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Medea’s Trip to the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly

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Thu, Jun 19, 2014

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On June 18, I was at the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, a gathering they have every two years to set the policies for the entire church. I was there to speak about drones, and support an initiative (they call them “overtures”) on drones before the assembly. A very contentious issue also being debated was an overture to divest from Israeli companies. Here is a statement I wrote to support the divestment overture.

Why Presbyterians should support the overture to divest from Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola, companies engaged in pursuits that support the oppression of Palestinians

Medea Benjamin, Cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights group Global Exchange, and speaker at the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s breakfast gathering during the 2014 General Assembly

Presbyterians have a strong tradition of commitment to social justice issues. In the words of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the “Presbyterian Church’s commitment to justice is core to its identity and understanding as followers of Jesus Christ.” The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has been deeply involved in human rights efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leon, Haiti, Colombia and more. The PCUSA also pressured countries, especially Russia, to adopt the optional protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Israel has faced heated criticism in recent years for violating this convention. Just last year, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child released a report showing the Israeli government has illegally arrested and physically abused thousands of children in recent years.

Former President Jimmy Carter himself called Palestinian liberation the most important human rights issue of today. “[O]ne of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6 million Palestinians,” he said in 2006, referring to the people living in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government severely restricts food and medicine into Gaza. A senior Israeli official explained that the idea was “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Israel went so far as to limit the number of calories of food they were allowing in. Because of this blockade, 10% of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have their growth permanently stunted by malnutrition. Because of this blockade, 58.6% of schoolchildren and over a third of pregnant women have anemia.

In violation of international law, the West Bank has, since 1967, been militarily occupied by the Israeli government. Palestinians living in the West Bank have tremendous restrictions on their freedom of movement. In order to travel, they must move through military checkpoints. Even if someone is bleeding to death, even if a pregnant woman’s water has just broken and she must rush to the hospital, even if someone’s life depends on it, they must stop at the military checkpoint. Between 2000 and 2005, 67 Palestinian women were forced to give birth at Israeli military checkpoints; 36 babies died.

As Americans, Israel has everything to do with us. The US sends $3.5 billion of military aid to Israel per year. Israel is a wealthy country that does not need US assistance. But even more important, the US funds designated for Israel are used to prop up a military occupation that violates the basic rights of Palestinians.

This is why I, as a Jew, as an American, as a human rights activist, encourage the Presbyterian National Assembly to support the overture to divest from three companies that profit from the occupation: Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola.

Micah 6:8 reads “God has told you, o mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?”

The Presbyterian Church should clearly and openly stand for justice for the Palestinian people. Investing companies that profit from occupation is contrary to the church’s commitment to human rights for all, including Palestinians.

If we seek justice, if we seek to relate to others with kindness and compassion, if we wish to walk humbly with God, divesting from the Israeli occupation is a perfect means to do so.

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