Investment in Palestine no substitute for divestment from oppression

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methdivest
Supporters of divestment at the Methodist General Conference. (Photo: UM Kairos Response)

Below is an article I wrote for the newspaper of the Love Thy Neighbor coalition (the “liberals”) at the UM conference. A subcommittee of the church’s Financial Administration Committee voted Friday to totally transform the petition to divest from the Israeli occupation into a pollyannish call for “positive investment” in Palestine. On Saturday, the full committee rejected an attempt to return to the original wording (55-24) and adopted the “whitewashed” version (37-36 with 3 abstentions).

Despite the fact that in their Kairos manifesto of 2009, Palestinian Christians had specifically appealed for divestment, and despite the fact that no less than the World Bank has reported that until movement and access restrictions are removed, the West Bank economy cannot thrive, the subcommittee concluded that selling the church’s shares in three companies that enable the Israeli “matrix of control” was an unnecessary sacrifice. Their attitude seemed to be part orientalist condescension (none of the Palestinian Christians present at the conference were consulted) and part pure self-interest, plain and simple. After all, it’s their own pension fund we are talking about. As one member noted, there are about 25 companies in the pension fund portfolio that could be challenged by one party or another due to their questionable activities. If divestment from three of them were to set a precedent, what then? (But shouldn’t the question really be, why are those companies in the portfolio to begin with? Maybe a careful look at all of them is in order. That is, unless the UM principles are just words on paper.)

The fight is not over. Support for divestment was sufficient enough to force the presentation of a “minority report” to the full conference sometime next week. And that means the issue will get its “day in court” in front of the full membership. 

Propose divestment from companies profiting off of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and invariably, a more “positive” option is offered: investment in Palestinian enterprise. And that is just the thinking of some members of the UM Financial Administration Committee. A subcommittee Friday voted to amend the petition calling on the church’s Pension Board to divest from three companies that enable the occupation (Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions), and look for opportunities for Palestinian investment instead.

But, while it sounds nice, it not only leaves the oppressive practices of occupation intact, it simply doesn’t work.

That is conclusion of none other than the pro-capitalism World Bank, which states in a report on its website: “As long as access and movement restrictions are in place, and the majority of the West Bank remains to a large degree inaccessible for Palestinian economic investments, the investment climate will remain unfavorable and business opportunities much below potential.”

Consider these facts:

  • Israel has built more than 700 kilometers of roads throughout the West Bank that are open only to Jewish settlers, forcing Palestinians to travel hours out of their way to get from one point to another. 

  • On the roads Palestinians can travel, more than 600 permanent and temporary roadblocks and checkpoints (equipped with the help of Hewlett Packard technology) force either lengthy delays or still more detours. On one UM delegation, participants met a Christian farmer near Bethlehem who recounted watching his entire crop of grapes rot in the sun as he waited at a checkpoint.

  • If a Palestinian businessman wants to build a new road to improve transit of people and goods, getting the required permits can take years, if they are granted at all. Bashar Al-Masri, developer of the Palestinian community of Rawabi — a common destination for United Methodists, reports that it took three years for Israel to approve a roadway to the new town, and even then, it is only temporary. The permit must be reneweed every year. And, of course, it has checkpoints.

  • Further complicating Palestinians’ ability to do business is a chronic water shortage imposed by the Israeli occupation. According to a 2010 report by the World Bank, Palestinians are given access to just one-fifth of the mountain aquifer that feeds the region (and that lies primarily in the West Bank). Israel pumps the rest. The result: The 450,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank have access to four times as much water as the indigenous 2.3 million Palestinians.
  • To add insult to injury, many infrastructure projects financed by private investors and/or donors have been destroyed by Israel or threatened with demolition.

“Former Israeli President Shimon Peres first bagan preaching investment in the Palestinian economy to divert attention from his country’s own culpability 25 years ago,” says Alex Awad, dean of Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank and a visitor to this year’s UMGC. “It didn’t work before, and it won’t work now. Why? Because without lifting the yoke of occupation, businesspeople and their ventures simply can’t thrive.”

And then there are the moral implications.

“To consider investment a substitute for divestment is to help the Palestinians try to re-build while at the same time financing their jailers,” observes John Wagner, convener of the United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), which drafted the petition calling for divestment from the three companies. “How can we in good conscience continue profiting from the oppression of Palestinians, including our fellow Christians?”

Caterpillar manufactures weaponized bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes; Motorola Solutions makes motion-detection systems used by the Israeli government to enforce “no-go” zones around illegal settlements; and Hewlett Packard markets biometric technology that gathers data at checkpoints used to monitor and, often, prohibit Palestinian movement. Repeated attempts since 2005 to convince these companies to stop supplying the Israeli military have been unsuccessful.

“Palestinian Christians are calling upon us to move from words to action and align its investments with its principles,” notes Wagner. “It is time to divest.”

About Pam Bailey

I am social entrepreneur who reports on Palestine; teaches journalism/ social media & consults on communication strategies in the fight for peace & justice. Have 2 homes: Washington DC & Gaza.

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25 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    April 28, 2012, 10:43 pm

    “On Saturday, the full committee rejected an attempt to return to the original wording (55-24) and adopted the “whitewashed” version (37-36 with 3 abstentions).”

    what do the two numbers represent?

    if this goes down i am going to be pissed.

  2. giladg
    April 29, 2012, 12:48 am

    A lot of half truths and lies in list of “facts” presented above. For one, a vast majority of the roadblocks are simply not there. A roadblock is only a roadblock when manned by soldiers so it is very misleading to give a number of over 600. The real number is less than 20.This then leads directly to the then intended, or unintended lie that 700 km are for Jews only. If the roadblocks are not manned then most of 700km is also open to all. The article is also very misleading as it is not balanced and does not address violent action originating from the side it represents and does not explain why there may be a need for roadblocks.

    • mig
      April 29, 2012, 5:27 am

      Map :

      link to ochaopt.org

      In the comprehensive closure survey
      completed at the end of June 2011, OCHA
      field teams documented and mapped
      522 obstacles blocking Palestinian
      movement within the West Bank.
      These include 62 permanently staffed
      checkpoints (excluding checkpoints on
      the Green Line), 25 partial checkpoints
      (staffed on an ad-hoc basis) and 436
      unstaffed physical obstacles, including
      roadblocks, earthmounds, earth
      walls, road gates, road barriers, and
      trenches.
      4
      More than half of the permanently
      staffed checkpoints (34 out of 62) are
      located on main roads along the Barrier
      and are used by the Israeli authorities to control
      access to East Jerusalem, to Palestinian enclaves,
      and to Israel. Of the remaining 28 checkpoints, 11
      are located within the Israeli-controlled area of
      Hebron City (H2 area), and the rest on key routes
      elsewhere in the West Bank (see table below).
      For methodological reasons, the total number of
      obstacles mentioned above (522) does not include
      some categories of physical obstacles deployed
      by the Israeli authorities within the West Bank
      territory:
      � Some 350 kilometers of the Barrier constructed
      within the West Bank (or 80 percent of the
      completed sections), which block dozens of roads
      and paths to Palestinian land and localities.
      � The 66 agricultural gates leading into areas
      isolated by the Barrier.
      5
      � Over 100 physical obstacles deployed through
      the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron City (H2),
      which were not counted in the initial years of
      this survey (the figure above does include the 11
      main staffed checkpoints in this area).
      6
      � Approximately 490 ad-hoc (‘flying’) checkpoints deployed on average every month. This type
      of checkpoint operates for several hours each
      time without permanent infrastructure on the
      ground.
      The total of 522 obstacles represents a net increase
      of 19 obstacles, or nearly four percent, compared to
      the equivalent figure recorded in July 2010 (503).
      This increase was the result of the removal of 79
      obstacles, alongside the installation of 98 new ones
      at other locations. The largest increase was recorded
      in the southern West Bank, where a net increase of
      12 obstacles was recorded during this period
      This overall increase in the total number of obstacles
      follows two consecutive years of decline and brings
      the current total back to the figure recorded in
      September 2006 (see chart).
      While these quantitative changes provide some
      indication about the level of control exercised
      by the Israeli military on the ground, in order to
      understand the evolution of the system of access
      restrictions, one must account also for significant
      qualitative changes that occurred. Some of the most
      salient qualitative changes recorded during the
      past three reporting periods (July 2008 – June 2011)
      include: � the turning of permanently staffed checkpoints
      into partial checkpoints;
      � the replacement of roadblocks and earthmounds
      by road gates which are normally open;
      � the lifting of some permit requirements;
      � the paving and upgrading of alternative routes
      for Palestinians.
      These qualitative changes have contributed to
      improving the access of Palestinians to and from the main urban centers (excluding East Jerusalem). This
      has occurred despite the only limited reduction in
      the number of obstacles during the previous two
      reporting periods, and the small increase during the
      present period. At the same time, these qualitative
      and quantitative changes have had almost no
      effect on the access of people to areas separated
      by the Barrier, including East Jerusalem, to the
      H2 area of Hebron City, to the Jordan Valley, and
      to agricultural land in the vicinity of settlements,
      which has remained severely restricted.

      link to ochaopt.org

      link to ochaopt.org

      • mig
        April 29, 2012, 6:02 am

        Powerpoint presentations :

        link to ochaopt.org

        link to ochaopt.org

        Questions gilad ?

        • rensanceman
          April 29, 2012, 12:41 pm

          Great response, one devoid of emotion but devastating in the
          Bright light of truth. Giladg asks why there may be a need for these roadblocks? If one has a heavy boot on your neck (for 65 years), the offending party should have no doubt why there may be some anger build up expressed against the booted one.

        • giladg
          April 29, 2012, 6:21 pm

          I took a good look at the map at ochaopt.org and I stand by my comments about half truths and lies. Some of my observations from the map include:
          1) Most of the items listed are “earthmounds” (small black triangles). Many appear on small, obscure dirt roads that maybe 2 people a year may use. Many of these small black triangles appear to be right next to another triangle.
          2) Google earth itself does not collaborate some the info. The triangle is there but not the earthmound.
          3) The map includes security checks that don’t exist like the “partial checkpoint at outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem in the City of David.
          4) The map includes checkpoints on either side of the same road at the same spot.

          Look at the map yourself. Look at the geography. The truth is on Israel’s side. The Palestinians, with their supporters have undertaken a sophisticated campaign of lies. Many of the items of interest on the map can be proven to be wrongly presented and fakes. Do the work yourself. Don’t rely on others feeding you propaganda talking points.

    • Blake
      April 29, 2012, 5:48 am

      @giladg: Unbelievable. Even one would be wrong. That is why you should just not be there. You cannot reason with sociopaths.

      • Talkback
        April 29, 2012, 7:33 am

        Please Blake,

        “[Exit coaching] emphasizes respectfully sharing information, and it should not be rushed. The keys to regaining freedom of thought and action are: rebuilding trust, dissolving guilt, improving important relationships and finding worthwhile life goals.”
        link to systemiccoaching.com

    • Talkback
      April 29, 2012, 7:06 am

      Wow giladg.

      1.) A roadblock is only a roadblock when manned by soldiers.
      2.) The real number of roadblocks are less than 20.
      3.) Most of the 700km are open to all.

      Only three lies this time. I think we can call this progress.

      “The article is also very misleading as it is not balanced and does not address violent action originating from the side it represents and does not explain why there may be a need for roadblocks.”

      To secure illegal settlers living in illegal settlements while violently expelling Nonjews and destroying their livelihoods?

    • W.Jones
      April 29, 2012, 12:18 pm

      From the UN Document (OCHA OPT)

      64
      24
      114
      70
      166

      RESPECTIVELY:

      CHECKPOINTS A barrier manned by IDF and/or Border Police.
      PARTIAL CHECKPOINTS An established checkpoint operating periodically.
      ROAD GATES A metal gate, often manned by IDF, to control movement along roads.
      ROADBLOCKS A series of 1 metre high concrete blocks used to obstruct vehicle access.
      EARTHMOUNDS A mound of rubble, dirt and/or rocks used to obstruct vehicle access.

      10
      46
      20

      RESPECTIVELY:

      TRENCHES A ditch used to prevent vehicle crossing.
      ROAD BARRIERS
      Road barriers placed alongside major roads prevent movement across the roads.
      EARTH WALLS A continuous wall or series of earth mounds used to restrict access.

  3. HarryLaw
    April 29, 2012, 5:15 am

    I have no religion, and after watching the dissembling performance from this committee I do not want one, what I do hope I have is some semblance of humanity something this committee do not have or even an understanding of what that means, their philosophy seems to be if we can make money out of other peoples suffering thats ok. Wish that meeting was in the UK, I could not promise to be non violent.Could you please delete the half finished comment posted above or ignore it, posted by mistake, sorry.this is the correct comment

  4. Jayyous
    April 29, 2012, 8:14 am

    Jayyous says:
    The Methopdists can maybe help the Palestinian economy by setting up a manufacturing plant to produce t-shirts, saying, “Methodists Care.” Of course, the Israelis don’t let the Gazans export much of anything and will be targeting the plant for their next bombing raid. But–details, details. Perhaps the Gazans can have an optional version of the t-shirt that says, “Methodists don’t give a shit.”

  5. RudyM
    April 29, 2012, 10:48 am

    “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”–Rev. 3:16.

  6. yourstruly
    April 29, 2012, 1:01 pm

    noticing the young faces in the above photo, here are some umc demographics*

    female- 57%
    male- 43%
    age 30-49- 34%
    50-64- 26%
    65+ – 26%
    18-29 – 11%
    white – 93%
    black – 2%
    latino – 2%
    mixed – 2%
    asian – 1%

    from this data no question that the umc demographics are skewed towards the elderly white & female, which gives meaning to the above photo featuring obviously young church members; namely, that as in the generational split among jews, it’s likely there’s a
    similar split among methodists and perhaps other christian denominations, which makes the push within an aging umc to support bds that much more impressive.

    *google, methodists,demographics & click on “Pew Study underscores trouble for United Methodists”

    • Pam Bailey
      April 29, 2012, 1:49 pm

      A clarification: The photo shown is of the Jewish contingent, including a rabbi, who came to tell the United Methodists that divestment would HELP Israel save itself.

      • yourstruly
        April 29, 2012, 2:34 pm

        appreciate the clarification. do you have information as to whether it was mostly young church members supporting bds, or did it have broadbased support?

  7. AllenBee
    April 29, 2012, 1:16 pm

    imo turning away from negative actions, like divestment, in favor of positive actions, like INVESTMENT in Palestine, is a brilliant move, in sync with the values of United Methodists, of Jesus, and of sound political activism principles.

    The three companies targeted for divestment employ a lot of Americans; Caterpillar is located in the heartland of America, Peoria — how would it “play in Peoria” if an influential group like UMC, trying to do good and break a 65-years old log-jam, alienated thousands of workers in America’s heartland, and what would be the ‘return on investment’ of alienating those Americans? Is it likely that Israel will stop destroying Palestinian homes because one organization stopped investing (nb. it’s a secondary investment, anyway — if UMC sells all its shares of Caterpillar, someone else will buy them — possibly at a bargain price. How does that benefit Palestinians?)

    Jesus was a canny politician; he understood that you attract more bees with honey rather than vinegar.

    Also, investing in Palestine, rather that taking punitive actions toward major corporations, a. sets up the possibility of self-sufficiency & self-confidence for Palestiinians; b. creates a model for other congregations and also corporations that investing in Palestine is a positive and pro-active behavior; c. avoids alienating other corporations that might be concerned about dealing with a group like UMC if their corporate reputation were going to be harmed.

    By choosing to INVEST in PALESTINE, rather than punish corporations that invest in Israel, UMC may just be setting up the dynamic whereby corporations decide on their own that they prefer to be on the United Methodist/Palestinian side of history.

    I hope UMC decides NOT to endorse any resolution that calls for divestment/punitive action, and DOES resolve to endorse investment and positive action FOR Palestinians — on principle, based on Christian values, and as sound business & political practice.

    • W.Jones
      April 29, 2012, 9:20 pm

      Dear Allenbee,

      Imagine you have $100 to spend, you need to buy a wig, and have two choices. The two choices cost the same and have the same quality.

      It has recently come to your attention that one wig is made from the shaved heads of women in the Prison-Industrial Complex in a brutal third world country. The other wig is made from normal hair in America, which you assumed both were.

      Since you have this information, is there a moral impulse to stop buying wigs, the purchase of which stimulates a market that forcibly humiliates thousands of women?

      If you know that choosing to invest millions of dollars without placing conditions on companies that forcibly destroy the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands of native people in the Holy Land will futher destroy their livelihoods, do you bear indirect responsibility for those thousands’ humiliation and loss of their homes?

    • Kris
      April 30, 2012, 1:54 am

      AllenBee, your statement that “Jesus was a canny politician; he understood that you attract more bees with honey rather than vinegar,” is offensive, and is not supported by anything that you can find in the New Testament. Jesus’s life and teachings had nothing to do with “attracting” anyone. The Jewish religious leaders of the day thought that Jesus was a dangerous demagogue and a threat to the survival of the Jews. Jesus said that those who oppress the poor will spend eternity in hell. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, violently disrupting their legal business. Jesus encouraged law-breaking, and was so uncompromising in his view of the straight and narrow path that God required, that he said you should pluck out your eye if it was tempting you to sin. He said to give away everything you had (although you could keep the bare necessities, like one coat) to the poor. There is no evidence that Jesus would have advocated compromising with evil, and every reason to think that he would not have. Jesus would not have cared how anything would “play in Peoria,” or anywhere else.

      Your argument that investing in Palestine would be more in keeping with Christian values than divesting from businesses that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine is offensive, both as a call for Christian collaboration with evil, and also because it is an insult to our intelligence. The evidence of how Israel treats development projects is there for you to see: Israel has a long, well-documented history of deliberately destroying development projects–schools, hospitals, solar panels, sanitation treatment systems, etc.–that have been financed by the EU and other outside groups for the Palestinians. Jesus said that we know the tree by its fruit. We have seen many times that “investing” in Palestine just means watching more money and lives being blown up by U.S.-financed Israeli bombs.

      It will be a great thing if the Methodists vote for divestment, but it will be no surprise if they don’t. Mammon is the god we worship in the U.S., and that is why people can advance arguments like yours without being overwhelmed by shame, finding virtue in collaborating with evil because it MAKES MONEY, like Caterpillar’s production of the bulldozers that continue to destroy so many Palestinian lives.

  8. Pam Bailey
    April 29, 2012, 1:52 pm

    AllenBee, I am writing another article now, quoting several Palestinian Christians who do business in the OPT. And their clear message is that THEY DON’T NEED MORE MONEY TO BUILD THEIR BUSINESSES. If they identify viable projects, they can get the money. Rather, they need the boot taken off their necks so that the economy has a chance to function normally. Divestment is one very clear, moral action that can help make that happen. It worked for South Africa, it can work for Palestine.

  9. Les
    April 29, 2012, 7:46 pm

    Co-op boycotts exports from Israel’s West Bank settlements

    UK’s largest mutual takes lead among European supermarkets
    Tracy McVeigh and Harriet Sherwood
    The Observer, Saturday 28 April 2012
    The Co-operative Group has become the first major European supermarket group to end trade with companies that export produce from illegal Israeli settlements.

    The UK’s fifth biggest food retailer and its largest mutual business, the Co-op took the step as an extension of its existing policy which had been not to source produce from illegal settlements that have been built on Palestinian territories in the West bank.

    Now the retail and insurance giant has taken it one step further by “no longer engaging with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.

    The decision will hit four companies and contracts worth some £350,000. But the Co-op stresses this is not an Israeli boycott and that its contracts will go to other companies inside Israel that can guarantee they don’t export from illegal settlements.

    Welcoming the move, Palestinian human rights campaigners said it was the first time a supermarket anywhere in the west had taken such a position.

    The Co-op’s decision will immediately affect four suppliers, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company. Other companies may be affected by the policy.

    Hilary Smith, Co-op member and Boycott Israel Network (BIN) agricultural trade campaign co-ordinator, said the Co-op “has taken the lead internationally in this historic decision to hold corporations to account for complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights We strongly urge other retailers to take similar action.”

    A spokesperson for the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which works to improve the conditions of Palestinian agricultural communities, said: “Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin profit from and are directly involved in the ongoing colonisation of occupied Palestinian land and theft of our water. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, so we warmly welcome this principled decision by the Co-operative. The movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law is proving to be a truly effective form of action in support of Palestinian rights.”

    Boycott campaigns against Israel are routinely denounced by Israeli officials as part of a drive to “delegitimise” the Jewish state. A law, passed last July, allows those that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts against Israel, its institutions or areas under its control to be sued.

    link to guardian.co.uk

    • Annie Robbins
      April 29, 2012, 8:15 pm

      Now the retail and insurance giant has taken it one step further by “no longer engaging with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.

      huge!

  10. Citizen
    April 30, 2012, 8:52 am

    On a related note, remember
    Reagan in 1986: “The primary victims of an economic boycott of S.Africa would be the very people we seek to help.” Sound familiar?

  11. Citizen
    May 1, 2012, 6:01 pm

    Walt lists what would be if realists ruled the US government and not asshole ideologues–check out the point on Iraq and Israel handling:
    link to walt.foreignpolicy.com

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