UMNS Photo by John C. Goodwin
The Rev. Alex Awad, United Methodist mission worker in Palestine and Israel
TAMPA, Fla. – A Palestinian Christian who is a United Methodist missionary and an Israeli Jew who also advocates for LGBT people urged a gathering of delegates and observers to support The United Methodist Church's investment in three companies that they contend support Israel's oppression of Palestinians.
After the talks, a group of delegates caucused on the effort to support the original petition, which is now the minority report from a legislative committee. The report was expected to come before the entire General Conference sometime Tuesday.
A longtime mission worker in Israel and Palestine, Bonnie Jones, introduced the Rev. Alex Awad, a Palestinian Christian affiliated with the General Board of Global Ministries, and Dr. Dalit Baum, an Israeli lesbian activist.
"Some of you know how much Israel and Palestine mean to me," Mrs. Jones said in her introduction. "Four of our five children were born in Jerusalem. One of the things we did was to grow olive trees. I feel very passionate about hearing that Israelis are bulldozing olive trees."
Both Dr. Awad and Dr. Baum urged the gathering to support UMC divestment from three companies: Caterpillar, Motorola Systems and Hewlett-Packard.
Dr. Awad told the group that he experienced Israel's oppression of Palestinians daily, since he lives in Jerusalem but works in Bethlehem, where he teaches at Bethlehem Bible College.
"I go through the security wall that Israel built every day," he said. "I come to you as an eyewitness of suffering, hurting people.
"I'm not what you'd call a progressive, I'm a conservative, evangelical Christian, more conservative than Billy Graham, and I support divestment. If you talk to any Palestinian Christian church, they will tell you they support divestment."
In response to opponents of divestment, who say they'd rather invest positively in Palestinian development, Dr. Awad lifted up two examples: the harbor and the airport in Gaza.
"The British built a harbor in Gaza, but the Israelis won't allow Palestinians to have boats, so they can't use the harbor," Dr. Awad said. "Right after the airport was built, the Israelis bombed it while there were planes still on the ground.
"Divestment by The United Methodist Church would send a strong moral message to the world. It tells the world: 'W are against oppression; we are for justice.'"
Dr. Dalit Baum identified herself as being a native of "Palestine-Israel, one land, one holy land. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine."
Nonetheless, Dr. Baum said that as an Israeli Jew, she held herself complicit in Israel's oppression of Palestinians, and "so are Americans." She outlined the weaponized products that Israel uses in its security methods against Palestinians:
Caterpillar makes bulldozers that are armored and mounted with gun turrets. "Robot-controlled versions of these tanks – they're really tanks, not bulldozers – are used to knock down the buildings of any area that Israeli military wants to control. They say they give the residents advance warning, but often it's so short that elderly people, disabled people, families looking for their children, don't have time to get out, so they just knock the buildings down over them."
Motorola Systems makes a radar surveillance system for Jewish settlements on the West Bank that prevents Palestinians from traveling to their own lands for farming and herding.
Hewlett-Packard makes biometric identity systems – specifically a magnetic ID card – which Israeli military uses to coerce collaboration from Palestinians. "If you cooperate with the military, you get the card that allows you to move about your land and do your business," Dr. Baum said. "If you don't, then you are not given access."
"If Hewlett-Packard wouldn't sell this system to the Israeli military it would be a powerful symbolic message," Dr. Baum asserted.
At the conclusion of the presentation, a representative of another sponsor, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, announced that the coalition had just received word that the Friends Fiduciary Fund (Quakers) had divested from Caterpillar because of the weaponized nature of the products it sells to Israel.
"The Quakers said they'd been talking with Caterpillar for 10 years, and that they didn't get any satisfactory answers," said Steve Clunn, MFSA president.
"[UMC investment in Caterpillar, Motorola Systems and Hewlett-Packard] isn't a large amount; it's a moral action," he continued. "The United Methodist Church is known as one of the largest ethical investors in the world. If it divests from these companies, it will send a strong moral message."
The presentation was held at the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle and organized by Kairos Response, an ad hoc coalition supporting divestment. Love Your Neighbor involves a coalition of Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, Affirmation, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists and the International Council of Native American United Methodists.