Boycott Israel ?

One hesitates to use the tactic of boycotting any country, company, or organization to make a point, because in the process of cutting off all commerce, innocent people are inevitably hurt, at least temporarily, in the process. But announcement this week by the Israeli government to go ahead with construction of 1600 new housing units to displace Palestinian residents in the eastern part of Jerusalem only underlines and exacerbates the hopelessness of the situation. In fact, this past December 15th, thirteen leaders of practically all the Christian groups that still exist in the Holy Land, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, including the Greek, Latin, and Armenian patriarchs of Jerusalem, signed what they call the “Kairos -Palestine” (“Kairos” meaning a critical point or moment) a statement calling on Christians around the world to begin a boycott of Israel.  The reason for this? It is because, as they say, after six decades of hoping things could be worked out, “… today we have reached a dead-end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people.”

They then go on, in this twelve page document, to enumerate some fifteen specific charges of repeated and continuing Israeli violations of human rights, UN resolutions, and previous agreements, all this after criticizing “the decision-makers [who] content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.”

Perhaps we may see this particular criticism as unfair, particularly when we remember the repeated efforts made by American presidents, especially by Jimmy Carter in brokering the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, the first President Bush’s withholding of guaranteed loans to Israel until they agreed to stop building more West Bank “settlements,” and President Clinton’s repeated efforts to save the Oslo Accord. But as far as any of these efforts bringing any real resolution of the problem, the preface to this document does not hesitate to adopt Carter’s recent blunt description of the present Israeli policy (especially since the erection of the concrete barrier walls and chain-link and barbed-wire fences) as being a repeat of what once was of South Africa’s policy of racial “apartheid.”  Apparently Bishop Tutu, the Nobel Peace-Prize winner who experienced apartheid first hand, agrees, as he has endorsed the Kairos–Palestine statement, which is supported as well by the Executive Secretary of the World Council of Churches. 

As for myself, I’m also inclined to support it because of my own experience when I was living there for some months in the spring of 1981. Back then, things were still a bit better (no physical fences yet). Nevertheless, I still experienced the tensions under which Israelis live with their well-founded fear of terrorist reprisals – particularly the signs on the busses warning people to beware of (and report) any unattended packages. But whenever I passed into the Israeli-occupied West Bank (which began just a few hundred yards down the road from where I lived) I also experienced what it is like for Palestinians to have to keep passing through check-points or to have to live under the constant surveillance of occupying Israeli troops – with almost all of them carrying US-made and supplied M-16 assault rifles. I often wondered: was there meant to be a deliberate message in the choice of weapons? If so, I was not at all surprised when walking alone through the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna in Matthew’s gospel) one Sunday afternoon, when a group of young Arab boys started throwing stones in my direction.  Apparently I looked “Jewish” to them, and if so, I can’t blame them for their angry feelings. (An older fellow, wearing traditional Arab robes, no doubt fearing an “incident,” chased them away from me.)

On the other hand, when I talked, as I occasionally did, with Palestinian Christians who knew me to be an American, the conversation almost always ended with them pleading that I try to do something to change U.S. policies, reminding me that if it weren’t for the U.S.A. , all this wouldn’t be happening to them. As a result, I was not at all surprised to see on TV, after 9/11, pictures of Palestinians dancing in the streets, nor is it any mystery to me as to why so many Muslims – if not the few Christians left there -- hate us.  

So should we boycott Israel to make a point? I think so, but only by gradually tightening the screws by disinvesting any holdings we might have in the major corporations doing business with the state of Israel , particularly with its military forces – a policy endorsed already by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. since 2004, joined in 2008 by The Church of England.  If so, the major targets would be Lockheed-Martin (the largest supplier of its Israel’s own arms industry), General Electric (for its supplying parts for Apache attack helicopters – one of the major weapons used in the brutal Gaza retaliation operation a year ago) and Caterpillar – the firm that makes the armored bull-dozers used to demolish Palestinian homes and other equipment to make room for illegal Israeli settlements.

True, such an indirect boycott might be seen only as a token, but I think it might be sign that speaks volumes and which, like the similar tactic used against the white supremacist government in South Africa back in the 1980s, and like what happened there, bring the decision-makers in Israel back to their senses. Or, as at least one Jewish Rabbi involved in the peace effort (and there are others – both here and in Israel ) has said, rather than such tactics being seen as “anti-Semitic,” they are perhaps just what is needed “to save the Israelis from themselves.”

Let’s pray and hope so.

R W Kropf     3/9/10                   Boycott Israel?.doc          10-03-09.html