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A Challenge to the Protestant Church

August 28, 2005 - To those Protestant denominations considering the implementation of a boycott of companies doing business with Israel:

The history of Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza has been decontextualized and caricatured in the media and in popular conversation. Israel has been portrayed as a predator, a colonizing power that attacked and occupied these territories for its own personal gain. This is a misrepresentation. The real history is more complex.

Israel gained control of these territories as the result of a defensive war planned and instigated by the Arab states. Right after the war was over, Israel offered to negotiate land for peace, but the Arabs categorically refused. During the ensuing years, Israeli settlements expanded and Jordan and Egypt renounced their claims to the West Bank and Gaza respectively. The situation became increasingly unstable. Then in 2000, at Camp David and afterward, it appeared a breakthrough had been reached: a plan requiring compromises on both sides and offering the Palestinians almost all of what they demanded. Although the Palestinians are attempting to rewrite the history of that offer, the record is clear: Israel accepted, the Palestinians refused.

Both sides thus share responsibility for the current situation. Neither side created it single-handedly. The bilateral peace process so far has failed. Israel has thus taken a painful and risky step, and has dismantled its settlements in the Gaza Strip while getting nothing in return. This is precisely in line with the demands of the liberal Protestant Church, that Israel begin withdrawing from the territories.

Will the liberal Protestant Church therefore recognize this reality and restrain its divestment campaign against Israel? Will it now begin to hold the Palestinians responsible for their share in creating and perpetuating the conflict? Will it demand that the Palestinians too begin to honor their Roadmap obligations? Will it show more awareness of the devastating effects of the Palestinians' terrorist war? Or will it continue to punish only Israel for a conflict the Palestinians themselves have been largely responsible for needlessly prolonging, in spite of the significant forward steps Israel is now taking?

So far the Palestinian response to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has been more missiles and bombs. Is it really too much to ask that the Palestinians take some responsibility for the peace process and make some meaningful movement of their own towards peace? When only Israel is judged, the Palestinians are encouraged to keep pursuing their war against Israeli civilians. What will the liberal Protestant Church, now having become so active in Middle East politics, do about this?

And just what is the Church's policy on "occupations"? Israel has disengaged from Gaza, and is planning similar action in the West Bank. China has shown no signs of disengaging from Tibet. For the sake of honesty and consistency, will the liberal Protestant Church now call for divestment from companies doing business with China?

Or does its policy of selective punishment apply only to Israel?

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