Doug Smith has been blogging on the Communications Facebook page on the California-Nevada Annual Conference website during his February 5-12 trip to Israel and Palestine.
A member of the Conference's Israel-Palestine Task Force, Smith is there to help implement the resolution to "examine and submit to investment managers for United Methodist congregations and institutions in the … Conference a list of companies that support in a significant way the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories."
The resolution was adopted at Annual Conference Session last year. It further directs the task force to write to those companies requesting a change in their relationship to the occupation. If no change in policy is reported within 90 days, the company's name is to be placed on a divestment list – and all UM churches and investment managers will be urged to consider divesting from the companies on that list.
On Friday evening, February 5, Smith wrote:
The winter chill on this rainy night in Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem, permeates the beautiful cinderblock three-story home of Muneer and Sima Al-Gahwali, their three children, [and] Grandma and Grandpa. Using wax shavings and a candle, Grandpa builds a fire as we pull our chairs close to absorb the heat
As we warm ourselves, Nicolas, age 7, enjoys lighting the candle – and blowing it out and relighting it yet again. He tells us, in halting English, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Nadia, age 14, tells us of her presentation in French that she will be making at school tomorrow. Grandma shows us the Communion bread she has baked for church services this weekend. There is a spirit in this home … [of] a loving family filled with faith in God and hope.
Soon discussion turns to life under the Occupation. Muneer shares how he lived in peace and friendship with Jewish people before the year 2000 and the Wall. He would travel to Tel Aviv and Haifa often. He entertained his Jewish friends in his home, as they shared laughter, hopes and dreams. That all changed with the Wall. Now he cannot freely go to Jerusalem, which is just minutes away. He cannot visit his Jewish friends … there is no dialogue. How sad that a sense of cooperation and friendship between Jews and Palestinian Christians has been deliberately destroyed.
Last year, Muneer had a meeting in Jerusalem to obtain a visa. Leaving his home at 9:30 a.m., after many delays and harassment, he arrived at 1 p.m., just in time for his appointment. That is more than three hours to travel less than 1 kilometer.
Sima tells of a meeting of Palestinian and Jewish women designed to re-establish some form of dialogue. Some of the Jewish women hold the position that all of the land belongs to the Jewish people, based on Scripture. Sima responds:
"… but you are not paying for the land now owned by Palestinians. You are stealing the land and sometimes killing to build on Palestinian land. God will punish you one day."
And so begins a dialogue based on fear, pain, and suffering. Yet it is dialogue, a way to rebuild communication between two peoples who must share this land.
The family has many questions about [President Barack] Obama and U.S. policy in the Middle East. They are encouraged to hear that progressive Jews, through J Street, are asking Jews to support Obama's position to end the settlement expansion now, and create a Palestinian state.
As conditions worsen each day they must live under Occupation, Muneer remains passionate when he says, "Only God can bring peace. And I remain hopeful because of my strong faith."
As Christians, let us join Muneer and his family in praying for peace, as we do all we can to be activists for a just and lasting peace. We must engage in dialogue between Christians and Jews in our own communities, rebuilding a sense of cooperation as we work together to restore civility, and peace with justice for all in this land we call Holy.
Israel Palestine Task Force
Ca-Nev Conference, UMC
Catch all of Smith's blog entries and view his photos from Israel and Palestine by visiting the Communications Facebook page and clicking on the "Just Fans" button.