Your Hard-Earned US Tax Dollars and Church Pension Funds at Work for Israel (With Update)

by James M. Wall

Monday Update:  

Hunger strike agreement reached

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Detainees on Monday signed a deal with the Israeli prison authority to end their mass hunger strike, officials told Ma’an.

Prisoner representatives from each of the factions agreed to the deal in Ashkelon jail, prisoners society chief Qaddura Fares said in a statement.

Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet confirmed the deal, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Senior Hamas official Saleh Arouri, who was a member of the negotiations team, said Israel agreed to provide a list of accusations to administrative detainees, or release them at the end of their term.

In comments to the Hamas-affiliated news site Palestine Information Center, he said that under the Egypt-brokered deal Israel agreed to release all detainees from solitary confinement over the next 72 hours.

Israel will also lift a ban on family visits for detainees from the Gaza Strip, and revoke the “Shalit law,” according to the official.

The “Shalit law” restricted prisoners’ access to families and to educational materials as punishment for the five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Shalit was freed in October in a prisoner swap agreement.

Previously, published Saturday

Mass demonstrations in support of 2500 Palestinian hunger strikers swept through the West Bank this weekend.

Marchers moved through the streets of Hebron, Kafr Qaddoum, Nablus, Nabi Saleh, Ni’lin, Ramallah, al-Walaja and outside of Ofer prison. The picture above was taken in Hebron.

It shows an Israeli soldier with his knee firmly planted on a young Palestinian’s neck.

The picture also shows how American tax dollars and church pensions are at work on this Mothers Day weekend, a commercially-driven event in which American teenagers and their families annually  honor mothers with gifts and family meals.

On this particular American Mothers’ Day weekend, a large contingent of  Palestinian teenagers joined their mothers and other family members to offer their support to prisoners on lengthy and dangerous hunger strikes.

Laura Kacere wrote in A Nation of Change, that Mothers Day had a different meaning when it was initially launched.  In fact, the Palestinian mothers who marched this weekend in support of hunger strikers, some of whom may have been their children, are demonstrating in a manner more akin to the original purpose of Mothers Day.

Mother’s Day began in America in 1870 when Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Written in response to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, her proclamation called on women to use their position as mothers to influence society in fighting for an end to all wars. She called for women to stand up against the unjust violence of war through their roles as wife and mother, to protest the futility of their sons killing other mothers’ sons.

Amira Hass, the Ha’aretz columnist who has watched Israeli duplicity at work for decades, explains how Israel makes use of  “administrative detention”:

Administrative detainees have been held without trial for years under emergency regulations inspired by the British Mandate. It’s not important. Hundreds of prisoners from the Gaza Strip haven’t seen their families for six or more years. Why should anyone care?

American tax-payers and church members should care. But do they?  The record is not good.

The Methodist General Conference ended its once-every-four-years confab in Tampa last week with a small step toward caring. They will not have this opportunity again for four years in a governance system first established in the early 1800s by John Wesley.

In their 2012 Conference the Methodists voted to call for a boycott of US companies supporting the occupation. They failed, however, to pass a specific divestment resolution removing church pension funds from three US corporations, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Systems.

Why did the 2012 Methodists only hit .500?  The Methodist Board of Pensions and their allies roamed about the floor of the conference spreading the lie that divestment from these companies would threaten Africa University’s funding. Those prevarications were aimed at Central Conferences (overseas) delegates, who are very protective of their continent’s Methodist University.

There were even reports that some Methodist delegates were told they could be sued if they voted for divestment. Would church leaders act in this manner? Hard to imagine, but then, there have also been reports (a tape recording to be exact) that Mitt Romney cannot recall a teenage incident which his classmates insist involved young Mitt cutting the hair of a classmate suspected of being gay.

Now it is the Presbyterians’ chance to divest from three US corporations that support the Israeli occupation. Will they join the Episcopalians and urge tea and cookies with their local rabbis, or will they look more closely at how the Israelis are spending their pension funds?

Meanwhile, the Palestinian hunger strikes continue.

Why hunger strikes?  How else does a prisoner reach the outside world, at least that part of the outside world willing to look up from its tea and cookies long enough to notice?

There are currently 2,000 Palestinian inmates on a mass hunger strike in the Nafha, Ashkelon, Gilboa and other prisons around Israel. Amira Hass writes that it is “the very fact of their decision to refuse food and their willingness to risk being punished by the authorities [that] stands as a reminder of their humanity”.

The US public remains blissfully ignorant during this Mothers Day weekend that 2000 Palestinians hunger strikers, some near death, are refusing food to protest their treatment and their unfair and unjust incarceration.

The bulk of the Israeli public, safe and secure behind a massive Security Wall, remain largely indifferent to the strikers.

Amira Hass explains:

The Israel Prison Service does not have to make much of an effort to conceal this mass action from Israeli eyes. The great majority of Israelis label all incarcerated Palestinians as conscienceless murderers or common terrorists, at the least. They have little interest in acts of personal or collective courage on the part of Palestinian detainees that serve as reminders that they are human beings.

Richard Falk and Noura Erakat have written about the history of the Israeli use of administrative detention, which in case you have not noticed, is a practice the US Congress is currently planning to add to the American legal arsenal against its own citizens.

Administrative detention has constituted a core of Israel’s 1,500 occupation laws that apply to Palestinians only, and which are not subject to any type of civilian or public review. Derived from British Mandate laws, administrative detention permits Israeli Forces to arrest Palestinians for up to six months without charge or trial, and without any show of incriminating evidence. Such detention orders can be renewed indefinitely, each time for another six-month term.

Ayed Dudeen is one of the longest-serving administrative detainees in Israeli captivity. First arrested in October 2007, Israeli officials renewed his detention thirty times without charge or trial. After languishing in a prison cell for nearly four years without due process, prison authorities released him in August 2011, only to re-arrest him two weeks later. His wife Amal no longer tells their six children that their father is coming home, because, in her words, “I do not want to give them false hope anymore, I just hope that this nightmare will go away.”

Twenty percent of the Palestinian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territories have at one point been held under administrative detention by Israeli forces. Israel argues these policies are necessary to ensure the security of its Jewish citizens, including those unlawfully resident in settlements surrounding Jerusalem, Area C, and the Jordan Valley—in flagrant contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s Article 49(6), which explicitly prohibits the transfer of one’s civilian population to the territory it occupies.

And how does the US government view the hunger strikes?

When one persistent journalist (identified as “Said”) demanded, politely, that US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, answer a question about the Palestinian hunger strikes, this is how Nuland handled his query, according to the transcript from the State Department:

QUESTION: Okay. And one – a couple more. On the Palestinian prisoner issue, I wonder if you are aware of the situation of striking – hunger striking Palestinian prisoners?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you on that, Said.

QUESTION: Well, do you have a position on the hunger strike of prisoners who have not been charged with anything and they have been held for a long time? They’ve gone today – their 70th day of a hunger strike. Thaer Halahla and many others, five others, are probably – are likely to – they could face – I mean, they could die in the next day or so. Would the United States Government take a position on that?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me take the question, Said, because frankly, I don’t have anything one way or the other. I don’t know if we have a comment on it.

QUESTION: Because, lastly, I mean, it – if something happens to these prisoners, it could be a flashpoint between Israelis and the Palestinians.

MS. NULAND: No, I understand the question. Let me take it, okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

If, or when, a hunger striker dies in an Israeli prison, the US State Department will have an answer ready to go. It will express regret at the death and urge “all parties involved” to resolve their differences.

One “party” involved is the IDF, shown in action in the pictures above and below. In this picture, smoke makes it difficult to determine if the IDF vehicle is a Caterpillar product. Perhaps not, since it is smaller than the Caterpillar tractors that built the Wall, and continue to demolish Palestinian homes.

But there is no question that the battle between the rock-throwing teen aged Palestinians and their IDF enemy serves as a metaphor for a US and church supported occupation force and a defiant civilian population.

Karl-John N. Stone and Thomas A. Prinz have just written an article for The Christian Century magazine, “Invest, Not Divest” which argues just what the title suggests it would argue, a misguided solution which embraces a market faith rather than a religious faith.

Stone is assistant to the bishop in the Upper Susquehanna Synod (ELCA) in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Prinz is pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Leesburg, Virginia. They ask:

What better way for the church to act as peacemakers than to engage in actual investment, building up Palestinian society and infrastructure, thereby helping to ensure a sound and viable sovereign state when a political solution is found and potentially hastening that political solution?

Stone and Prinz close their argument for “hastening that political solution” with this bit of capitalist stock market cheer leading:

The New York Times reported in February that the Palestinian Stock Exchange has been one of the best-­performing markets in the Arab world in recent years. In 2011, a year marked by great political upheaval in the region, the Palestinian exchange was second only to that of Qatar, falling only 2.58 percent over the course of the year.

The Times quoted Fayez Husseini, manager of Abraaj Capital’s $50 million Pales­tine Growth Capital Fund, as saying: “Strong stock market performance proves that these Palestinian companies are well managed, resilient and adaptive.”

They conclude their market-driven argument:

Investment moves churches beyond a black-and-white concept of justice and a conflict model of advocacy toward a model of empowerment and reconciliation. This move represents the best hope for churches to contribute to long-term peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.

Give our Lutheran brothers credit, they do offer us a choice between “a black-and-white concept of justice”, and “a model of empowerment and reconciliation”.

Prinz and Stone may think they are channeling Reinhold Niebuhr with that division. I suspect they are really channeling the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is quoted in their piece.

Speaking of quoting, there is no sign that Prinz and Stone discussed this matter with any Palestinians under occupation. They do cite the New York Times‘ quote from Fayez Husseini, manager of Abraaj Capital’s $50 million Pales­tine Growth Capital Fund.  But  that doesn’t count.

Next time Prinz and Stone offer advice to Palestinians, they might want to talk with Palestinian Baptist pastor, Dr. Alex Awad, who told Methodists when they were debating their divestment resolution:

“We are asking for divestment for our freedom, not investment to improve our lives in prison.”

The picture at top is by Mussa Qawasma. It was used in a Mondoweiss article by Allison Deger. The picture of the teen agers confronting IDF fire power is by Jaafar Ashtiyeh. It is from Agence France Presse  (AFP).

About James Wall

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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13 Responses to Your Hard-Earned US Tax Dollars and Church Pension Funds at Work for Israel (With Update)

  1. BJ Wagner says:

    I am a member of the Gladstone United Methodist Church in NJ and I am sorry, sad and ashamed about the vote against divestment in my church.

  2. Patricia Pynchon says:

    This is all such a distortion of justice and common sense, that I remain amazed by the inability of the U.S. government to push Israel,( founded, upon the criminal act of pushing Palestinians from their homes and villages, with no compensation, and by violent means) towards a just treatment of an unarmed people. Is Israel the surrogate for U.S. domination of the M.E. and its oil?
    The Israelis should expect Palestinians to hate them given their criminal acts of subjugation, — the Israelis should be insecure, and therefore talk about “security”, because they realize they are guilty of their criminal acts, but why is it that the U.S. continues to reward them for this criminality? Who will stand up for a beaten down unarmed people who have been helpless victims of criminal aggression, and persisting sadistic acts to keep them down.? I blame the U.S for not calling the shots, and wonder if this has anything to do with almost the entire congress being paid off, some very handsomely, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, by AIPAC.

  3. Carol says:

    When you make reference to a quote (such as the Episcopal Presiding Bishop’s) it would be helpful if you could reference the quote, either with a link or information about when/where it comes from so we can look it up.

  4. Blows my mind how the US media just salutes and continues to march — in lockstep — as they ignore the Israeli atrocities. Excellent article, James. I posted it on OpEd News — http://www.opednews.com/articles/Your-Hard-Earned-US-Tax-Do-by-James-Wall-120512-180.html

  5. Pingback: Your Hard-Earned US Tax Dollars and Church Pension Funds at Work for Israel | My Catbird Seat

  6. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim, for your excellent review.
    I throw a couple of questions on the table:
    1- If the thousands of Palestinian Prisoners incarcerated by Israel for years, without charge, were Jewish, would the majority of Christian churches in America have been so deathly silent? Or, would they be screaming from the rooftops against this injustice?
    2- What would the Methodists, or other Christian sects have told the French under Nazi occupation in World War II? Would they have recommennded investment of their pension funds in Nazi-occupied France, rather than divestment from companies profiting from Nazi occupation of France?

    Christian Palestinians ask their American Christian brothers and sisters to rise up against injustice and call for divestment, boycott and sanctions against Israel’s Apartheid regime and against Israeli land and water theft and ethnic cleansing.

  7. Thanks, Jim, for the encompassing coverage. The beat of hypocrisy and cowardice, by people who wouldn’t know empathy if it slapped them hard, goes on…and on…and on for the Palestinians as their collective neck is on the ground under the Zionist boot. That quote by the Rev. Dr. Alex Awad should, by rights, be compelling to any good Christian (or any moral) person, but no….

  8. Rich Littleton says:

    I would like to forward Jim Wall’s comments to many who are unaware of the situation in Palestine …. but Jim’s volubility prevents it. No one who is not already bothered by the Israeli abuse will read the long sermons from Jim. This means that Wall limits himself to preaching to the choir.

    Could not Jim start his pieces with a simple two sentences on the core point (American tax money directly funds X abuse of Palestinians.) so that the quick glimpse of the less informed will get some of the concept across? After the core point, then the reader could look for expanded clarification and elaboration.

    Rich Littleton

  9. Pingback: Your Hard-Earned US Tax Dollars and Church Pension Funds at Work for Israel

  10. judy neunuebel says:

    Excellent, Mr. Wall. In particular I appreciate your comments on BDS, a refreshing contrast to the article in the current The Christian Century, “Investment, Not Divestment.” Thank you.

  11. Mr. Littleton: Jim’s title is a pretty good “core point,” is it not? Actually, core points…combining in a few cogent words the travesty of a go-along public, a double-standards government, and a complicit, greedy spiritual realm. Anyone should want to read more, and in depth, after that lead-in!

  12. Christine says:

    I am a member of the saratoga UMC and am very sad to see our church Pension funds invested in companies that do not carry out our values of love of neighbor and peace through justice.

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