On June 20, the 221st Presbyterian Church General Assembly voted to divest $21 million USD from three companies complicit in the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine — Motorola Solutions, HP and Caterpillar. Exactly one month before this historic vote, at a protest for political prisoner rights and commemorating the Nakba outside of Ofer Military Prison near Ramallah, two Palestinian children were shot dead by the Israeli military.
When friends and family of one of the children killed heard about the Presbyterian Church USA vote to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, they decided to show their plea for support for this overture by making a visual statement. And who best to make this statement than the next generation, whose future is severed by a segregation wall, detention of peaceful protestors, and wrongful killing and torture, never mind lack of access to freedom of travel, all of which are supported by the very same American companies – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and HP – which the Church is invested in?
This is the picture of the friends, classmates and family of Nadim Siyam Nuwarah, a 17-year-old teenager who was killed at the protest outside Ofer Prison on Nakba Day, May 15, 2014, which commemorated the Nakba, or catastrophe, of Palestinian exile in 1948. The other teen who was killed was 16-year-old Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh. Autopsy revealed that Nadim was shot with live bullets. Nadim went to the St. George High School in Ramallah, Palestine. The boys had been part of a peaceful demonstration in support of Palestinian political prisoners, many of whom are on a long-term hunger strike spanning over 60 days. Incidentally, the Presbyterian Church this year also voted on divestment from for-profit prisons and detention centers.
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The Presbyterian Church divestment vote has been met by a negative backlash from some major Jewish institutions that oppose critique of Israel’s human rights violations. Leading Presbyterian Church divestment movement ally Jewish Voice for Peace says it’s crucial in these days following the vote, when tensions in the region and at home are so high, for supporters to create a wave of gratitude to local Presbyterian churches and the national leadership. They’ve even set up an automated ‘Thank You‘ card online.
After the awful kidnapping of the three Israeli settler teens, the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys, riffing off the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, went viral. Palestinians have been using this same line to highlight the brutal incarceration of so many Palestinian youth, as well as the horrific killing of several Palestinian boys in the past week, since Israel launched a major offensive campaign, Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of the kidnapping. Mustafa Aslan, 22-years-old, died of a head injury after being shot by the IDF in Qalandia Refugee Camp between Ramallah and Jerusalem on June 20. Earlier in the week, a 14-year-old boy, Mahmoud Dudeen, was killed in the upsurge of violence. The IDF said since the beginning of the operation it has detained more than 280 people.
Violence and killing will not bring back the boys of the next generation. It’s time to listen to the children and stop investing in the weaponry of occupation. Thankfully, many institutions are realizing the depths of this injustice and making a moral decision to stop financing such activity, from the Presbyterian Church, to the Methodist Church, which earlier this month divested from G4S, to the Gates Foundation, which also divested all their holdings in G4S. All of these companies are international, many originating in the US, and thus the call to divest is not about simply divesting from Israel, but rather about strategically targeting corporations complicit in the occupation structure, settlement products and institutions that actively work with the Israeli government to enforce the occupation or obfuscate the truth about what is happening. Such divestment and boycott campaigns were integral in past struggles for civil rights, from farmworkers in California, to African Americans in Alabama, to ending apartheid in South Africa.
A real “Operation Brother’s Keeper” would learn from the story of Cain and Abel and seek to stop the killing, stop the senseless cycle of violence that has become routine in the enforcement of the occupation, and stop the denial of basic human rights to an entire population. Let’s hope that the collective and growing global pressure and financial withdrawal of support can hasten the day when all people living in Israel/Palestine can truly be brothers, and sisters, in a land of equal rights, justice and freedom.