Assembly debates divestment

By on April 1, 2006

Porto Alegre, Brazil
The victory by Hamas in recent Palestinian legislature elections makes the churches’ engagement in the Holy Land even more crucial, a Palestinian Christian leader said recently.

“The election is very confusing,” Rev. Naim Ateek, the  Anglican director of Jerusalem’s Sabeel Institute, said during the February meeting of the World Council of Churches ninth assembly here. “Hopefully, pressure on Hamas to be responsible in government will help us create a stronger force for non-violence,” he said.

At the same time, Mr. Ateek said, churches must sustain their economic campaign in opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Sabeel’s call for “selective divestment” from corporations profiting from the occupation was one taken up in 2004 by the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  A year ago the WCC central committee, another of the council’s governing bodies, urged its member churches to follow that lead, and several have.

Sabeel has called only for divestment directed at multi-national corporations, but others are advocating a multi-pronged approach including government sanctions and consumer boycotts of Israeli products.

Nidal Abu Zuluf, assistant director of the East Jerusalem YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) branch in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem, said that sanctions and boycotts, in addition to divestment, are “a strategy that will make a difference” because they involve governments and individuals, not just churches.

Sabeel, however, has concentrated on selective divestment, Mr. Ateek said, because it keeps the focus of churches’ efforts on the occupation by Israel.

“Engage these companies and they may change,” Mr. Ateek said. “If they don’t, we urge the churches to divest from those companies and reinvest in companies that are building up the Palestinian people and economy.”

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