This past Friday, MFSA staff members Chett Pritchett and Rev. Steve Clunn presented at a public forum of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, encouraging the board to create a pension option that is divested from the occupation of Palestine by Israeli settlers. Below is the presentation by Chett Pritchett, Interim Executive Director.
General Secretary, Board Members, and Staff of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits,
My name is Chett Pritchett, and I serve as the Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. I am thankful for this opportunity to speak to you today.
In 1993, 4 friends and I represented my high school in our County Board of Education’s “Global Summit.” Each high school team was assigned a country and charged with researching the political, economic and social issues of that country and form Model United Nations-like petitions so that we might learn to engage in civil discussions. Teams were also encouraged to learn about cultural expressions like food, clothing, and music. To facilitate all of these experiences, teams were paired with international students at local universities.
This is how I met Haitham. Even in 1993, organizers of the Global Summit had the foresight to share the stories and experiences of the Palestinian people. Haitham talked with us about the basic needs that were a struggle for the Palestinian people: clean water, access to health care, and most importantly, the need for self-governance and recognition in the global community. We also learned about Palestinian culture, religious expressions, and traditional food. I learned how to make kibbeh, and even though it was a culinary failure, our Global Summit team ate it, sharing in solidarity with our new friend.
When the day of the Global Summit arrived, we tasted the difficulty of engaging in international discourse from the perspective of a nation that was both un-recognized diplomatically and occupied by a neighboring state. That day we learned the importance of building relationships with others and asking them to stand in solidarity with us.
I don’t know where Haitham is today. But I do know that his fellow Palestinians have asked us to stand in solidarity with them as they continue to struggle for independence, recognition, and self-determination.
In the area that many of us know as the West Bank, a separation wall has been constructed, turning towns and villages into prisons, cutting off the economic necessities needed for communities to flourish. Palestinians in Gaza live in inhumane conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from other Palestinian territories.
There are shrinking economic options for the Palestinian people. Agricultural land has been confiscated for Israeli settlements – no longer are farmers able to raise sheep or harvest olives for their livelihood. Access to clean water, a necessity for life, is limited.
Personal humiliation happens at military checkpoints as Palestinians traveling to work, school, and hospitals are dehumanized. Families have been separated and religious liberty has been limited, as many Arab, Christian clergy are regularly stopped from entering Jerusalem, under the false pretext of security. [cite]
In 2009, Palestinian Christians released a Kairos Document calling on Christians across the globe to hear their plight. ‘The problem,” they state, “is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are being destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.” [cite]
As occupation and isolation continues to grow, our Christian siblings have asked for our assistance in creating a just peace through prayer, education, and action– specifically boycotts and divestment from corporations who profit from the physical and emotional violence of the occupation.
Motorola, which many of us know as a provider of cellular phones in the United States, has the exclusive contract to provide the Israeli military with encrypted mobile phone technology. This means that every Israeli boarder guard manning a checkpoint inside of Palestinian territory and every Israeli soldier committing war crimes in the assault on the Gaza Strip takes their orders through a Motorola device. Motorola "virtual fences" and surveillance systems are used at dozens of illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land. These Jewish-only settlements are a potent symbol Israeli apartheid and are illegal under several international laws, including the 4th Geneva Convention. Settlements use high-tech Motorola equipment to ghettoize Palestinian communities as confiscate their land. [cite]
Many products that we enjoy are made with resources from occupied Palestinian lands. SodaStream, producer of this year’s most popular holiday gift, is a corporation that produces all of its carbonation devices in an Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian land. [cite] Ahava beauty products come from stolen Palestinian natural resources in the Israelli-occupied West Bank. While labeled as "Made in Israel," Ahava is produced on Palestinian land. [cite] Delicious Sabra hummus is also labeled as a “Product of Israel.” Co-owned by the Israeli food and beverage company Strauss Group, the company has close ties to the Israeli military’s brutal and repressive Golani Brigade, which routinely violates human rights and international law standards. Such violations are anything but delicious. [cite]
But perhaps the most egregious supporter of emotional and physical violence in the occupied Palestinian lands is Caterpillar, the world’s leading producer of construction and mining equipment. More than 3,000 homes, hundreds of public buildings and private commercial properties, and vast areas of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli in Occupied Territories. Thousands of families have had their homes and possessions destroyed under the blades of the Israeli army’s US-made Caterpillar bulldozers. [cite]
Loss of homes and livelihood pale in comparison to loss of life. In 2003, Rachel Corrie stood in physical solidarity with Palestinian families whose homes were to be bulldozed. Israeli forces used the bulldozer as a weapon and crushed Rachel’s body, causing her death. [cite]
Simply stated, The United Methodist Church is invested in many of these corporations and we are profiting from the systemic oppression of the Palestinian people and the violence that follows such oppression. The aforementioned companies and a handful of others profit directly from the occupation of Palestinian lands.
We have an opportunity to say to the world, “United Methodists care about more than maintaining our institutional structure. We care about justice for the whole world.”
At the 2012 General Conference, the body of delegates voted to not fully divest from corporations benefitting from this occupation. As the Interim Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I lament this decision, and yet respect our denominational polity. At the same time, the world has changed since General Conference. Just last week the United Nation’s General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a non-voting, observer state; an important step in seizing self-determination for the Palestinian people. [cite]
Recent events in Gaza have filled our newsfeeds and televisions. While we abhor the use of violence by both states in this conflict, the lopsided response of the Israeli military with blistering air strikes and the total destruction of entire neighborhoods in Gaza call to question the just use of proportional means by Israel.
Obviously, there are no easy answers to this difficult situation, yet we can take steps to promote greater understanding of the complexity of the conflict. We can also reclaim our Biblical values of justice and jubilee by choosing to stand with the oppressed even as we pray for peace.
Today, as a representative of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I ask you to consider the creation of a divested pension option for our clergy, missionaries, and lay professionals who are enrolled in the denomination’s pension plan. A divested option allows participants freedom in their own financial planning. If, as public theologian Jim Wallis says, “Budgets are moral documents,” then a divested option allows leaders of our Church the ability to create moral documents in their own lives.
Divestment is consistent with our Social Principles. Violence, whether physical or psychological, is not. War, according to our Social Principles, is “incompatible with Christian teaching;” [The United Methodist Book of Discipline, 2012. Paragraph 165C] violence and oppression are anathema to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Without a divested option, clergy and lay professionals become complicit in the oppression of other clergy and lay people half a world away.
Without a divested option, The United Methodist Church runs the risk of being wedded to the powers of this world instead of making the prayer of “thy Kingdom come” a reality.
Without a divested option, our own United Methodist missionaries in Palestine are forced to profit from their own oppression. What sort of logic is that?
In the Fourth Chapter of Luke, we hear Jesus recall the words of the prophet Isaiah, in which he is anointed to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “to release the oppressed.” [Luke 4:14] If Jesus calls us to greater freedom through liberation, we must take bold action, not only for ourselves, but all humanity.
Siblings in the human race have asked for our solidarity.
Christian siblings have asked for us to use our privilege to end oppression and to seek peace with justice.
Today, we have an opportunity just like those students did almost 20 years ago – an opportunity to engage in civil discourse, to stand in solidarity with others, and to be global citizens – or more aptly citizens of a Kingdom that is filled with grace, and peace, and justice.
When each of us remember our baptismal vows, we are reminded that we are called to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
In whatever forms they present themselves.
That is why today, I ask you, members and staff of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to take seriously the call to create a pension option that is divested from the occupation of Palestine. I offer the resources of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, our 27 Chapters, and thousands of constituents. Together, we can advance the cause peace WITH justice and be a balm of healing and hope in a world marked by war and violence.
Thank you for this opportunity. My prayers are with you as you continue your meeting and for the ministry you provide to The United Methodist Church.