Thursday, June 22, 2006

Presbyterians Not Backing Down on Divestment

When faced with a clash between their investment practices and their socially responsible investment policy, the Presbyterians have always called for a step-by-step process that applies ever-increasing pressure on corporations which profit from human rights violations. Divestment is a final step, one that need not be engaged in if a corporation brings its policies in line with international norms and values. Their press release is below:

Presbyterian Israel-Palestine Mission Network

PRESS INFORMATION For more details, please contact:
Kristine Currie 313-303-4458 Email:


Presbyterian Divestment - Still on the Table

(BIRMINGHAM) June 21, 2006 - The Presbyterian Church (USA)'s 217th General Assembly retained the process known as "phased, selective divestment". The current resolution urges investments "only in peaceful pursuits" in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank including East Jerusalem; and affirms the "customary corporate engagement process" of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) charged with carrying out General Assembly policy.
Today's decision continues the call to end the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories. It further criticizes the separation barrier which "encroaches into Palestinian territory and fails to follow the legally recognized borders of Israel."
Palestinians are facing a humanitarian catastrophe. United Nations reports reveal that 60% of Palestinians are now living in acute poverty and that over half of all Palestinians are completely dependent on food aid. The rise in poverty is a direct result of Israel's policies of occupation. These include road closures, the construction of the separation barrier, checkpoints, and restrictions on the movement of Palestinian commerce in particular food.
Since the 2004 GA, the PC (USA) MRTI committee has focused upon corporations whose profits are derived from the sale of products and services used in illegal activities violating human rights. The church's socially responsible investment policy follows a process of corporate engagement to assure that its investment portfolio is in accordance with the church's social justice policies. After developing criteria specific to the pertinent human rights issues, the process involves four steps: identify target companies; engage management in dialogue, initiate shareholder action, and, if needed as a last resort: recommend divestment to a subsequent General Assembly.
Currently, the MRTI has identified five corporations whose products and services are used to harm civilians: Caterpillar, Motorola, Citigroup, ITT Industries and United Technologies.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

"Accidental" death from a Palestinian Point of View

Begging for a Response
Israel’s ongoing air strikes on Gaza are politically motivated
By Sam Bahour

The Israelis are a stiff necked people. They refuse to accept anything less than full acquiescence by anyone involved in their plans, no matter the cost -- human, political, financial, or otherwise. Israel’s non-stop aggression against Palestinians – averaging two Palestinian deaths a day for several years now – is much more than what is popularly being coined in Israel and abroad as low-intensity warfare. If international and humanitarian laws are to be used as a measure, the ongoing Israeli killing spree is taking on the shape of a sustained campaign of war crimes aimed to remove the Palestinians from Israel’s way.

The recent Israeli shelling of a crowded Gaza beach full of Palestinian civilians spending a weekend by the sea is the latest tragedy in an unrelenting effort undertaken by the newly elected Israeli government to provoke Palestinians, in specific, the Hamas-led Palestinian government. The carnage of this latest Israeli attack (the afternoon attack, not the morning one) left a toll of 10 dead and over 50 wounded. The entire incident, like the hundreds prior, quickly become a footnote in some Israeli military report that will most likely also carry an empty apology for the large numbers of children and women among the dead. President Bush refused to condemn the attack and the United Nations, like a large slice of the Israeli public, will most likely not even take note of it.

In a world that has become numb to Middle Eastern carnage, except if the dead are Israeli, it does not come as a surprise that, at most, the dead are merely counted, hardly ever are they named. The lack of world leadership has moved the international community to completely lose any moral compass whatsoever. The basic fact that one party, the one burying its children on nearly daily basis, is an occupied people, the Palestinians. The other party, the one launching air and sea strikes on civilian populations, and constantly shelling the Gaza Strip is the occupying party, Israel. This core fact of the conflict has become lost in some misguided desire to create symmetry between Palestinians and Israelis. International and humanitarian laws classify an occupied people as “protected persons,” and every signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the US, has an obligation to interfere to stop this cruel and inhumane Israeli collective punishment of Palestinians.

Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as: "Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including...wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, …or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, ...extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."

International law does not release from responsibility an occupying force because it apologizes for killing those it occupies, especially an occupying force that has instilled a mode of operation of systematically killing and then cynically apologizing.

Israel kills with purpose. Following the rise to government of the hard line Hamas movement to the Palestinian government, Israel is optimizing on the US led campaign to bring a full collapse of the democratically-elected Palestinian government, by killing on a daily basis of what the world’s media has sadly accepted as “targeted assassinations.” There is a clear political agenda in the latest round of Israeli attacks. Israel is begging for Hamas to react in kind by breaking its one sided truce that Hamas has held for over a year, despite Israel’s continued provocations.

Israel knows that as it continues to cage Palestinians in pockets of living hell, it is human nature that sooner or later the Palestinian government or even Palestinian individuals will be forced into reacting by trying to defend its population, never mind that the Palestinians do not have the means to even dent the Israeli military powerhouse. Nevertheless, by the Palestinians striking back, and sadly taking Israeli lives in the process, Israel can then kick into action its well-oiled public relations spin machine to turn the tables on the entire Palestinian cause for independence and self-determination and thus, further continue the delegitimization and the demise of the Palestinians.

Israel’s renowned planning efforts forgot one elementary fact of life. Like with slavery, there was a right and wrong and in the end right prevailed and slavery ended. And, like with South Africa’s Apartheid, there was a right and wrong, and the racist Apartheid system fell flat on its face. The Israelis have forgotten that militarily occupying the Palestinians -- for over forty years now -- is wrong too, and their occupation will come tumbling down in due time. Sadly, as Israeli politicians do cartwheels to sustain their oppression of Palestinians, or maintain their popularity with the dead bodies of Palestinians, both Palestinians and Israelis are paying the price with their lives.

The writer is a Palestinian-American living in the besieged Palestinian City of El-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and can be reached at

June 9, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

400 Israeli Women Are Watching

Checkpoint Witnesses
By Amelia Thomas
The Christian Science Monitor
Wednesday 07 June 2006
The Israeli women of Machsom Watch keep a close eye on soldier behavior at the roughly 600 Israeli-controlled checkpoints in the West Bank.
Nablus, West Bank - The midday heat beats down fiercely as a silver car swings off the main Israeli highway toward the West Bank. Pulling over just before an army-patrolled checkpoint, the three women inside pull name tags and signs from their purses. "Machsom Watch" read the logos they attach to their shirts, the windshield, and on a flag fluttering from the back window. These Israeli women are volunteers for an organization whose members venture into the West Bank twice a day, every day, to some of the roughly 600 Israeli checkpoints (machsomim in Hebrew) there.
Machsom Watch, founded in 2001 by three seasoned activists, consists of some 400 ordinary Israeli women who take turns standing at Israeli-controlled checkpoints, watching for human rights violations and harassment of Palestinian civilians by Israeli soldiers.
Some simply observe and report; others attempt to talk with soldiers or intervene on the part of Palestinians. Each "patrol" produces a report of their shift's events, which is then put up on their website ( Most checkpoints the women monitor are inside the West Bank, rather than on border points between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The purpose of such interior checkpoints is solely "to prevent free passage of Palestinian residents between their villages and towns," says group spokeswoman Adi Dagan. This violates international law, she says. The checkpoints' hours of operation and procedures are "arbitrary" and often changed, she says, making access to jobs, schools, and hospitals for many Palestinians at best, time- consuming and at worst, impossible.
The Israeli Defense Force disputes this. "If the Army's sole purpose would be to prevent freedom of movement for normal Palestinians," says IDF spokesman, Capt. Jacob Demal, "it would be a waste of our time. But checkpoints are there to impair the transportation efforts of potential suicide bombers, who use the routes time and time again."
On the issue of checkpoints' hours and regulations changing "arbitrarily," he agrees. But the changes, he says, are based on "general or specific intelligence," in response to the threat level.
Machsom Watch's women are from many professional backgrounds, social classes, and regions of Israel. "Most have never been politically active before," Ms. Dagan says. "They are largely women in their 50s, 60s, or beyond, whose kids are grown up and now for the first time ever they can act on their beliefs."
The three grandmothers taking a Sunday afternoon shift that circles the Nablus region are no exception. Two, Alix Weizmann and Aliya Strauss, are teachers; the third, Susan Lourenco, a university administrator, was born and raised in England by German Jewish parents. Each is acutely aware that her actions are not widely appreciated. "Most average Israelis," says Ms. Lourenco, "don't know what's going on and don't care. But our priority is to make the Israeli public know what's happening in this region and show them that changes have to be made."
"That's not an easy task," adds chirpy Ms. Strauss, now a busy social activist and demonstration-goer in her mid-70s. She sports an "End the Occupation" baseball cap and huge sunglasses.
"I finally decided to make a commitment and join two years ago," says Ms. Weizmann, whose four children all served in the IDF and don't approve of her "unpatriotic" activities. "I think we make a bit of a difference. You have to do the little that you can."
The car winds through the dramatic, rocky country of the Samarian Hills. "Palestinians aren't allowed on this road," notes Lourenco, though the road cuts through Palestinian farmland. The only other vehicles are military tanks and Humvees, jeeps from nongovernmental agencies, or the cars of Jewish settlers - some from illegal settlements that dot the hillsides. About 400 miles of such roads, open only to Jews, snake across the West Bank.
Finally, the women arrive at the first checkpoint on their itinerary, near the Jewish settlement of Shavei Shomron. The neat tarmac road continues up to the settlement; the road that was once the main thoroughfare between the cities of Jenin and Nablus peters out into a narrow, poorly surfaced road.
At the top of this road lies the first checkpoint, an army outpost complete with trailers, watchtower, concrete posts, and curling razor wire. Israeli citizens are not allowed to venture any further. "So we'll just hang around, and see what happens," says Weizmann with a rueful grin.
The women are not relishing their stop here.
"Last week, the soldiers shouted all kinds of vulgar insults at us, too disgusting to relate," recounts Lourenco.
The women encounter other kinds of abuse. "We've been spat at, screamed at, sworn at, our cars scratched by settlers," she continues. None of the women is frightened of a threat from the "enemy" Palestinian side. "They know we're there to help them," says Strauss. "It's our side we're scared of."
As the women stand in the baking heat, a Palestinian minibus pulls up carrying workers from the Palestinian Archaeological Authority, its roof laden with wheelbarrows and shovels. Each morning at 4 a.m., they pass through this checkpoint; every day at 2 p.m., they return home. Almost every time, soldiers on guard delay them. "No authorization to pass today," calls the young soldier from the watchtower.
"But they came through this morning," shouts up Lourenco, on the workers' behalf.
The soldier sighs and picks up his telephone. After a short conversation, the soldier steps down from the tower, examines the workers' permits, then quickly lets them proceed. "It just goes to show," notes Lourenco as they pull away, "that decisions are all down to the individual soldier. That's the biggest problem of all."
Throughout the day, the women move from checkpoint to checkpoint. Their daily "patrol" takes roughly seven hours and includes stops at about five checkpoints, more if soldiers set up temporary "rolling" checkpoints.
Next, the women stop at the Beit Iba checkpoint on the outskirts of Nablus. The area is in chaos, as a new army restriction bans taxis and buses from entering or exiting the city. Two young Palestinian men sit in concrete corrals, a third in a tiny tin-doored inspection booth. The young men explain, in shouts, that they are being held as punishment for trying to circumvent the checkpoint. One has already been held, in stifling heat without even a place to sit, for almost four hours.
"Army rules forbid soldiers to punish civilians like this," says Weizmann, as Lourenco steps forward to talk to the commanding lieutenant, no older than 22. He stands, brandishing his machine gun at queuing civilians. He is not obliged to give out his name and does not turn toward her.
To these soldiers, the treatment is legitimate. "We're punishing them for trying to avoid the checkpoint," the young lieutenant finally offers. "Otherwise, what should we do - just let them go?"
"It's not allowed," says Lourenco firmly.
"Yes, it is," he replies, uncertainty wavering in his voice.
Minutes later, without explanation or apology, the men are briskly and quietly freed. It appears that, on this occasion, the presence of Machsom Watch has hastened their release.
As the women talk with another group of Palestinians having problems at the checkpoint, some soldiers look on.
"They're really annoying," says one, frowning.
"I don't have any opinion of them," says another flatly.
A third soldier attempts a polite smile. "They're not a problem," he says. "We work following the rules. It's only if we do something wrong." He glances over at the three women, "Well, then it might be a problem."
A trickle of Palestinians is slowly making its way through the checkpoint. "It's hard physically," the soldier continues. "Too hot in summer, too cold in winter. But we're protecting Israel from bombers and terrorists. Some people just want to go to work and we can't let them past." He shrugs. "You get used to it."
"I guess the intent [of Machsom Watch] is good, that they're trying to ease the situation for Palestinians," says IDF spokesman Captain Demal, who notes that the Army often cooperates by giving the women the cellphone numbers of the checkpoints' first-in-commands. "At the same time," he says, "they don't see the whole intelligence picture. And there's a big threat to soldiers." Soldiers have been killed at checkpoints. "We've done a steady job of improving checkpoints ... improving them on a human level," he adds.
The Machsom Watch women's biggest problem may lie in the suspicion with which both soldiers and civilian Israelis greet them, and the strain of witnessing unpleasant events on a weekly basis.
On their way home, the mood in the car is heavy, Lourenco is disturbed by what she sees as an increasing stranglehold on Palestinian civilians. She seldom sleeps well the night after her shift, she says, and rises early to write her report.
"After five years, we haven't been very successful," says Dagan. "Not a single checkpoint has been removed, and we haven't been able to change policies on restriction of movement for Palestinians. It's only getting worse," she continues. "But it's a long-term project to try to challenge something so big and deeply rooted."
"Often I feel we do so little," sighs Lourenco as the car pulls back into Tel Aviv's rush-hour traffic. "But I cannot live in Israel and remain silent. We show a peace-loving face to Palestinians who see no other Israelis but soldiers and settlers." And although she says she finds her task increasingly difficult, she knows that her presence at checkpoints makes a difference. "You should see the Palestinian women's eyes light up when we catch their eyes. I couldn't stop now."