewish Americans, disapprove of American policy that enables the occupation. 

The resolution has 9-points:

  • We all know that the resolution called for divestment – that is the first part of point 3: 
  • But I bet most of you do not know that the second part of point 3 explicitly rejects the BDS movement:
  • Points 1 & 2 that link divestment to peace with a Palestinian state alongside Israel:
  • And point 9 reprises the 2012 Christian Clergy letter that ICUJP endorsed a few months ago. 

The Presbyterian Church is applying economic action to end the occupation; it linked peace with divestment.  That linkage follows the European model, and not the American BDS model.  The Presbyterian Church distinguishes itself from those who want to destroy Israel, a sovereign state. 

Linking peace with divestment is important to attract middle Americans who are essential to build an effective movement.

The Presbyterians linking peace with divestment was prominent in Israeli media and American MSM coverage.

But that message is missing in much of the left discourse that celebrates only divestment.  It is essentially absent from JVP & US Campaign statements, and from & the Electronic Intifada media coverage.  That may be why most of you have not heard the completeness of the Presbyterian divestment message. 

Meanwhile the Israel government called the vote “shameful” and the Jewish American establishment, joined by J Street, said the divestment vote “fomented an atmosphere of open hostility towards Israel” and called the Presbyterians anti-Semitic.

One of the few balanced statements was by APN who said the divestment vote “should serve as a resounding warning to the Israeli government” to end the occupation and make peace. 

I believe that is the ICUJP message, to warn, urge, and cajole Israel to end the occupation and make peace.  I recommend that ICUJP adopt its own, Presbyterian –like, divestment resolution.  


For the full text of the Presbyterian Church statement on divestment, click here, and here is a list of all the Palestinians killed in Gaza from July 8 through July 17. 

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