Moving forward for justice in Israel / Palestine
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It always takes me a while to figure out what happened at General Assembly.  I do not mean what happened to the overtures we were advocating, or the actions we were opposing.   Following adjournment, twenty-four hours didn’t go by without reading about every action taken by the body.  And twenty-four hours after that the spin was already going full steam.
When I say I was trying to figure out what happened, I mean at a justice level:  Did what we seek to accomplish hit the mark?  Did we settle for the right amendments while defeating the most harmful ones?   Did we do better than just compromise justice for Palestine and Israel?   I am not wise enough to know the answers in every single case, only time can define that.
Let me explain why I believe we accomplished more than I think we ever have (and I’ve been here from the very beginning of this work).   I realize that this is saying a lot since in past years we helped General Assembly to accomplish the following: 
  1. Embrace the Amman Call (2008)
  2.  Pass the Middle East Study Committee report (2010)
  3. Commend the Kairos Palestine Document for denominational study and appointed the Middle East Monitoring Group to create the study guide (2010).
  4. Called upon the Middle East Monitoring Group to complete the Middle East Study Committee report by creating eight narratives, four Palestinian and four Israeli that genuinely reflect PC(USA) peacemaking values. (2010)
  5. Pass boycott of illegal Israeli settlement products. (2012)
  6. Call upon the U.S. Government to follow its own laws regarding human rights and sending foreign aid to Israel. (2012)
  7. Divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions for profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in occupied Palestinian territory. (2014)
  8. Call upon the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy to write a report on the three decade-old, largely unexamined PC(USA) policy on the two-state solution.  (2014)
To help accomplish those ends, the Israel Palestine Mission Network created unique educational publications that made a difference in the lives of Presbyterians and others in many denominations throughout the United States, and literally throughout the world:  Cradle of Faith, Steadfast Hope, Kairos-Palestine Document Study Guide, and Zionism Unsettled.   In addition, we have recently endorsed and helped promote the publication of our own steering committee member, Nahida Halaby Gordon, entitled Palestine Is Our Home.
I dare say that without the Israel Palestine Mission Network, the PC(USA) would be nowhere close to where it came out in Portland this past June.
So what did we accomplish this time around?
First, I would say that we helped those committed to a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel withstand the onslaught of defeatist measures at every turn.   It was evident that the whole of this particular General Assembly had no patience for obstructionist parliamentary maneuvers.   You know what I am talking about:  amendments to the amendments to the substitute motion ad nauseum.  Unless amendments were genuinely substantive, they went down on a routine basis—and this was true in regard to many diverse issues faced by G.A. committees and plenary.  
In regard to Israel Palestine issues, this was abundantly clear through attempts to amend overtures to include anti-BDS language, whether such a move was relevant to the proposed action or not.   I personally watched both the Peacemaking and Middle East Issues committees soundly defeat such attempts time and time again, and then watched the plenary do the same.    This is important because it is all the opposition really had.   Overtures to undo the 2014 divestment action never made it out of the presbyteries where they originated save one, and that one could not get the necessary concurrence anywhere else in the denomination.
It was evident that passing anti-BDS language was a crucial part of the strategy for those seeking to support Israeli government policy at all costs.   In fact, even for us it seemed like a no-brainer.   State legislatures were passing such measures, and just a few weeks earlier in the same convention center the United Methodist Church said no to BDS.   Well… they tried valiantly at the PC(USA) General Assembly and lost miserably.  I fully believe it is because the Israel Palestine Mission Network, along with many others in our denomination have spent a decade educating Presbyterians about the issues.   As overture 12-05 (Peacemaking Committee) clearly pointed out:  the tools of boycott, divestment and calling for sanctions have been part of the Presbyterian peacemaking witness for over a century.  Before there was a Civil Rights movement, a Kairos call in South Africa, and a Kairos Palestine Document, Presbyterians have been using B, D and S for a long, long time.  Because of that, intelligent Presbyterians know that it is way out of bounds to criticize “BDS” by calling it “violent”.   The charge is absolutely ridiculous, and those promoting such ideas in Portland got told that more than once.
On July 14th, Ha’aretz republished a JTA  (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) statement about the BDS Movement basically having its last whimper because everyone who is going to embrace it has done so and state legislatures are now taking the bull by the horns.   The implication is that the Christian denominations that have approved BDS measures have been the soft spots, but now the hardliners will prevail.   The article even reflected on our recent General Assembly by saying that Presbyterians ultimately “embraced Zionism.”   The quote was attributed to a lobbyist for Israeli policies who has attended General Assembly for years.  I saw him there.   He heard and saw the same things I did.  He was either not paying attention or out of personal frustration simply chose to make stuff up at the end.  The PC(USA) did nothing of the sort.   But this is what it did do:
  1. Advocated for the Safety and Well-being of Children of Palestine and Israel.
  2. Upheld the Peoples and Partners in the Middle East and in the U.S.
  3. Called for Continuing Dialogue and Relationship with RE/MAX Corporation as the PC(USA) calls upon the company to cease selling property in West Bank settlements.
  4. Passed the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy report entitled: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace (in spite of many failed attempts to replace, and when that didn’t work, to gut the report).
  5. Passed the overture to Prayerfully Study the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
  6. Affirmed Nonviolent Means of Resistance Against Human Oppression
  7. Defeated an attempt to sever PC(USA) ties with the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation.
  8. And it also decided not to call for a boycott of Hewlett-Packard products.  The prevailing argument in the M.E. committee was that we should challenge the behaviors of HP, and other companies that would ultimately step in if HP stepped out as a result of boycott pressure.
After many years of educating Presbyterians about what is really happening in Palestine, and actually passing measures to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israeli government human rights violations in Palestine, the measures passed by the 222nd General Assembly have taken our pursuit of justice to the next level.
But we must not forget that real justice has not yet been achieved and Palestinians are still under occupation and not free.  They are still losing identity, property, natural resources and every conceivable way to say that they are a people with self-determination.  They are still being arrested and unjustly detained, injured and killed in disproportionate numbers.  That means our work is not done and that anything we have passed at the General Assembly are but words in the minutes of our highest governing body until freedom and justice prevail.
We need you for this work more than ever.
Jeff DeYoe, Moderator
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