As an American of Palestinian Christian origin, I urge the United Methodist Church to heed the Palestinian Christian Kairos call for divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. The Kairos call is certainly one of defiance, but it is also, in its own words, truly a message of "faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering." It is based on a simple premise: Righteous people ought not to profit from unjust practices inflicted upon their fellow human beings. Palestinian Christian leaders issued the Kairos (from the Greek word meaning "the time is Now,") document in 2009, as a message of hope in the middle of crushing conditions of pauperization and servitude that their people have endured for decades, and that are growing more desperate by the day. Their message is one of love because it is based on the firm belief that oppression not only threatens the destruction of the oppressed, but also corrupts the soul of the oppressor. It is a message of faith because it comes straight from the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus was crucified because he was judged to be a subversive threat to Rome, the mighty power that occupied the land of his people, but he taught a message of love even for one's enemies. As a Palestinian Christian, I could easily understand the price that Jesus paid for his defiance towards Rome; for my people suffer daily and severely under the heels of Israeli occupiers. However, Jesus' message of loving thy enemy was far more difficult for me to understand and accept. Today, I understand it far better than when I was a young man in an Israeli prison in 1976, subjected to frequent beatings and insults by interrogators, for the crime of rejecting the tyranny of occupation. I understand it better because of the closeness that I felt to Jewish Israeli criminals with whom I shared a prison cell for several weeks. (Criminals, after all, are people whose living conditions have forced their humanity to be pushed deeper and deeper within their souls.) I also understand it better because, today, I share my advocacy for Palestinian emancipation with Jewish brothers and sisters, including Israelis, who believe that the persecution of another people is destroying the soul of their co-religionists.
Many Christians forget that Jesus lived under occupation and that his words and actions were viewed as relentlessly subversive. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not forget this, nor Mahatma Gandhi, who greatly admired Jesus. MLK, Gandhi, and others, while preaching a message of love for all mankind, including their oppressors, were accused of being too confrontational. Those who leveled this accusation against them were often well-meaning political and faith leaders who professed their own opposition to injustice. MLK and Gandhi well understood that, in Gandhi's words, "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," but that non-violent means of defying the coercive power confronting them was necessary for emancipation. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK bitterly criticized religious leaders who would paternalistically say: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action." He asserted that "the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood." Other faith leaders around the world have followed a similar path in their struggles for emancipation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, and Father Oscar Romero are but a few.
Gaza was filled with blood again and again over the past three decades, in brutal attacks that most of the world witnessed with horror. It is madness to believe that the conditions of pauperization and daily humiliation that the Palestinians experience under Israeli domination are sustainable. Meanwhile, Israeli society is lurching farther and farther to the right, and its internal contradictions, let alone its conflict with the Palestinians, are ominous. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, a man whose position is largely ceremonial, said that "Israeli society is ill," that its "epidemic of violence" is everywhere - it "permeates every area". He elaborated: "There is violence in soccer stadiums as well as in the academia. There is violence in the social media and in everyday discourse."
To my Methodist brothers and sisters who oppose divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation, I say: "I am sorry that you are not heeding the non-violent call for solidarity with the Palestinians, but you are also wrong in thinking that you are are acting in the interest of the Israeli people. My Jewish friends who stand with me understand that all you are doing is to delay justice, and to make it more likely that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will descend into more brutal violence. I urge you to reconsider and support the resolution put before you this month to divest from companies that profit from the occupation of my people."