Good Friday and Gaza

The most solemn day for Christian’s is Good Friday, the day when a brutally oppressive occupying force executed Jesus under the pretense that he was a threat.

This Good Friday, another brutally oppressive occupying force killed 18 and wounded hundreds of Palestinians under the pretense that they were a threat.   2018 Gaza Protest

Just as Jesus posed no real threat 2,000 years ago, there was no real threat to Israel this Good Friday as an estimated 30,000 Palestinians walked though farm fields to the militarized fence that separates the two peoples. A few threw stones and others lit tires and rolled them to the border but no one attempted to cross the fence. Meanwhile, the hundred plus Israeli snipers who had been deployed crouched on top of a berm waiting to be called into action. When the order came from their superiors, they opened fire on men, women and children. Other Israeli military forces shot tear gas into the crowd. Others just watched.

There is strong evidence that the Israelis were itching for the Palestinians to do something so they could retaliate. On Maundy Thursday, an Israeli tank fired on and killed a Palestinian farmer who was working in his fields near the border. An innocent man harvesting parsley, as he did every day, literally became cannon fodder for the Israelis. They knew his death would trigger violence at the protest the next day. The die was cast for this Good Friday just as it was when Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden the night before his execution.

It is known Israelis often try to provoke violence from Palestinians before major events. I witnessed how they choked off the flow of people at the checkpoint in Bethlehem the two weeks prior to President Obama’s arrival. Movement through the border ground to a slow crawl. The normal 90 minute crossing became three hours or more. I feared that out of frustration someone might do something that would trigger a major crackdown but they didn’t. Then two days before Obama’s arrival the international media started to pour in and everything changed at the border. It was like someone opened a spigot and the flow of people was faster than I had seen in the previous two months. Palestinians were clearing Checkpoint 300 in twenty minutes.

I was told Israeli politicians like to provoke Palestinians to the boiling point before major international events. If the Palestinians react with violence then the Israelis crackdown and claim that they are under constant threat and they are the victims.

The violence on Good Friday reminded me of 2014 when Israel shocked and dismayed the world by its brutal attack on Gaza. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Hospitals and schools were razed. Critical infrastructure including water, sanitation and the electrical system were destroyed.

More important, over 2,250 Palestinians were killed including 551 children and 299 women as well as seventy-one Israelis including one child. Over 11,200 Palestinians were wounded including 3,540 women and 3,436 children. About one third of these children now have a permanent disability and more than 300,000 children are in need of psycho-social support as a result of Israel’s actions.

Since then, Israel and its ally Egypt have maintained a chokehold on Gaza that has blocked many of the goods needed for rebuilding the Gazan economy and infrastructure from going into the enclave.

As with the violence of 2014, Israelis are not known for proportionality. As I look at the pictures from Friday, I am reminded that rocks are no match for rifles; burning tires are no match for tear gas; and protest signs are never a match for tanks.

International human rights organizations have condemned the attack on the protesters. Amnesty International called on Israel to immediately end its “heavy handed, and often lethal suppressions of Palestinian demonstrations.” Peace Now said that the casualties are “an intolerable result of trigger-happy policy.”

The Palestinians plan to continue their Friday protests until Nakba Day – May 15. Nakba means catastrophe. It is the day that commemorates their expulsion from their homes and their lands 70 years ago. It is also the day when Palestinians remember that under international law they are guaranteed the right to return to what is rightfully theirs.

The Palestinians have a right to protest and good reason. They are among the world’s most desperate people. Over 70 years ago, the Nakba occurred, Zionist forces used terrorist tactics to drive 750,000 Palestinians off the land where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years. Over 50 years ago, the state of Israel began its occupation of the rest of Palestine. Unemployment rates in Gaza are over 40%. There is not enough safe water to drink and the sewage system is in ruins. Families are limited to a few hours of electricity a week. At least the Roman occupiers provided safer water and waste disposal for the people they conquered.

The International Court of Justice, the UN Security Council and General Assembly have ruled that Israel is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international Human Rights and Humanitarian laws. Israel responds by attacking the UN and claiming it is the victim.

Netanyahu seems emboldened by Trump and now more than ever treats Palestinians and their land as the Romans treated those who they conquered in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago.

As I think about the coming weeks and how the protests that will continue each Friday, I hope and pray that peace and justice might prevail. But, I am preparing for more death and devastation. I believe that until the last protest occurs on Nakba Day that Good Friday will continue for the people of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and like 2,000 years ago the skies will continue to darken as more innocent men, women and children die at the hands of the ongoing occupiers.


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Ralph Goodale: Canadian Minister of Public Security Offers a Slap in the Face to Palestinians and a Pat on the Back to Netanyahu

Dear Minister Goodale,

I am writing to you on behalf of the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel. We are a network composed of members and friends of the United Church of Canada.

The installation of Gov. General Julie Payette reminded us of the importance of signs and symbols. Remembrance Day reminds us of Canada’s history of support for peace and justice internationally.

Recently you attended a meeting in occupied East Jerusalem. This was a symbolic pat on the back for the Netanyahu government and a slap in the face to the Palestinian people.

As you are aware, in December, the UN Security Council passed SC 2334 that chastised Israel for its ongoing violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in relation to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and further incursions of the wall beyond the Green Line.

Your meeting occurred shortly after the Israelis demolished four elementary schools in Palestine. In response, the Belgian deputy Prime Minister condemned this action, “By undermining such humanitarian projects, Israel contravenes its international obligations as an occupying power.”

These actions by the Israelis are tantamount to collective punishment targeting vulnerable Palestinian children and will inflame tensions for generations to come and represent a further violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

As a former human rights observer in the West Bank, I witnessed on a daily basis Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws. It was especially disturbing to witness the intimidation tactics of the Israeli military against Palestinian children including arresting and putting on trial children as young as 12 in Military Courts.


– Would you please explain why you breeched diplomatic protocol by meeting in East Jerusalem? After all, would you have met with Russian officials in the Russian occupied sections of Georgia?

– Alternatively, does your government reject the concerns of the Security Council outlined in SC 2334?

– Further, do you as Minister of Public Safety, believe we actually have anything to learn with respect to public security from the only nation in the world that prosecutes 12 year old children before Military Courts?

This Canadian government needs to stand up for human rights around the world – especially for the rights of children.

Peace, Paix, Salaam, Shalom,

Rev. Steve Berube

Chair: United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel



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Letter to Chrystia Freeland Re Khan Al Ahmar and Susiya

Sept. 23, 2017

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland,

Minister: Foreign Affairs – Canada

Dear Minister Freeland,

I am writing to you as chair of the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI), a network of members and friends of the United Church of Canada, to ask you to urgently apply diplomatic and public pressure to stop the imminent demolition of the Palestinian villages of Khan Al Ahmar and Susiya in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that all 42 homes and businesses in Khan Al Ahmar received demolition orders on February 19, 2017. The village has taken their case before Israeli courts. Final court hearings for the communities are due on September 25 (for Khan Al Ahmar) and October 1 (for Susiya) during which the judges are expected to authorise the demolitions, which could take place as soon as the next day.

In 2013, I served as a human rights observer in Palestine and Israel on behalf of the World Council of Churches. On one of my visits to Khan Al Ahmar in 2013, I was privileged to take the First Secretary at our embassy in Tel Aviv, to meet some of the people in the village.


Khan Al Ahmar survives without water, electricity and other basic infrastructure in “third world” conditions. Meanwhile water, gas and electrical lines for a nearby illegal Israeli settlement living in “first world” conditions are immediately adjacent to the village as shown in my photo below.


Demolitions and forcible displacement of Khan Al Ahmar, Susiya and similar communities are a gross violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention:

– This forced relocation is a form of collective punishment in violation of Article 33.

– Article 49 prohibits all forcible transfers of civilian populations by an occupying power.

– Article 50 obligates the occupying power to ensure the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children. The demolition orders also target schools in these villages. For your information, beyond these villages, Israel has recently demolished three other schools in the occupied Palestinian territory.

– Article 53 prohibits the destruction of personal property by an occupying power unless it is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.

Further, this action can be construed as an act of systematic oppression by the Israeli government committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one ethnic group over a different ethnic group. This is prohibited under the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid: Article II (d).

Beyond the legalities, demolitions of entire villages leave hundreds of children, like the ones in the pictures from Khan Al Ahmar, and their families homeless.



According to Haaretz, Israeli authorities have confirmed that this widespread issuance of demolition orders is unprecedented, and is a declaration of intention in advance of an attempt to evacuate the entire village.


Morally and ethically, this action by the state of Israel is reprehensible, repulsive and repugnant. Our government, as a High Contracting party to the Fourth Geneva Convention is obligated to do all in its power to prevent this violation of international law. Further, this action flies in the face of SC 2334 by the Israeli government. This represents yet another major obstacle to the peace process .

As Minister of Foreign Affairs, you speak eloquently and frequently about the need to protect and defend human rights. Based on our treaty obligations and as a nation that supports international peace, I believe you are duty bound to publicly support the human rights of Palestinians in this instance.


I urge you to send representatives of the Canadian diplomatic missions in Palestine and Israel to visit Khan Al Ahmar and Susiya immediately. It is worth noting that in 2015, European Union representatives visited the Palestinian village of Susiya, which was threatened with demolition. International publicity and diplomatic pressure from this visit was vital in halting the planned demolitions at that time.

Please take urgent action to stop this imminent violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and to uphold Canada’s tradition of supporting human rights. On behalf of especially the children who welcomed me in Khan Al Ahmar and members of UNJPPI, I look forward to your response.




Rev. Steve Berube: UNJPPI Chair

404 Cleveland Ave.

Riverview, NB

E1B 1Y2



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What Leads to a Hunger Strike?

I am worried for the 1,500 of 6,500 Palestinian prisoners held by Israelis who have been on a hunger strike for over a month. I am also worried about what might happen.

Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail.

I witnessed a sampling of how volatile the situation can be while I was an Ecumenical Accompanier. In Feb. 2013, Arafat Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian father of two died in an Israeli prison; there were reports his death was caused by torture and inadequate medical attention. Protests broke out across Palestine. The Israeli military responded harshly and quickly. Tear gas swept across the West Bank, stun grenades and rubber bullets were used on protestors. After a few days, the protests calmed down but the story continued.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli autopsy found Jaradat died of natural causes. But, a noted Turkish pathology expert, Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, stated in her expert opinion, “the injuries on Jaradat’s body are indicative of “blunt trauma with a long and thick object” and are not consistent with resuscitation efforts. She also noted, beatings by blunt objects during detention is classified as “torture.” She concluded the cause of death was as a result of, “blunt trauma on the chest” resulting with “lung contusion” and “acute respiratory distress syndrome” (suffocation).”(i)

This situation is typical of what many human rights observers encounter, the Israeli government claims to be blameless for any anything that causes Palestinians to protest. Simultaneously, the Israeli military brutally crackdown on protestors. Meanwhile, NGO’s document the protests being rooted in Israeli military violence and/or unjust treatment of Palestinians before Israeli military courts.

Just before my term ended, another disturbing event occurred in Hebron. The picture shows the scene described to me by a colleague; Israeli soldiers detained a group of seven boys all under the age of 12. Again, outrage filled the streets. Again, the Israeli military cracked down.

I still cannot imagine the fear in each of these little boys. Nor, can I fully imagine how the indelible mark left on each of them will play out in the future.

Last year, Defense for Children International – Palestine collected affidavits from 161 West Bank children detained by Israeli forces and prosecuted under Israeli military courts. 25 were held in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for an average of 16 days, a 23% increase over the previous year. The longest documented period of isolation for a child in 2016 was 29 days. (ii) Currently, there are about 300 children held by the Israeli military.

Ever since leaving, I have asked myself, “What kind of government treats children like this?”

Marwon Barghouti, the hunger strike leader, writing in the New York Times, points out that amoung the 6,500 Palestinians currently imprisoned by Israel are some, “who hold the dubious distinction of holding world records for the longest period in detention of political prisoners.”(iii)

These examples just begin to scratch the surface of the plight of Palestinian prisoners and the outrage felt by Palestinians around just this single issue.
The situation has deteriorated since I was there – for the prisoners and Palestinians as a whole. For example, there are almost 2,000 more Palestinian prisoners than four years ago.

Conditions have reached a crisis point. On April 17, Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike.

Hunger strikes are a desperate act by desperate people. They are an ancient, non-violent protest. Ghandi held several. The World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikes states, “(Hunger strikes) are often a form of protest by people who lack other ways of making their demands known. . . . Genuine and prolonged fasting risks death or permanent damage for hunger strikers.(iv)

The prisoner’s demands are simple. They are merely asking for rights guaranteed under international treaties; family visits, proper medical care, an end to Israel’s practice of detaining Palestinians without charge in so-called administrative detention and stopping the use of isolation.

Several NGO’s have documented Israel’s violations of the 4th Geneva Convention in its treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Amnesty International states, ”Israel’s decades-long policy of detaining Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in prisons inside Israel and depriving them of regular family visits is not only cruel but also a blatant violation of international law.”(v)

It is time to pressure our governments as Signatories to the 4th Geneva Convention to stop turning a blind eye to the Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including children. Governments need to demand that Israel live up to its obligations under international law and that Israel acquiesce to the demands of the Palestinian prisoners. Supporters of human rights and the rule of international law need to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners – their lives depend on us.



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Wondering About Justin Trudeau’s Positions: Canada and Israel’s Shared Democratic Values, Security Council Resolution 2334 and Anti-Zionism

Below is an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who issued a statement on Israel’s Independence Day in which he made three statements that left me and many others, somewhat befuddled. On behalf of the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel I have asked him to clarify the following points:
1. He said Canada and Israel share “common democratic values”. Does this mean Canada embraces the concept of a 50 year-long occupation that violates international treaties and denies human rights and democracy to 4 million Palestinians as a shared democratic value?
2. He talks about our mutual desire to promote peace in the Middle East. I am curious how he views the latest UN Security Council Resolution that calls Israel’s illegal settlements, “a flagrant violation” of international law”, and that the settlements have, “no legal validity”. It would seem the Security Council might not share Mr. Trudeau’s understanding of what working for peace means. Since he has committed Canada to pursuing a seat on the SC it would be helpful if he clarified his position on this resolution.
3. Finally and most significantly, he states Canada is committed to fight anti-Zionism. I am unsure if he even understands what that means in the eyes of the international community. No Canadian PM, even Harper, ever mentioned anti-Zionism! So, it might be a good idea to clarify some of these points that he made.

Below, is the text of my letter, we await his response.

The Honourable Justin Trudeau P.C.,
Prime Minister,
House of Commons,
Ottawa K1A 0A6

May 11, 2017

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I am writing as co-chair of the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI) seeking clarification of your remarks made in recognition of the establishment of the state of Israel.

The Biblical warrant is clear that people of faith are called to stand in solidarity with all who suffer but our priority must be with those who are suffering the most currently. As I write, the words of the prophet Ezekiel are at the forefront on my concern. Ezekiel 13:10 reads, “Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace;”

You stated that Canada and Israel share democratic values. I am somewhat confused by this statement. Certainly, as Prime Minister you are aware Israel has illegally occupied Palestine for 50 years hence depriving more than 4 million Palestinians of their inalienable rights to peace and personal security as guaranteed under the Fourth Geneva Convention to which Canada is a High Contracting Party.

Further, it is clear that not all citizens of Israel are treated as equals under Israeli law in that Jewish citizens have more rights than their non-Jewish, specifically Palestinian neighbours.

Additionally, Israelis are governed under civil authority while Palestinians are governed under military law. Over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners have been on a hunger strike since April 17 demanding the Israeli government respect their human rights.

Based on these few examples, are Canadians to assume that Canadian democratic values include support for the 50-year long illegal occupation and the denial of rights guaranteed under the Fourth Geneva Convention to over 4 million innocent Palestinians?

Mr. Prime Minister, you speak of Canada working with Israel to promote peace and stability in the Middle East. Again, you are well aware of UN Security Council Motion: SC 2334 adopted on 23/12/2016. It states Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Based on this international criticism, how do believe that Israel is working toward, peace and stability in the Middle East? Additionally, and a more important question, do you support SC 2334 or not?

This leads to the most serious question regarding your remarks, you speak of Canada’s commitment to fight, “anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.” Certainly, Canadians support working toward the elimination of hatred of any kind including anti-Semitism based on our values enshrined within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Further, Canadians support Israel’s right to exist. Yet, you mention “anti-Zionism”. What do you mean by this term? As Prime Minister, do you support the right of Palestinians to a homeland based on the 1967 borders or do you support the pro-Zionist movement in Canada and Israel who believe the West Bank and East Jerusalem should be annexed by Israel and that Gaza should remain the largest “open air prison” in the world in perpetuity?

Do you somehow mean that your government will use your powers against Canadians exercising their freedom of speech, as guaranteed under the Charter, to criticize the state of Israel for its illegal occupation and denial of Palestinian human rights? Does your government oppose Canadians who stand in solidarity against pro-Zionist groups who want Israel to annex the West Bank and East Jerusalem?

These comments by you as Prime Minister of all Canadians cause Palestinian Canadians, human rights activists including members of UNJPPI and others serious concerns that demand clarification.

On a personal note, I served as a human rights observer in the West Bank and witnessed on a daily basis, Israel’s violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as breeches of International Human Rights laws and Humanitarian laws. These laws are rooted in the international community’s response to the horrors of WWII where Canadians fought and died in the service of freedom, democracy and human rights for all people. I do not need to remind you of Canada’s history of support for human rights and the rule of international law. Yet, your statement, made on behalf of all Canadians, seem to turn a blind eye toward Israel’s denial or basic rights and freedoms to Palestinians guaranteed under international treaty. You must clarify your comments so all Canadians clearly understand your position!

These clarifications are especially important as you seek a seat for Canada on the Security Council against countries like Ireland and Norway who clearly stand on the side of human rights for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Mr. Prime Minister, the members of UNJPPI, Palestinian Canadians and other citizens concerned with human rights and the rule of international law look forward to the clarification of your remarks.

Peace, Paix, Salaam, Shalom,

Rev. Steve Berube
Co-chair: United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel

Cc The Honourable Chrystia Freeland P.C., Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Peter Kent, Foreign Affairs Critic, Conservative Party of Canada
Hélène Laverdière, Foreign Affairs Critic, New Democratic Party
Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Rhéal Fortin, Leader, Bloc Québécois
Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell, Moderator: United Church of Canada
Nabil Maarouf, Chief Representative of the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada
Deborah Lyons, Canadian Ambassador to Israel

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Israeli Violence Toward Palestinian Children

Dear Minister Freeland,

It is Good Friday, once again, I find myself writing to express my concern with respect to recent actions by the state of Israel this time focusing on its excessive use of force against Palestinian children including the heinous use of extra-judicial killings in occupied Palestine.
• On April 11, Jasem Nakhled died after being shot by Israeli forces near Ramallah on March 23. In the same incident, Israeli forces fatally shot 17-year-old Mohammed Khattab as well as injuring 17-year-old Musa Nakhleh and another 15-year-old Palestinian child.
• On April 1, Israeli forces gunned down Ahmad Ghazal, 17, in the Old City of Jerusalem after he committed a stabbing attack in what appears to be an extrajudicial killing.
• On Feb. 24, an Israeli soldier shot Mohammad Hilmi Jamed Shtaiwi, a 10 year with a rubber bullet in the chest near Qalqilya. He is the second child this year injured by improper use of crowd control weapons by the Israeli military.
• In 2016, two children, Faris al-Bayed, 15, and Muhyee Tabakhi, 10, died as a result of being struck on the chest or head by Israeli forces exercising “crowd control”.

Having served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem I witnessed firsthand the brutality and intimidation tactics of Israeli military forces directed toward children. It is something that still fills my mind with disturbing images.

Based on reports from credible NGO’s such as: Defence for Children International, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as UN agencies, the violence and intimidation used by the Israeli military against Palestinians and especially Palestinian children has intensified in the last three years. Of particular concern are reports that Israeli forces have increasingly been using live ammunition to quash protests since 2014.

Additionally, Israeli forces have relaxed open-fire rules since 2015. This has resulted in brazen and unwarranted extra-judicial killings when there has been no direct, mortal threat to any Israeli, such as that committed by Elor Azaria in Hebron. It is outrageous that convicted of this cold-blooded, extra-judicial murder he was sentenced to a mere 18-month prison term. It is morally repugnant that he is regarded by many Israelis as a national hero.

Minister, these actions along with concerns expressed in my previous correspondence are all gross violations of the 4th Geneva Convention. These actions threaten to scuttle any prospect of justice and peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

Additionally, since the passage of SC 2334, Israel seems to be acting even more aggressively against innocent Palestinians including children.

I applaud your government for granting honourary citizenship to Malala Yousafza yesterday. She pled for our government to further support the rights of all children to live in peace and she specifically mentioned children in Palestine. My plea to you is for your department to examine the way the Israeli government treats Palestinian children in light of their obligations as an occupying power under the 4th Geneva Convention.

As a Canadian concerned with human rights and a believer that Canada needs to play a leading role on the international stage, I am gravely concerned by the actions of the state of Israel and the minimal response from our government to a state that uses excessive violence against Palestinian children.

Have you lodged concerns with your Israeli counterpart regarding violations of the 4th Geneva Convention with respect to Israeli treatment of Palestinian children? If not, then please explain, what is your government’s understanding of its obligations as a high contracting party to the 4th Geneva Convention regarding Israeli violations of the rights of Palestinian children?

I and all who long for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel await your response.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

Rev. Steve Berube
Co-chair: United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel

Cc The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Peter Kent, Foreign Affairs Critic, Conservative Party of Canada
Hélène Laverdière, Foreign Affairs Critic, New Democratic Party
Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Rhéal Fortin, Leader, Bloc Québécois
Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell, Moderator: United Church of Canada
Nabil Maarouf, Chief Representative of the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada
Deborah Lyons, Canadian Ambassador to Israel
Brad Parker, Defence for Children International – Palestine

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Religion, Divestment, Shareholder Engagement, the United Church and the Way of Jesus

Religion, Divestment, Shareholder Engagement, the United Church and the Way of Jesus

Religion is not rational. It is about relationships and symbols that speak to our lives and to our connections with what is within us and beyond us. It helps us connect to other people and to the creation as a whole. Religious beliefs ground our ethics. Theology helps us to see and hear the sacred in a disordered and flawed world.

Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple as a sign of God’s outrage with those who were taking advantage of the poor and powerless. After the incident, the moneychangers cleaned up the mess, complained to the authorities and went back to business as usual. Meanwhile, because Jesus had the audacity to react to immorality – he was arrested, beaten and executed.

Divestment from companies that support or profit from the occupation of Palestine may not be the same as overturning the moneychangers’ tables but it is a theological choice.  Primarily, it says to our partners, “We will stand in solidarity with you in your hour of need.” It is a way for us to be “salt and light” in the world.

Human suffering may not trigger a change in corporations but it should elicit a response from Christians. Divestment clearly says we refuse to support corporations that make people suffer. It puts our relationship with our brothers and sisters who “cry out in anguish” ahead of any commercial enterprise.

In some cases, shareholder engagement is an effective tool to bring about change. Unfortunately, in Palestine and Israel it has failed. Larger churches in the US have worked with Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar and others for years with no success. Dr. Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and Harvard Law Professor, has clearly stated that attempts by the UN failed with most corporations.

A year ago, the General Council (GC) of the United Church of Canada, the highest decision making body of the denomination, a group we believe is guided by God’s Spirit, requested the United Church, our foundation and pension fund divest from companies supporting or profiting from the occupation. Four years ago, GC directed, “the Executive of the General Council to explore the wisdom of divesting in companies that are profiting from or supporting the occupation.”

In response, a committee was formed to develop a policy regarding what euphemistically has been called responsible investment. No actions and/or recommendations on divestment in support of our partners in Palestine and Israel and our other partners in Guatemala who have ongoing concerns with Canadian mining interests have been forthcoming from this group. This leads to the question, what is our priority, developing a policy or supporting those who have been and who are suffering?

The will of the General Council is clear – divest. So why not divest, as requested and then develop a policy for future guidance? After all, there is no legislation that prevents the United Church or any other body from investing in or divesting from any one corporation. The wisdom of the General Council is clear. The stories from our partners are compelling. The groundwork done by other churches is faithful.  Finally, the overwhelming evidence from independent NGO’s, sister churches, the UN and other agencies in Palestine and Israel calls us to act!

The evidence in relation to the brutality of the occupation is abundantly clear. The firsthand accounts of our partners and the 20+ Ecumenical Accompaniers appointed by the denomination attest to daily violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian laws. Credible international groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, the World Council of Churches, B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Addameer have clearly documented the reality of the occupation. Additionally, the last report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories is tantamount to an indictment for apartheid. So why not do the right thing, the just thing and act!

Religion and theology help to guide us in a disordered and tragic world. The prophet Micah wrote, “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The General Council has decided for justice and support for human rights and the rule of international law. It would serve us well as a denomination to listening to the cries of our partners and humbly respond by divesting from corporations that benefit from the occupation and then create a guide to responsible investing. After all, we do have a theological obligation to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered for 49 long years.

When we divest there will be criticism. There always is when we decide to stand for justice. I remember entering theological college in 1988 just after the GC decided that sexual orientation was not a barrier to ordination. There was a lot of criticism. Still, we trusted in the Holy Spirit guidance then and we did not delay implementation. Our church is richer for that decision.

Divestment is a sign and symbol of solidarity with those who are suffering. It is not a reasonable shareholder reaction – it is saying, “Here I stand I can do no other”. It may not be as dramatic as overturning the tables of the moneychangers but it is faithful to the one who calls us to be salt and light in the world.


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