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”
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.