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Mennonite Central Committee
Peacebuilding in Palestine/Israel:
A Discussion Paper
May, 2005
 
 
1.  Paper Summary
 
a) Purpose.   This paper, prepared by MCC staff working on Middle East issues, is an invitation
for discussion, within MCC and the broader Mennonite/Brethren in Christ community in Canada
and the United States, about how we might best invest in a future in which Palestinians and
Israelis alike will enjoy peace and security in the land.  In considering economic approaches
to end the occupation of Palestine, we do well to confess our own complicity in unjust economic
systems.  In a globalized economy, our purchases and investments often end up supporting
practices that harm our sisters and brothers near and far away.  We can never fully untangle
ourselves from this painful reality, but, by God's grace, we can move toward an increasingly
consistent practice of justice and mercy.
 
b) History and Recent Visit.   This discussion paper emerges out of Mennonite Central
Committee's nearly six decades of work alongside Palestinians and, more recently, Israelis. A
recent study tour in February 2005 to Palestine/Israel by MCC workers in Canada, the United
States, and the Middle East underscored to participants that the realities of dispossession that
perpetuate the Palestinian- Israeli conflict are worsening. The optimism within much of the
international community about the possibilities of Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip
leading to a just and durable peace is not shared by Palestinians or by many Israeli peacebuilders.
Instead, what Palestinians see on the ground is the solidification of occupation: the continued
construction of the separation barrier inside the Occupied Territories; continued settlement
construction in the West Bank; and the separation of Jerusalem from the West Bank.  
 
c) Current Situation.  Palestinians and Israelis working for a just resolution of the conflict
lamented that decades of appeal to international law and resolutions have failed to end this story
of dispossession, with Israeli power routinely trumping appeals to the power of law. Palestinian
Christian partners, in particular, urged Christians in the West to take a stand for justice, peace,
and reconciliation for Palestinians and Israelis alike, a stand that markedly differs from Christian
Zionist theologies that deny Palestinians a secure place in the land. These trusted partner
organizations urged MCC to consider ways in which Christians from Canada and the United
States might invest in a future of justice and peace for both peoples and to examine ways in
which our money either promotes justice, peace, and reconciliation in Palestine/Israel or
contributes to the ongoing dispossession.
 
 
2.  Why This Discussion?
 
a) Biblical Vision.
  The prophet Micah foresees a day in which everyone will sit securely under
vine and fig tree with no one to make them afraid (4:4). Micah's vision is, on the one hand, an
eschatological one. Through Jesus Christ God has decisively triumphed over the powers of sin
and death, but until this victory is decisively revealed to all upon His return we can expect that
vines and fig trees will continue to be uprooted, undermining human security. If we cannot
expect perfect landed security in this earthly city, however, Micah's vision does underscore that
justice and security in the land are essential parts of what God wants for God's creatures.
Mennonite Central Committee's work in Palestine/Israel is informed by a vision of
Palestinians and Israelis alike enjoying the landed security described by Micah.
 
b) MCC History in Palestine.  For over fifty-five years Mennonite Central Committee has worked
alongside Palestinians denied a secure place in the land. Since the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948
uprooted between 700,000 to 900,000 Palestinians from their homes, Palestinian history has been
a story of dispossession. Refugees and internally displaced persons have been prevented from
returning home. Tens of thousands more Palestinians became homeless again during the 1967
war. Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip (hereafter
the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or OPT) in 1967, Palestinians have faced multiple types of
dispossession, from house demolitions to the uprooting of trees, from confiscation of land for the
construction of illegal Israeli settlements to the expropriation of water resources, from
checkpoints and roadblocks to a permit system that places increasingly tight restrictions on
Palestinian movement. 
 
c) Security or Insecurity?  Neither Palestinians nor Israelis, meanwhile, have enjoyed
physical security, as both peoples have turned toward violent means in the hopes that
security might be obtained through violent force. Palestinians experience daily insecurity, be
it in the form of physical violence or bureaucratic-military control. Despite the State of Israel's
military might, average Israeli Jews also feel insecure: while many Jews have traditionally
viewed the State of Israel as a safe haven, an increasing number believe that doing justice in the
land is the best means to achieve security. 
 
MCC has for the past three decades worked closely with Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders
who envision an alternative future to the present reality of violence and dispossession. MCC has
always and continues to stand with those Palestinians and Israelis who reject violence as a
means for achieving security or liberation, and has mourned the loss of all life in this
conflict. Sadly, however, the injustices against which these courageous peacebuilders work are
daily becoming more entrenched. Today the State of Israel is deepening and extending a
discriminatory system of control within the OPT. The separation barrier being built by Israel
inside the OPT will reach completion by the end of 2005. This barrier, together with military
exclusion zones, roadblocks, checkpoints, and bypass roads off-limits to Palestinians, allows
Israel to annex—in a de facto if not de jure fashion—around half of the West Bank while
separating Palestinians into seven to eleven islands of land. While these discontiguous islands
might end up joined by tunnels and bridges, they will not form a viable state. The Israeli
"disengagement" from the Gaza Strip, then, is regrettably not shaping up to be the first step
towards ending the Israeli occupation, but rather to be a way for Israel to solidify its full
territorial control over the OPT while cordoning off and controlling the Palestinian civilian
population. These moves not only mean continued Palestinian dispossession but will fail to give
either Palestinians or Israelis the durable peace for which they yearn.
 
d) Steps Toward Peace.
  Our Palestinian and Israeli partners believe that an alternative exists to
the present reality of dispossession, occupation, and violence, an alternative inspired by Micah's
vision of landed security.  This alternative would consist of the following elements:
 
 1. A complete end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the
Gaza Strip, based on a full withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines, and the evacuation of all Israeli
settlements, save for equitable arrangements mutually agreed upon by the negotiating parties.
 
 2. A just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem, in accordance with international
legality, the relevant UN resolutions, and the basic principle of refuge choice.
 
 3. A shared Jerusalem open to all faiths.
 
A peace agreement with these elements, we believe, would help to ensure that both Palestinians
and Israelis might live securely under vine and fig tree. 
 
Discussion Question: What can we learn from MCC’s history in Palestine/Israel?
 
 
3.  Theological Reflections on Life and Economic Justice
 
God is a God of Life.  Jesus describes this life for us in many ways (John 1:4, 3:15, 6:35, 11:25;
14:6).  This starting point leads us, not only as individuals, but corporately, to share this life with
the world.  We are called to be a witness to the nations- a corporate witness- as a "city built on a
hill."  (Matthew 5:14)
 
As God's people, we are called to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."  (Micah
6:8).  As God's people, we are called to "seek peace and pursue it."  (Psalm 34:14).  As we strive
to pursue justice and peace, we must understand the systems of violence and economic
oppression that permeate our world, validating inequality and opening the door to death for the
powerless.  
 
Scripture addresses these systemic issues of economic justice.  The Law of Moses called for an
equitable redistribution of land every 50 years (Leviticus 25) and included many other provisions
for just economic relations (Leviticus 19: 35-36, Deuteronomy 24:14-15).  The prophet Isaiah
censures monopolistic practices that deprive people of their homes and livelihood (5:8-10). 
Amos condemns the exploitation of the poor through unjust institutions (2:6-7, 4:1, 5:12).  The
apostle James denounces the wealthy who defraud their employees (5:4).  And Jesus himself
promises a great re-ordering of society in which the positions of the rich and poor will be
reversed (Luke 1:52-53, 6:20-26, 16:19-31).1
 
We must realize our place within these systems and be willing to exercise what power we have to
create and support "life."  Jesus directs us to, "use your worldly resources to benefit others and
make friends.  In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven."  (Luke 16:9) 
The Apostle Paul compares abundance and need and exhorts the believers to share, "in order that
there may be a fair balance." (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).  By using our economic resources in ways
that promote justice and peace we are testifying that our faith is in the power of the God of Life,
not in the power of military and political systems that dispossess.
 
 
4.  Political Reflections on Law and Power
 
Those seeking peace in Palestine/Israel have routinely appealed to international law and
resolutions as a basis for resolving the conflict and for setting the groundwork for future
reconciliation. Unfortunately, history has so far been a sad story of intransigence in the face of
the rule of law. Time and again Israel has ignored United Nations resolutions and international
law. Today the state of Israel stands in violation of over sixty UN resolutions—more than any
other country in the world. Whether it be:  
 
  • with regards to the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes—affirmed in
United Nations General Assembly Resolution (UNGAR) 194 in 1948, United Nations Security
Council Resolution (UNSCR) 237 in 1967, and UNGAR 3236 in 1974; or
 
  • with regards to the state of Israel's failure to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967
as per UNSCR 242 in 1967 (reiterated in UNSCR 338 in 1973); or
 
  • with regards to the construction and expansion of illegal colonies in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories—in violation of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; or
 
  • most recently with regards to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion
last year that determined that the construction of the separation barrier in the OPT was illegal (a
decision the UNGA overwhelming endorsed, calling on the state of Israel to comply with the
ICJ's advisory opinion)the story has been the same--a story of Israel ignoring appeals from the
international community, with the tacit and often explicit backing of the United States. 
 
Palestinians in the OPT, meanwhile, have made many appeals to the Israeli High Court in
attempts to curtail or block dispossession, but for the most part these appeals have gone
unheeded. Israeli military and political power seems to trump all available legal and political
mechanisms. In the face of this reality, Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders with which MCC
works have urged us to explore ways in which Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches and
institutions might withhold investments from systems of dispossession and instead invest in a
future of justice, peace, and reconciliation, a future in which and those who would advocate on
their behalf are faced with no other option but to explore alternative pressures, specifically
economic options, to seek a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis.
 
Discussion Question: The paper offers theological and political analysis of the current situation
in Israel/Palestine.  How does this compare to your analysis, or that of your group (agency,
congregation/denomination)?
 
 
5.  Churchly Discussions and Actions in Pursuit of Peace
 
For more than 56 years nearly 200 MCC volunteers have invested their time and talents for
justice and peace in Palestine. MCC has supported hundreds of projects designed to help people
dwell securely in the land. 
 
Several denominations  and institutions in Canada and the United States are discussing ways in
which they can invest in a future of justice, peace, and reconciliation in Palestine/Israel. The
Presbyterian Church of the USA, the World Council of Churches, the Episcopalian Church, the
Disciples of Christ/United Church of Christ have all begun processes of exploring ways in which
selective divestment and selective investment might support moves to durable peace and
reconciliation in Palestine/Israel, as they have in other contexts. [Find links to these documents at
the end of this paper.] Palestinian Christians have urged MCC to initiate a similar conversation
within Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in Canada and the United States. The
following is an outline of potential economic measures that Mennonite and Brethren in Christ
churches and institutions could consider as they seek to support Palestinians and Israelis working
for an alternative future to the present reality of dispossession:
 
a)  Selective Investment.   Selective investment is the conscious decision to place assets in
companies and organizations that not only avoid commerce that could perpetuate a conflict, but
the result of whose activities provides a dividend of peace.  It also might include the deliberate
use of financial resources to support the economies of those who have suffered from the effects
of the occupation. Selective investment is an approach that might be pursued on its own or in
tandem with one of the other approaches outlined below.
 
b)  Corporate Engagement or Shareholder Activism. This approach attempts to influence a
company's policies while remaining at the table.  It does not threaten divestment, but would
rather ensure continued discussion of a company's practices by committing to remain a
shareholder.  This approach reflects a desire to remain with voice and vote. The underlying
premise of shareholder activism is that as faith-based investors, we have the responsibility to use
our voices as shareholders to influence the CSR practices among companies in which we invest. 
The Episcopal Church (USA) has recommended pursuing this approach in the near term. 
 
c)  Progressive Engagement. Progressive Engagement is a process that might lead to divestment
(either full or selective) over the course of time, be it months or years.  Such an approach does
not begin with divestment, but rather with active engagement with the policies of the particular
companies in which investments are held.  This strategy takes advantage of having a voice and
vote as a shareholder, and might involve writing a letter to the CEO and/or Board of Directors
raising concerns about the effect that the company's commercial activities have on people.  If
writing does not have the desired result, then a shareholder's resolution may be brought to the
shareholders' meeting.  Such a resolution may be brought by any shareholder or group of
shareholders.  If the resolution is not adopted, or the concerns are not taken into account, then
divestment may be a last resort.  This approximates the process the Presbyterian Church (USA)
has decided to follow and has termed "phased selective divestment."

d)  Consumer Boycotts. Individual consumers can avoid purchasing products made wholly or in
part in illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
 
e)  Selective and Immediate Divestment. Such an action would require immediate divestment
from companies determined to meet certain criteria regarding the nature and/or extent of their
commercial practices.  Such criteria might include annual commercial value, geographic location
of commercial activities, nature of such activities, or effects of the commercial activities on
people.  In this case, greater distinction is made between those enterprises that do not cause harm
to anyone and those that do.  Companies that invest in the West Bank settlements, for example,
might be targeted here as the agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians prohibit settlement
expansion.
 
f)  Full and Immediate Divestment. This action would require immediate divestment of all assets
from a company engaging in commercial activities that are contrary to one's principles.  This
approach is the same as a full boycott or blanket embargo.  Any company that engages in any
kind of business practice—including building, investing, and generally doing business—in Israel
and the occupied territories might be subject to this type of action.  Very little, if any distinction
is made between such economic engagements that might have benefit and those that have
negative impact.
 
These options are by no means exhaustive but serve only as a starting point from which to reflect
upon and seek direction in our pursuit of following the God who is the God of Life.  As always,
vigilant compassion and creativity are essential in moving forward in this process towards a just
peace for Palestinians and Israelis.
 
Discussion Question: The paper outlines specific investment alternatives being advocated by
MCC partners in the Middle East and discussed by denominations in North America.  What is
your analysis of these alternatives?  Are there other actions that should be considered?
 
 
6.  Invitation for Dialogue and Counsel
 
This is both a sensitive and controversial issue.  We acknowledge a diversity of opinion on this
issue within our faith family.   As the vocal criticism of the PC(USA) decision to explore
selective divestment makes clear, discussion of ways in which the churches and church- related
institutions might use their investments to urge the State of Israel to stop practices of
dispossession inevitably raises sensitivities in different circles, especially among many in the
Jewish communities in the United States and Canada. 
 
Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches and institutions that would explore various forms of
selective divestment and investment would need to be prepared to address such sensitivities with
humility and confidence. Humility is required, because we are all-too-aware that Mennonite and
Brethren in Christ churches are just as affected by the theological sin of anti-Judaism as other
Christian communions; much work remains to be done in addressing anti-Judaism in Mennonite
and Brethren in Christ history and in promoting positive understandings of the Jewish people and
of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.
 
 At the same time, however, confidence is warranted as we move forward with a discussion of
selective divestment and investment. Confidence is warranted because our Palestinian Christian
brothers and sisters are calling on us to use our resources—be they financial or otherwise—in
ways that promote justice, peace and reconciliation rather than support dispossession. Confidence
is warranted because of the affirmation of Jewish organizations in Israel and North America
(such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an MCC partner, or Jewish Voices
for Peace) have given to divestment as a non-violent way to work for an end to the story of
Palestinian dispossession. Confidence, finally, is warranted because we would be exploring
selective divestment and investment not for punitive reasons but out of a desire to promote
durable reconciliation. 
 
Zoughbi Zoughbi, a Palestinian Christian and the director of the Wi'am Center for Conflict
Resolution, a long-time MCC partner organization in Bethlehem, told us that"We do not want to
see the state of Israel brought to its knees, we just want to see it brought to its senses." Appeals to
international law and United Nations resolutions have, unfortunately, so far failed to awaken
Israel to the consequences of its actions, as the harsh realities of occupation and dispossession
have continued unchecked. 
 
We therefore seek to initiate a conversation, first within MCC and then more broadly among
various Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches, institutions, and individual investors, about
ways in which our investments might be used to help bring Israel to a realization that durable
peace and reconciliation cannot be built on foundations of injustice and dispossession. Such
steps, we believe, will bring us closer to a future in which Palestinians and Israelis might all
live securely under vine and fig tree.
 
Discussion Question: The purpose of this paper and the related dialogue is to envision a future
in which Palestinians and Israelis might “all live securely under vine and fig tree” (Micah 4:4). 
Do the paper and the conversation move us in that direction?