From the 1960’s movie, "Exodus," The words “this land is mine, God gave this land to me. This land, this precious land to me ...” ring through my subconscious mind. I can remember leaving the movie theater with great feelings towards the Israelis and their plight in Palestine.
Fast forward 30 years, when I am chaperoning a group of conference youth on a UM/DC study tour focusing on peace in the Middle East. We heard from one Palestinian who said the situation in Palestine was much like that of the native peoples and the invasion/occupation of North America.
In February, Shayla Jordan, Carol Garwood and I were a part of a UMC sponsored trip to the Holy Land. The trip to Israel and the West Bank left me perplexed and solidified my understanding that things are not right in that area. Who has what rights? Whose homeland? How do we live in peace?
We visited the various traditional holy sites: Capernaum, sailed the Sea of Galilee, walked in the Garden of Gethsemane, toured Hebron, ate dates in Jericho and watched the bathers in the Dead Sea. We stayed in Nazareth and Bethlehem. We toured Jerusalem and Tabgha. We walked the Via Dolorosa and purchased many souvenirs, collected rocks and ate good food. I watched Shalya play volleyball with Palestinian youth (she is good). And we walked around Sebastia, where John the Baptist was imprisoned/beheaded and where Jezebel met her death.
We visited with numerous Palestinians, including Bishop Elias Chacour (who we will be speaking at our annual conference session in June). I appreciated and identified with the plight of the Palestinians (Christians and Muslims). I found them very gracious and hospitable, as were the Israelis we met. But there was ample evidence that the Palestinians were, in fact, not wanted. It felt like the treatment was intended to demonstrate that if you don’t like it, move. I believe it is called “pacification.” I remember reading a statement by one African leader who stated that apartheid was a picnic compared to what the Palestinians are experiencing in Israel and the West Bank.
We listened as a rabbi from the Rabbis for Human Rights spoke of the divestment move on the part of the religious community – a movement to divest from companies such as Caterpillar, Motorolla Solutions and Hewlitt Packard, all of whom are profiting off the occupation. His position was you may choose to divest from those companies but look for opportunities to reinvest in companies operating in the West Bank or Israel that are not a part of the pacification effort.
At our upcoming General Conference in Portland, there will be legislation, debate and lobbying to have our General Board of Pension divest from Caterpillar, Motorolla Solutions and Hewlitt Packard. I ask that you pray that whatever we do will be pleasing to God and recognize the legitimacy of the Palestinians to have a part in their homeland.
Special thanks to Great Plains Mercy and Justice for their support of this opportunity.
Oliver Green is an associate lay leader in the Great Plains Conference. He lives in the Topeka, Kansas, area.