In the faith community, there is a growing movement to use divestment and economic leverage as a way to push for peace in the Middle East. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is ready to dump its shares from select companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and the World Council of Churches is encouraging member churches to open a dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian supporters.
In the United Church of Christ's work for peace in Palestine-Israel, several conferences have laid the groundwork by calling for divestment through a series of resolutions. And there is momentum brewing to carry the issue forward at the next General Synod in 2015.
The Central Atlantic Conference is the latest group within the UCC to move to use economic leverage as tool to end conflict in the Middle East, when on June 14 during its annual meeting, delegates adopted a resolution aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. That followed a move by the New York Conference of the UCC, which passed a similar resolution two weeks earlier.
Both measures are almost identical, calling on UCC members and numerous settings of the church to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and to boycott goods produced by Israeli companies in the Occupied Territories. The resolutions ask church leadership to continue pressing Congress to ensure that aid to Israel complies with U.S. laws, and affirm a commitment by the church to engage in interfaith dialogue among the three Abrahamic faiths -- with emphasis on congregation-to-congregation interaction and conversations.
The New York and Central Atlantic resolutions will be forwarded for consideration by the General Synod, which is scheduled for June 26-30, 2015, in Cleveland.
"What happens now is we will continue to inform and educate more and more people in various conferences on the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the need for a bold action," said Maryn Goodson, a member of a grassroots group within the UCC that has pushed for a non-violent end to the conflict. "We’ll work with more conferences on this issue, and with delegates to the General Synod to shed light and awareness. The UCC has really been on the leading edge with this."
The resolutions originated with the United Church of Christ Palestine/Israel Network (UCCPIN), a mix of clergy and lay leaders who are strongly committed to peace in the region.
"There were several of us concerned that the conflict wasn’t being resolved, and so we came together to form this network," Goodson said.
UCCPIN offered the resolution in response to the Kairos Palestine document. Written by Palestinian Christians in 2009, it calls for solidarity with their struggle from the international community, and non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, to pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation.
Just last week the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches made a statement on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to its members, encouraging churches to advocate for economic measures that promote peace with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. The WCC statement, issued during the organization’s Central Committee meeting June 2-8 in Switzerland, encourages churches to "engage in dialogue with Palestinian churches, civil society actors, and Jewish partners."
Other mainline denominations are leveraging their investments to create pressure on the companies that profit from the occupation. The Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly narrowly voted on June 23 to divest from companies Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola. The Methodist Church Pension Boards voted on June 16 to divest from a security company that provides equipment for Israeli prisons.
The Rev. James Moos, executive minister of Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, has already promised continuous advocacy on both sides for lasting peace.
"The United Church of Christ has a long history of advocating for a peace based on justice for both Palestinians and Israelis," Moos said. "On our visits to the Middle East, we continuously see a reality that contradicts a just peace. Working with our Global Ministries' partners in Palestine and Israel, we will continue on the path to a durable solution to the long-standing conflict."
Other UCC conferences plan to weigh in on the Middle East situation. The Central Pacific Conference will take up the issue in the fall, and conferences in Illinois and Connecticut could also act.
Peter Makari, executive for the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries, says the reason a handful of conferences are active on Palestine-Israel is a pursuit of peace and justice in ending a long-lasting conflict.
"There’s a sense of urgency in the Palestinian community to resolve this very soon," Makari said. "There’s a concern that more land could be occupied or controlled, leaving less room to negotiate."