Deputies Send Challenging Israel-Palestine Resolutions to Bishops

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The House of Deputies on Thursday morning passed five resolutions that, if approved by the House of Bishops, would challenge the state of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza more forcefully than the Episcopal Church has been willing to do in the past.

Under Resolution B016 the church would follow the example of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in developing “criteria for Israel and Palestine based on a human rights’ investment screen and the actions of General Convention and Executive Council over the past seventy years.” The Lutherans’ policies are spelled out in their document, “Justice for the Holy Land Through Responsible Investment.”

In presenting the legislation, Deputy Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, chair of the Committee on Stewardship and Socially Responsible Investing, told the house that unlike a previous resolution on investment screens that had been defeated in the House of Bishops, B016 was on the bishops’ consent calendar.

The resolution passed on a voice vote after a brief floor debate. Later in the day, the resolution was removed from the bishops’ consent calendar and the bishops took up in the afternoon a number of the resolutions that deputies had passed in the morning. B016 awaits final action in the House of Bishops.

After the debate on B016, the deputies next passed Resolution D039 which condemns Israeli laws and policies that “discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and have inevitably led to the current state of apartheid.”

The resolution also “condemns the system of military justice applied in the occupied Palestinian territories that subjects Palestinians to detention without charges or counsel, detain minors without parental presence,” deprives Palestinians of their right of peaceful assembly, and results in lethal violence against unarmed Palestinians.”

Supporting the resolution, Deputy Pam Nesbitt of the Diocese of Pennsylvania read a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bonnie Anderson, former president of the House of Deputies, and Patti Browning, widow of former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning.

“Just as we rightly hear the cry of migrants seeking shelter and asylum on the borders of the US, so, too, does our conscience demand we campaign to end the detention of children and political prisoners caught in the 51-year-old vice of occupation,” the trio wrote.

Deputy Bill Murchison of Dallas took strong issue with the debate, which was dominated by supporters of the resolution. “What is it that foreign policy experts of Episcopal Church have against Israel’s right to deal … with its security issues?” he asked. Murchison, who said Hamas and Hezbollah are primarily responsible for the continuing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, called the use of the word “apartheid” in the resolution “intellectually dishonest.”

The house next passed Resolution C038, which calls on Israel to “guarantee basic rights and exercise a prohibition against torture and ill-treatment of detained children.” In presenting the resolution, Deputy Sarah Lawton of California said Palestinian children are held by Israel’s military, rather than its civilian detention system where they are subject to nighttime arrests at home, physical and verbal abuse, “blindfolds and restraints, strip searches, solitary confinement, coerced confessions and confessions written in Hebrew, a language they do not speak.”

She said detained children are sometimes not allowed to see their parents or legal counselors and sometimes transferred to prisons in Israel where their parents cannot visit.

The resolution passed on a voice vote.

Two additional resolutions ask the United States government to consider withholding military aid to Israel and Palestinian forces in certain circumstances.

Resolution D027 calls for an investigation of “the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians by the Israeli Defense Force, as well as by Palestinian forces.” If allegations of human rights violations are corroborated, the resolution stresses “the obligation of the U.S. government to enforce the Leahy Amendment,” which prohibits the United States from funding foreign military units that commit human rights violations.

In their afternoon session, the bishops approved this resolution on a voice vote.

Resolution D038 calls on President Trump and Congress to suspend “all military aid to Israel until Israel is in full compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by changing its laws, policies and practices that favor its Jewish citizens and discriminate against its Christian and Muslim citizens and other minorities.”

Several deputies questioned whether the resolution singled Israel out for special condemnation, but the resolution passed 433-377.

The only resolution related to Israel and Palestine that failed was D028, which called on elected officials to reject legislation that would “penalize companies and organizations for their participation in nonviolent boycotts on behalf of Palestinian human rights.” Should such legislation become law and be challenged in the courts, the resolution urges the Executive Council and the Presiding Bishop “to consider filing an amicus brief in support of court challenges to the law.”

During debate Deputies Russ Randle and L. Zoe Cole, both lawyers, persuaded the house that the resolution would put the convention on the wrong side of free speech issues.

Lawton said she was not surprised by how many of the resolutions passed. “We thought there were a few controversial issues embedded in them, but we didn’t think it was controversial to decry a separate system of detention and prosecution for children in the region in a case of occupation,” she said. “Nor did the speaking against the disproportionate use of live fire against unarmed protestors. “

She said she was encouraged that the House of Bishops had previously concurred with the deputies on Resolution B003 reaffirming Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and of a potential Palestinian state, and yesterday afternoon concurred on Resolution D027, on investigating the use of live fire against unarmed civilians.