‘Presbyterians please divest!’ Palestinian artists urge in paintings on wall

"Freedom is a Human Right!  Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST"

“Freedom is a Human Right! Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST! Love, Bethlehem Ghetto”

This week the 221st Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly will vote on divestment from key US corporations complicit in the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. What do Palestinians, the “living stones” in the biblical land of our forefathers and foremothers, have to say about this overture?

“Freedom is a Human Right! Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST!”

“Palestinians are Human Beings!  Presbyterians Divest”

“Believe in freedom?  Presbyterians Please Divest”

Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST!

Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST!

The art messages in these pictures were created by youth organizers from Aida Refugee Camp in north Bethlehem, and in collaboration with Alrowwad Cultural and Theater Society.  Since 2005, Aida refugee camp has been surrounded by solid separation walls.  Of the 5,000 members of this refugee camp, 66% are children.  Alrowwad was founded to foster beautiful resistance in this community, where hope is hard to find.  Alrowwad leaders say they don’t want kids to end up in Israeli prisons or as martyrs or being stereotyped in the media.

Alrowwad initiated beautiful nonviolent resistance against the ugliness of Israeli occupation, asserting that no one is born with genes of hatred or violence, and is working with youth in the camp to create self-expression through performing and visual arts.  Alrowwad focuses on children and empowering parents for long lasting change in the community.  Their projects have created many firsts: the first professional videography training in a Palestinian refugee camp, the first film festival projected onto the separation wall, the first mobile “play bus”and game libraries, dabka dance training, visual arts programs, sports for social change (including the first girls’football/soccer team in a refugee camp), and more.

Youth dancers with Alrowwad performed Palestinian cultural dances when the Pope visited Bethlehem in 2009.

When the current Pope, Pope Francis, visited Bethlehem last month, he made a surprise stop to pray at the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel.  Photos of his gesture of acknowledgement of this huge concrete barrier to peace and freedom went around the world.

Inspired by the graffiti on the wall imploring “Pope Francis we need some 1 to speak about justice.  Bethlehem looks like the Warsaw Ghetto,” local and international activists added a new message to the wall imploring the Presbyterian Church to stop financing the destructive, inhumane policies of the occupation.  “Freedom is a Human Right!  Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST!  Love, Bethlehem Ghetto,” was one of three messages in support of divestment written by Palestinian refugees from Aida Refugee Camp on the wall during an art action with Christian and Jewish American citizens who had come to Bethlehem to see first-hand the devastating impacts of the occupation on daily Palestinian life.

The Presbyterian church is currently invested in Caterpillar (CAT), which sells tractors to the Israeli military that are used in home demolitions.  Israeli military tractors recently invaded a sustainable Palestinian farm, called Tent of Nations, located just up the hill from Bethlehem, and destroyed over 1,500 fruit trees, claiming these trees were planted on state land.

Tent of Nations is owned by a Christian Palestinian family that welcomes people of all faiths to join in cultivating the land together and working for a just peace.  At the entrance of their farm is a stone which says, “We refuse to be enemies.”  Well, more accurately, the entrance to their farm has been blocked by large boulders placed by the Israeli military to try to strangle their fertile farmlands, and up the road from this road block is this stone proclaiming friendship with all, despite all the odds.  Another stone quotes the Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

But how can the people of Palestine and Israel dwell together in unity when they are systematically segregated?

The Presbyterian church is invested in Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), which provides biometric ID equipment to monitor and segregate Palestinians.  The West Bank is sliced by over 613 check points.  In fact, the tomb of Rachel, the matriarch, is not even accessible from Bethlehem because of the separation wall and check points.

And finally, the Presbyterian church is also invested in Motorola Solutions (MSI), which sells surveillance equipment used to protect illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.  From the Church of Nativity, looking down over the hills into the valleys, the view is breathtakingly beautiful.  Well, as long as you can see between the large paved settlement blocks to what remains of wild fertile Palestinian land.  The small villages, such as Nil’in, near Bethlehem are constantly being encroached upon by expanding settlements that threaten to strangle the last remaining indigenous Christians in this land.  And to think that this is the town where Jesus was born into the manger one very important winter night.

Divestment isn’t taking sides.  It’s abstaining from gross violations of human rights.  It’s withdrawing from the destruction of the holy land and its people.  It’s listening to the oppressed and responding with moral action.  It’s the right thing to do.  And now is the right time.

artists

Artists from Aida Refugee Camp

About Rae Abileah

Rae Abileah is a social change strategist and member of Jewish Voice for Peace who participated in the 21st Presbyterian General Assembly (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/07/11/an-open-letter-to-presbyterian-clergy/). She is a Jewish-American of Israeli descent and lives in California. This month she traveled to Israel/Palestine to co-lead the 50th Interfaith Peace Builders delegation (http://ifpbd50.tumblr.com/). She can be reached at rae [at] raeabileah.com and @raeabileah.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 21 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. bilal a says:

    Meanwhile, Israeli mob chants ‘ Death to Arabs’:
    link to twitter.com

  2. W.Jones says:

    Hello, Rae!

    The Lord Bless you! You are my heroine because you got beat up protesting Netanyahu’s speech with its 28 unanimous, joint-session ovations and propaganda points. You were perhaps the only notable dissent present. And what a fine one it was.

    ~In our hearts. ♥

  3. W.Jones says:

    I hope that someone will take a picture of this graffiti to the Presbyterian Assembly. It does not matter so much what the decision will be as the fact that the delegates will see this photo in front of everyone.

    If a delegation gets to speak, they should show this illustration.

    • w.jones, good idea! i very much suspect these photos will find there way to the assembly. a little birdie sent me this article and photos and she some serious ‘connections’ (an insider) to groups who will be present.

      • W.Jones says:

        Annie,

        There will be many delegates who are connected to the Establishment, who unfortunately do not really care so much about people’s suffering as they do about being friends with other “important people” and following what political power says.

        When a meeting of such “important people” sees this sign crying out to them on a Segregation Wall for help, it may at least make them less comfortable when they go to push their foot down on the collective conquered people’s heads.

  4. W.Jones says:

    But how can the people of Palestine and Israel dwell together in unity when they are systematically segregated?
    Rae,

    You are asking a rhetorical question. The best thing I can say is that it would be a broken, unequal, crushing, partial unity. It would be like the unity of a conqueror claiming a land for itself and a conquered society living there.

    The small villages, such as Nil’in, near Bethlehem are constantly being encroached upon by expanding settlements that threaten to strangle the last remaining indigenous Christians in this land.

    I fear we are too late, my love – the strangling has begun all over, since the Nakba, Naksa, and occupation. Up to 1974 – after the occupation began – the famous village of Taybeh was still speaking a Hebrew-influenced dialect of Aramaic as a native language. Imagine that! Its roots went back to the first centuries of Christians, back to the turn of the Calendar when the land spoke Aramaic.

    Divestment isn’t taking sides. We are to take the side of the oppressed, the Lord Bless you, as you have, and as you said: “It’s listening to the oppressed and responding with moral action.” In this case, aren’t those designated Palestinians suffering from human rights abuses? In that case, by divesting from their abusers, haven’t we in effect taken the side of those who are being crushed? I am aware that taking the Palestinians’ “side” is not P.C., because we are taught by the media, our politicians, and foreign policy to be either “pro-Israel”, interpreted as siding with the Israeli political system, or to take neither “side”, creating a kind of overall equivalence between the conqueror and conquered.

  5. just says:

    Thank you Rae for a glorious article!

    ““Freedom is a Human Right! Presbyterian Church Please DIVEST!”

    “Palestinians are Human Beings! Presbyterians Divest”

    “Believe in freedom? Presbyterians Please Divest””

    It should be a no-brainer, eh?

  6. JustJessetr says:

    Divestment IS taking sides.

    Anyway, you’re already screwed. The advisory board to the Commissioners voted against labeling Israel as an apartheid state. Close, but no cigar.

    “The measure, like other overtures to the General Assembly, will still go before all commissioners in plenary session. But it will go there with the committee’s recommendation against approval.”

    link to pres-outlook.org

    • W.Jones says:

      Just Jessetr,

      It is taking sides against Caterpillar’s human rights abuses.

    • ritzl says:

      33-32-1 against. Yep, close. Equally split would be a better description. And that’s for adopting the “radical,” yet explicit and definitive, legal term ‘Apartheid.’ That particular vote wasn’t a mild divestment resolution. It was front-loaded with legal significance an/or impact.

      Anyway, equally split is hardly a recommendation. It’s a deferral to a broader consensus for guidance.

      • W.Jones says:

        Unfortunately it is not equally split, but narrowly close. The resolution’s supporters should make sure to mention that.

        • ritzl says:

          Hi WJ. For the record, I would have made the same comment if the vote had been evenly split/narrowly close the other way. It wouldn’t have been a victory or recommendation either way.

          The unfortunate part to me is that it wasn’t resoundingly in favor of adopting the legal language/impact of “Apartheid.” But even then, the fact that it was this close on a measure of such stark implications is a sign of progress, not defeat. The Overton Window (link to en.wikipedia.org) is moving in the right/moral direction on this issue.

  7. ritzl says:

    Great article.

    Probably OT, but I hope the place on the wall where the Pope stopped and prayed becomes a pilgrimage stop.

  8. amigo says:

    More good news –,

    G4S forced to pull out of Israel prison system.

    I do not have a link but this came from the BDS National committee.

    Apparently the BDS issue hit the Shareholders meeting and Bill Gates divestment from G4S prompted this action.

    Drip drip drip.

    • Bumblebye says:

      EI nabbed the story from the Financial Times, on June 6:

      “G4S has confirmed that it will end all its Israeli prison contracts within the next three years after an annual general meeting that was severely disrupted by human rights protesters. Asked by angry protesters whether G4S would withdraw from the Palestinian territories as reported by the Financial Times last year, Ashley Almanza, chief executive, confirmed “no change to that position.”

      “We expect them to expire and we don’t expect to renew them,” he said. These include contracts to provide security and screening equipment at military checkpoints, the controversial Ofer prison and a police station in the West Bank, all of which are expected to expire next year.

      But Mr Almanza said for the first time that the move would also include prison service contracts all over Israel.”

      So they’re just going to let their contracts lapse, and not renew them.
      link to electronicintifada.net

      However, in order to attempt to ensure they don’t come under further fire, they have conducted an “independent review”, headed by a pro-Israel prof, to prove they are not complicit in war crimes etc:

      “The report, “Human Rights Review of G4S Israel: Human Rights Report and Legal Opinion,” is co-authored by two academics who both have a strong and visible pro-Israel stance.

      Guglielmo Verdirame, who wrote the legal section of the report, is professor of international law at King’s College, London.

      In November 2012, as Israel was coming to the end of its eight day assault on Gaza, Verdirame wrote an article for BBC Online in which he defends Israel’s vicious, sustained attack on a refugee population in legal terms.”

      eeuw.

      link to electronicintifada.net

      • amigo says:

        Strange, I received an e.mail from the BDS folks today.

        Thanks for the correction.

        • Bumblebye says:

          I thought it was just an addition! I haven’t read any more up to date on the g4s issue, maybe there is more news to come? Both pieces are over a week old now.