Guest commentary by Emily Brewer
As the afternoon slowly turned to evening in January 2014, the 28 of us on the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) delegation finished patting the soil around the olive trees we planted atop a hill near Bethlehem. In the fading light we saw we were surrounded by the lights from homes not too far from where we were standing — increasing our awareness that the land on which we stood had no buildings or electricity.
The lights were from Israeli settlements — groups of homes illegally built on Palestinian land where Israelis live. The Nassar family is Palestinian; they are prohibited by Israel to have buildings, electricity or running water on the land that has been in their family for over 100 years. For this reason, they live in caves and tents serviced by solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems built by visitors who come to learn about the Nassars’ nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
Since we were there two years ago, the settlements have continued to spread further in Palestine, with more built each year. There is an Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) report coming before the General Assembly this year noting the sobering reality that while negotiations “have achieved some limited success,” the situation “has stagnated or worsened with regards to the core challenges identified in the 1993 Oslo Accords.”
We of PPF are deeply troubled by this reality and, like the Nassar family and many others, are strongly committed to resolving this conflict with nonviolent tactics. We condemn violence by any party, and we are particularly troubled by the widespread and systematic violence of Israeli settlers and the Israeli military. Our commitment to anti-oppressive principles leads us to prefer the recommendations of those most affected by the situation in Israel/Palestine and the reality
The faith and nonviolent resistance of people like the Nassars inspires and calls us to solidarity and peacemaking in Palestine and Israel. At the General Assembly in Portland this year, we have the opportunity to answer that call in several ways:
(1) We strongly affirm the ACSWP report, “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” and we are grateful for the care that went into creating this report. This report examines the question of a one- or two-state solution in Israel and Palestine and concludes that role of the PC(USA) is to support nonviolence and the right to self-determination of those most adversely affected by the occupation: Palestinians.
(2) We support the two overtures that call for holding accountable companies that promote and profit from the occupation. This support responds to the call for boycott and divestment by Palestinian Christians in their 2009 document “Kairos Palestine”:
- “On Boycott of All HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Products” explains the role HP plays in equipping the Israeli military, supplying essential support for the invasion and blockade of Gaza, operating checkpoints and maintaining the occupation. Divestment was approved in 2014, but a boycott will provide additional pressure.
- “On Calling for the RE/MAX Corporation to Cease Selling Property in West Bank Settlements” does not call for divestment or boycott, but asks that we engage local and corporate RE/MAX realty offices to demand that their Israeli franchises stop renting and selling illegal settlement properties in the occupied West Bank.
(3) We also support an overture titled “On Advocating for the Safety and Well-being of Children of Palestine and Israel” that asks for advocacy for children. Since 2000, more than 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained by the Israeli military — often subjected to physical and psychological violence, denial of counsel and forced confessions.
The words “We Refuse to be Enemies” are painted in multiple languages on a stone at the entrance to the Nassar farm. The Nassars’ nonviolent resistance to the acute and systematic violence of occupation is rooted in their Christian faith. Even as the lights from the settlements surrounding their farm continue to spread and multiply, they refuse to be enemies with their settler neighbors. We are inspired by their faith and example, and we seek to continue working for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine through nonviolent strategies at the General Assembly and beyond.
EMILY BREWER is a co-director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Emily first became committed to nonviolent peacemaking while serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Guatemala in 2009. She is an ordained ruling elder and a candidate for ministry in the PC(USA).