(Go to JAT-Action Home Page or Presbyterian Section)
[Ray Hanania was the national president of the Palestinian American Congress in 1995. This article could be viewed originally at the following link.]
When it comes to numbers, American Presbyterians rank among the smallest of the Christian denominations with about 3 million members. But from the standpoint of economic power, they are considered the most influential religious group in America.
That's why their July vote ordering divestiture from companies doing business with Israel is so important.
The group is also looking into Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar, whose D9 tractors are used by Israel to destroy Palestinian homes, resulting in the deaths of Palestinians and Americans, too.
Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and '80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
Although many Christian groups support Israel over the Palestinians because of an underlying opposition to Islam, the Presbyterians recognized a significant point. Many of the Palestinian victims of Israeli oppression and violence are Christian.
The Presbyterians have maintained a reasoned voice of moderation, criticizing violence on both sides, including by Israel. Israel's policies are described by Amnesty International as "war crimes."
A small group of dissenters challenged the action. But the decision drew overwhelming support after hearing from the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem who heads the International Center of Bethlehem. Raheb implored the Christian churches to take action instead of simply issuing statements that are often ignored.
Raheb is an eloquent advocate of peaceful compromise and an outspoken critic of the growing extremism among Israelis and their American supporters. He is the author of a powerful new book, Bethlehem Besieged, hailed as the Palestinian version of The Diary of Anne Frank.
In the book, Raheb narrates stories of Palestinian suffering under Israel's brutal occupation, stories rarely reported in the mainstream U.S. media or addressed by other Christian organizations in America.
It was Raheb's personal testimony that moved the Presbyterians to take real action, in the face of the expected onslaught of criticism from pro-Israel extremists that their courageous action is "anti-Semitic."
Immediately afterward, spokesmen for the Anti-Defamation League and other pro-Israel lobbying groups denounced the decision, suggested it was anti-Semitic and decried comparisons to South Africa.
But among the many critics of Israeli violence and policies have been South African Christian leaders like the Rev. Desmond Tutu and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
For far too long, Christians, especially those in America, have turned a deaf ear to their Christian brethren in the Holy Land. Much of the new lands being confiscated by Israel belong to Christian families who have lived in Palestine for centuries, many of whom converted to Christianity from Judaism as a witness to Jesus.
And Bethlehem, the heart and soul of the Christian faith, is being destroyed by Israeli policies that go unchallenged.
Divestment is a nonviolent way to protest Israeli extremism and violence. Until now, it has received support mostly from academic institutions. Several reports said the Presbyterian decision could impact as much as $7 billion in investments.
Under the decision, any company earning more than $1 million annually as a result of investments in Israel, or which invests more than $1 million a year in Israel, will be entered on a blacklist prepared for the church's leaders.
It's about time Christian voices found the courage to stand up to Israel and recognize that Israeli violence contributes to the ongoing conflict.
Here is an earlier article by Hanania in which he calls the Israeli Army and leaders "Nazi-like" and looks forward to "correcting the original injustice of 1948 and restoring Palestinian control over all of Palestine," in other words, to the destruction of Israel.
Nazi-like Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believes he is taking the Palestinian people to the brink of destruction, but he doesn't realize that the brink of disaster is not for the Palestinians, but Israel itself.
Sharon is single-handedly doing what the Arabs have failed to do themselves, forcing them to unite and to abandon their past policies of coddling Israel's intractable refusal to compromise.
In the past, the Palestinians and the Arabs have accepted Israel's near-maximum demands as pre-conditions to start negotiations. So, the discussions have always only focused on returning "most of" the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and setting aside the issue of returning "parts" of East Jerusalem until latter negotiation dates.
Yet during negotiations, Israel always cleverly backs out, stopping short of giving the Palestinians anything other than a future as a subjugated people. The dream of compromise with Israel is over, today, and it is clear to nearly everyone that Sharon has opened the door to the new possibility of correcting the original injustice of 1948 and restoring Palestinian control over all of Palestine, an action that the pro-Israel American apologists have dubbed as the "destruction" of the state of Israel.
This term has been exploited, abused and exaggerated as certainly as Israel's cadre of apologists and have exploited the term anti-Semitism to muddy-up anyone who has dared to speak out against Israel's cowardly brutalization of civilian targets.
The changes in the world are subtle, but significant. First, a recent Gallop Poll shows that while most Americans (80 percent) believe that the US must pressure the Palestinians to end the conflict, most Americans, more than 72 percent, also believe that they must pressure Israel, too.
Second, the truth of what is happening is getting out to the American public despite one of the most unprofessional blackouts imposed by the anti-Arab American media. The Palestinian and Arab viewpoint is making it to the American people.
Third, the lessons of the first intifada are not lost and we are seeing the results. No matter how hard Israel and its manipulators in the American media try to prevent the world from seeing the truth of Israel's viciousness, it comes out either on TV, the internet or in newspapers. The Israeli Army is guilty of Nazi-like war crimes, including executing in cold blood, Palestinian prisoners it has captured. Several of these executions have been captured on TV.
Fourth, the second intifada is working. The world can see the ridiculousness of Christiana Amanpour standing there asking Yasser Arafat, who is besieged in a bunker, if he will do something to stop the violence. More and more Americans have said they were appaled by her display of ignorance, and are now seeing the Palestinian cause as being the victim of Israel's state terrorism.
Finally, while President George W. Bush remains in a leadership stupor in the White House, incapable of doing anything, some view his inaction as the cause of the violence. That is true. His failure to lead has given Sharon the green light, dripping with red blood, to murder Palestinians at will.
But, the absence of Bush's leadership has one other positive impact. It has left the leaders of the Arab world subject to an intense pressures of their own people, billions of Muslims and Arabs around the world who are demanding that the Arab world and the Muslim world finally severe all ties to the regime of Ariel Sharon.
These are events we could never have hoped for. It proves that by standing up to Israel's brutality, and even in the face of losing so many innocent Palestinian lives either to Israeli Army murder or suicide bombings, the Palestinians will defeat Israel.
Now is not the time to surrender to Israel and accept compromise.
Now is the time to forge ahead and demand even more. Now is the time for all Arab governments to severe all ties with Israel, to isolate Israel again as was done years ago. To return Israel to the situation where it cannot be allowed to think that it can murder innocent Palestinian civilians and find territorial gains.
Israel's Nazi-like government must be shown that its policies of murder and executions and killings will carry a heavy price in future talks, and that all of Jerusalem is now on the table and that all of Palestine is on the table, too.
Why shouldn't Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their homes and lands stolen from them in 1948?
The Jewish people waited 2,000 years to get back what they asserted was theirs. The Palestinians can wait too. Why be in such a rush to give away our rights?
Time does not erase the crime.
And where once many Arabs were willing to compromise and give in to Israel's demands, much of that willingness is now gone forever.
Many Palestinians are chanting today: "Thank you Ariel Sharon for opening the door to our victory!"
In the face of Sharon's vicious campaign, many Palestinians can see victory!
(Go to JAT-Action Home Page or Presbyterian Section)