Investment, not divestment: How to help the Palestinians

April 26, 2012
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A textiles factory in Hebron. Some rights reserved by PalFest.

Many U.S. denominations have partner churches in the Holy Land. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ameri­ca, for example, has a strong commitment to “accompany” the Evangelical Luth­eran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

Given the relationship that many American churches and American Chris­tians have with Palestinian Christians, the challenge is how to properly engage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Should we take sides in the conflict by echoing the narrative of our suffering Palestinian brothers and sisters? Or does being faithful to the gospel call us to include Israeli suffering in the breadth of our concern? How do we acknowledge the complexity of the conflict and help Palestinians and Israelis move toward the day when they live at peace as neighbors?

Most mainline denominations have struggled with this challenge, and recently some have begun to find a creative response. At its 2011 Churchwide As­sembly, the ELCA expressly rejected a plan for divestment from Israel and encouraged the various congregations, synods and church agencies to “consider making positive economic investments in those Palestinian projects and businesses that peacefully strengthen the economic and social fabric of Palestinian society.”

Encouraging economic investment in Palestine is a positive, potentially transformative strategy, and it is to be preferred to the punitive options of encouraging divestment and boycotts of Israel or of companies doing business with Israel. Boycott and divestment are focused on tearing down and punishing one side in a complex conflict rather than on promoting constructive solutions to the conflict and improving lives.

The notion that divestment from Israel will somehow make peace and a two-state solution more likely is based on the misconception that one side bears all the blame and that the actions of one side alone control the future of negotiations. Furthermore, divestment campaigns make peace and a negotiated solution less likely, for they tend to increase Israelis’ sense of fear and isolation and thus decrease the likelihood of their being willing to take the risk inherent in any peace agreement. If “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), then increasing fear and isolation is not a proper Christian response to conflict.

A viable Palestinian state must have a sustainable financial foundation. Pales­tinian civil society still lacks the economic base and infrastructure necessary for statehood. A World Bank report in September 2011 describes “the necessity of both sustainable economic growth and effective institutions for a future viable [Palestinian] state.”

While investment does not take the place of a political solution, it can improve the lives of Palestinians even under the current situation, in which the per capita GDP is $1,500. And Pales­tinians who are empowered financially are in a better position for political empowerment.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, was an early supporter of investment in the nascent state of Palestine. Starting in 2007, Blair, along with Pales­tinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, has been involved in various projects to im­prove Palestinian infrastructure and en­hance regional and international business cooperation. These included the construction of an agro-industrial park in Jericho and the development of industrial zones on the West Bank.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has also been involved in this work, helping the Palestinian Mone­tary Authority to modernize financial institutions and working with the Pales­tinian Enterprise Development project, which has supported the formation of partnerships with over 100 Pal­estinian industries to “increase exports, enable investment, provide training, generate employment, and improve quality standards.”

In early 2011 the United Church of Christ Pension Board decided to invest in a Palestinian private equities fund called the Siraj Palestine Fund. It is described by its sponsors as “the first private equity fund dedicated exclusively to investing in companies operating in Palestine.” Its investments are intended “to unleash the latent potential of Palestinian small- and medium-sized enterprises by promoting technological advancement, job creation and by ad­dressing the acute shortage of equity capital for local businesses due to years of political turmoil.” The Siraj Fund, launched with commitments in excess of $60 million, is expected to play a significant role in Palestinian economic growth.

In March 2012, Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, stated that the Episcopal Church “does not endorse divestment or boycott,” and she asked Episcopalians to consider investing “in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza.” She added, “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycott of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically.”

Other investment opportunities have arisen in Palestine. For example, in 2011 the Rasmala Investment Bank established the Ras­mala Palestine Equity Fund, which seeks to “achieve long-term capital appreciation by investing in a diversified portfolio of growth and value stocks listed on the Palestine Stock Exchange in securities anticipated to undergo initial public offerings as well as securities at their initial public offering.”

The New York Times reported in February that the Palestinian Stock Exchange has been one of the best-­performing markets in the Arab world in recent years. In 2011, a year marked by great political upheaval in the region, the Palestinian exchange was second only to that of Qatar, falling only 2.58 percent over the course of the year. The Times quoted Fayez Husseini, manager of Abraaj Capital’s $50 million Pales­tine Growth Capital Fund, as saying: “Strong stock market performance proves that these Palestinian companies are well managed, resilient and adaptive.”

What better way for the church to act as peacemakers than to engage in actual investment, building up Palestinian society and infrastructure, thereby helping to ensure a sound and viable sovereign state when a political solution is found and potentially hastening that political solution?

Investment moves churches beyond a black-and-white concept of justice and a conflict model of advocacy toward a model of empowerment and reconciliation. This move represents the best hope for churches to contribute to long-term peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.



But Israel is responsible for the creation of the Occupied Territories.  Inexcusable--a land grab right under the noses of the well meaning like the authors of this article.  Why not BDS Israeli companies that employ settlers and which operating in the Territories?


I should have  mentioned that I don't favor BDS for all of Israel--only the Occupied Territories.  Perhaps I sounded more harsh than I should have--and more intense than I am.  But, ultimately, I just don't think your approach will work.  You are aware that the two-state solution is all but dead, aren't you?  So we've really approached a situation where reviving the two-state solution requires something more than the most gentle approach possible.

Suppose Israel gobbles up so much land it makes a viable Palestinian state impossible.  What would you do then?  Support expulsion?  Or perhaps you'd just support the denial of the right to vote for Palestinians in the O.T. indefinitely?  You do realize what's at stake here, right?


The comments of this article do not sound like the comments of someone who understands the pain of this occupation. They sound like the comments of someone who thinks Israel and Palestine are of equal power, as simple as Palestine rockets Israel and Israel occupies. What Israeli Jew can't drive on the roads of his country? What Israel Jew must stand in line at a check point for Hours? What Israeli Jew has his home bulldosed or his olive orchard distroyed? What Israeli Jew has his water supply poisoned so he will have to move? What IsraelI Jew is denied indefinitely to build on his own property? What Israeli Jew is denied the right to travel inside or outside the country? What Israel Jew is arrested, tortured and never charged or sentenced.

The author of this article doesn't know or does not want to know what is really happening.


Here is what Desmond Tutu has to say to the authors as well as Editor John Buchanana.

These people argue that a "one-sided approach" on divestment resolutions, even the selective divestment from companies profiting from the occupation proposed by the Methodists and Presbyterians, "damages the relationship between Jews and Christians that has been nurtured for decades."

While they are no doubt well-meaning, I believe that the rabbis and other opponents of divestment are sadly misguided. My voice will always be raised in support of Christian-Jewish ties and against the anti-Semitism that all sensible people fear and detest. But this cannot be an excuse for doing nothing and for standing aside as successive Israeli governments colonize the West Bank and advance racist laws.

I recall well the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he confesses to his "Christian and Jewish brothers" that he has been "gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;' who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom. ..."

King's words describe almost precisely the shortcomings of the 1,200 rabbis who are not joining the brave Palestinians, Jews and internationals in isolated West Bank communities to protest nonviolently against Israel's theft of Palestinian land to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements and the separation wall. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand as relentless settlement activity forecloses on the possibility of the two-state solution.

If we do not achieve two states in the near future, then the day will certainly arrive when Palestinians move away from seeking a separate state of their own and insist on the right to vote for the government that controls their lives, the Israeli government, in a single, democratic state. Israel finds this option unacceptable and yet is seemingly doing everything in its power to see that it happens.

Many black South Africans have traveled to the occupied West Bank and have been appalled by Israeli roads built for Jewish settlers that West Bank Palestinians are denied access to, and by Jewish-only colonies built on Palestinian land in violation of international law.

Black South Africans and others around the world have seen the 2010 Human Rights Watch report which "describes the two-tier system of laws, rules, and services that Israel operates for the two populations in areas in the West Bank under its exclusive control, which provide preferential services, development, and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians." This, in my book, is apartheid. It is untenable. And we are in desperate need of more rabbis joining the brave rabbis of Jewish Voice for Peace in speaking forthrightly about the corrupting decades long Israeli domination over Palestinians."

By Desmond Tutu, special to the Times
In Print: Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Response from Metro DC Synod ELCA Colleagues

Investment, not divestment

How to help the Palestinians

Response to the Apr 26, 2012 article by Thomas A. Prinz and Karl-John N. Stone


The proposal put forward by the authors – i.e. to invest in the occupied territories -- has a compelling ring to it.  Moreover, since it holds out the promise of an improved quality of life for Palestinian people living in the West Bank, it should not be dismissed out of hand. 

Yet, like the enticing song of the sirens along the Rhine, distracting sailors and luring them onto the treacherous rocks of the Lorelei, the proposal might hold dangers that are not apparent at first glance. 

The authors’ proposal is reminiscent of the attempt of the South African government to encourage development of the ethnically homogeneous ‘homelands’ or bantustans.  Investment, both foreign and domestic, was encouraged, ostensibly to increase the quality of life of black Africans and to give them a measure of autonomy.  For the millions who had been forcibly resettled to these ‘homelands’, this development, beginning with the Transkei in the mid-1970s and proceeding to Bophuthatswana, KwaZulu, Ciskei, Venda and others, had an initial allure. 


The goal of the plan, however, was clear: to strengthen the system of ‘separate development’ (apartheid) – and limit the risk of uncontrolled resistance to it – by creating conditions that would encourage accommodation.  All investment was controlled by the South African government and served to reinforce the apartheid status quo.


When leaders of the anti-apartheid movement opposed this type of economic development, some people were astonished.  Like the authors of this article, they asked, “How can you oppose something that will clearly improve the quality of life of the people?”   Others understood clearly that the goal of the South African Government was simply to shape development under conditions of the apartheid system. 


Groups such as Artists United Against Apartheid, for example, registered their opposition to this type of controlled economic development by refusing to accept invitations to come play in the Sun City gambling resort in the Bophuthatswana bantustan.  Bruce Springsteen wailed,


Relocation to phony homelands,

Separation of families I can’t understand,

Twenty-three million can’t vote because they’re black;

We’re stabbing our brothers and sisters in the back

We’re gonna say,

I ain’t gonna play Sun City.


If the legitimate leaders of the Palestinian people – including leaders of the Palestinian churches – were to come out publicly in favor of the authors’ proposal, we will certainly reconsider.  But as long as the control of investment is not in their hands, it appears that that they are not ready to do so.  As a Palestinian friend put it recently, “We don’t want to exchange the porridge of short-term economic development for our legitimate birthright in the land of our ancestors.”  


Rather than disparaging “the narrative of our suffering Palestinian brothers and sisters”, we might do well to listen closely to what they are saying.  The authors may be well-intended.  But it is our view that only systemic change – preceded by an end to the 45 year military occupation of the Palestinian territories – will be able to fulfill the goal we clearly share with the authors, namely to“help Palestinians and Israelis move toward the day when they live at peace as neighbors”


Rev. Philip Anderson

Rev. Paul Wee

Pastors on the roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Metropolitan Washington, DC Synod




Letter from Jeffrey DeYoe

Anyone who hears the phrase “positive investment,” as in the article “Investment, not divestment: How to help the Palestinians,” by Thomas A. Prinz and Karl-John N. Stone (May 16), very reasonably thinks: “How can you be against that?” But the devil is in the details. 

Positive investment assumes that there is a context in which it can work. So far, self-proclaimed proponents have found some possible inroads to this kind of investment in the information technology field, but not much beyond that. That is wonderful, and we hope this development continues. 

Beyond the virtual, however, exactly how do Palestinian olive farmers move products past walls, checkpoints and Israeli-only highways--beyond, that is, the swiss cheese of the bantustans created by barriers that run deep into the occupied territories, cutting Palestinians off from each other? 

Many farmers are separated from their ancestral lands and cannot even harvest their olives or tend their trees. They are dependent upon many Christians from the U.S. and elsewhere to come and do it for them. The best “positive” investment would be to allow the owners and growers of those crops to get to them rather than having their land confiscated by the Israeli government for lack of production.

Palestinians themselves know that the economics of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) will hit them hard. So what is the logic of them writing the Kairos Palestine document signed by all Christian leaders and even endorsed by many Palestinian Muslim leaders calling for BDS? It comes out of the pain and struggle of living under occupation.

Presbyterians are already accustomed to not investing in companies that provide matériel used in conflict. Divest­ment by our church has always been about aligning our finances with our faith and values. The call for Presbyterian divestment comes only after years of corporate engagement in which the companies named have made it clear they will not cooperate with the church’s standards for positive investment. But there are dozens of companies operating in Israel from which 

our denomination need never divest because their products are for inherently peaceful pursuits.

Israel’s military occupation locks an entire people behind concrete walls, creates suffering and even death among the Palestinian people far outnumbering the terrible Israeli losses. It prevents any realistic chance for effective positive investment in Palestinians and a viable free enterprise economy.

Jeffrey DeYoe

Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA

Ft. Myers, Fla.

Letter from Donald C. Mead

How to respond to conflict in Palestine and Israel will be a big issue at the upcoming assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Prinz and Stone suggest that the best way to do that is by investing in Palestine.

Fundamental to the way Presby­terians do mission is to work in partnership, paying particular attention to what our partners tell us are their priorities as we set our own mission goals. To do otherwise is either to live in a colonialist mentality or to say that we have other priorities that override theirs.

Our partners in the Holy Land are the Christian churches there. In 2004, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church affirmed an intention to engage in a process of “Development and Com­passionate Action in Palestine.” That led to extensive conversations with our partners to ask for their guidance. Positive investment was never near the top of their list in any of those discussions.

More recently, our Palestinian partners have come together to formulate their priorities. One of several responses they ask for is boycott, divestment and sanctions. That can be a blunt instrument or a nuanced and focused one. That fact complicates discussions of BDS, making it easy to reject the whole approach. Prinz and Stone’s article reflects that weakness, as they frame their discussion in terms of “divestment from Israel,” which they say is “focused on tearing down and punishing one side in a complex conflict.” 

But divestment from Israel has never been a focus of Presbyterian actions; none of the overtures to be considered by this year’s assembly take that approach. The goal is always more targeted, aimed at changing the policies of American companies earning profits from their engagement in the occupation of Palestinian land on the West Bank.

Investing in Palestine while ignoring Palestinians’ cries for help in other dimensions may make us feel good; it may be an easier thing for us to do, answering other demands being placed on us in the American context. But no one who has listened to the voice of the Christian community in Palestine can say this is an adequate response to their clearly articulated needs. True and faithful partnership requires a broader response that surely can include investing in Palestinians, but must go far beyond that to confront the ongoing and expanding occupation of their land, which makes a farce of the idea that investment by itself will be an adequate response. Faithfully responding to Christ’s call requires us to do more than that.

Donald C. Mead

Glen Arbor, Mich.

Letter from Peter van der Veen

Prinz and Stone’s article is dishonest and disingenuous. It is a slap in the face of the Palestinian Christians who, in their Kairos document, plead for help, especially from Christians in the West, to support their resistance to the brutal Israeli occupation through nonviolent means. The article talks about Israeli suffering without mentioning that it is largely caused by the Israeli government’s policy of occupation and the coerced submission of the Palestinians. 

The article spells out support for the 1 percent expected to gain from the “capital market.” Not a word about the 99 percent, which includes fishermen whose livelihood depends on fishing in the high seas and who are forbidden by the occupying power to do so; tens of thousands of Bedouins who are no longer allowed to graze their flocks on land to which they had user rights for thousands of years; farmers on some of the best agricultural land on the Gaza strip who are being killed on an almost weekly basis for planting and harvesting their crops; farmers who are deprived of growing vegetables in the Gaza area because the occupying power prohibits exporting to foreign markets; farmers living in the Jordan valley and others living near the settlements who are driven off their land; hundreds of farmers in the occupied West Bank whose wells have been destroyed or closed by the Israeli occupiers and by Jewish settlers; thousands of farmers who have no free access to their land--cut off by the separation wall or by the new highway system--and who have to wait hours (sometimes days) before being allowed to work their farms; hundreds of farmers whose age-old olive trees were destroyed with impunity by the Israeli occupiers and Jewish settlers. 

Peter van der Veen

Bellingham, Wash.

Letter from Gary M. Burge

In an otherwise helpful article on Israel, the Palestinians and divestment (“Investment, not divestment,” May 16), Thomas Prinz and Karl-John Stone argue that investment in Israel, not punitive economic measures, will provide a constructive atmosphere for peacemaking. But they miss two important realities. First, this strategy has been in place for years--and to no avail. The U.S. has even offered economic incentives (free military hardware, loan guarantees, money, etc.), and Israeli intransigence has prevailed. Requests to stop illegal settlements have been met with a simple no.

Second, Prinz and Stone fail to mention that in this case the churches of Palestine have asked us to stand with them and up the ante with economic measures. The Palestine Kairos document of 2009 says this explicitly and was signed by the very representatives of these authors’ church as well as more than 2,700 Palestinian Chris­tians. This is a direct echo of what the South African churches asked in their Kairos document in 1985. We listened to the Afri­cans and respected their discernment. And good things resulted. Perhaps it is time we listened to the church in this region that lives with the realities of occupation.

Gary M. Burge

Wheaton, Ill.

Letter from Charles Gourgey

I  appreciated the article “Investment, not divestment” (May 16) as a thoughtful and nuanced contribution to a complex discussion. So I was dismayed to read the series of angry letters (June 13, June 27) attacking it.

I too am a strong critic of Israeli settlement policy, and especially of the current Israeli government. Nevertheless, the story has another side: Israel cannot unilaterally “end the occupation.” Israel’s southern cities have been under attack ever since it withdrew from Gaza. Israel cannot take a similar risk with the cities in its heartland. For the occupation to end, both sides must reach an agreement, and truth be told, neither side has shown true sincerity in trying to do so.

Those who have so strongly condemned the article and Israel fail to recognize Palestinian contributions to the im­passe: a Palestinian leadership that has not prepared its people for peaceful coexistence, the racist and even genocidal incitement against Jews still practiced by Pal­estinian media, Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli population centers, and the Pal­estinian insistence on a “right of return” of Palestinians inside Israel, which would make Jews once again a persecuted minority in the Middle East. Com­pli­cating matters even further is the rise of Islamic extremism in the region as a result of the Arab Spring. And yes, the security fence has created problems, but it has also drastically reduced incidents of terrorism and saved lives. If one really wants to make a useful contribution to the discussion, then one must consider the entire picture and respect its complexity. 

Charles Gourgey

New York, N.Y.

Letter from John R. Regier

One after another of the letter writers based their positions solely on the stance of Palestinian Christians. Donald Mead flatly asserted, “Our partners in the Holy Land are the Christian churches there” (June 13). Really? We’re not partners with Jews? Or Muslims? It is a tragic mistake for American Christians to adopt such a myopic view of a political conflict in which virtually all of the principal actors are either Jewish or Muslim. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is long-standing and complex. That does not mean we have the luxury as American Christians of simply choosing one side over the other.

John R. Regier

Belmont, Mass.

To John Regier's point:

To John Regier's point:  Certainly U.S. Christians are partners with Jews as well as with Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim.  But you miss the stark reality (or perhaps has not witnessed it first hand) that in the current historical context, being a friend to the Jews means confronting us in our sin.  Indeed, John, sometimes you must choose sides, and in this case, as your tradition makes very clear, the side to choose is the side of the oppressed.  Speaking as a Jew, one with strong family ties in Israel, and a fierce commitment to the Jewish values of human rights I was taught growing up in the Jewish community, I would say to you, John:  if you would love us, love us rightly and love us well. There are voices within Israel crying out to the international community, boycott us! Save Israel from itself! Save us, as the international community helped save South Africa, by bringing us back into the community of nations and bringing on the radical political change needed to purge the destructive policies that are destroying us from within. The politics may seem complex, but there is nothing complex about Apartheid.  We know what it looks like and it looks like Israel today.  This is a profound crime, and a profound tragedy, not only for the dispossessed Palestinians but for the Jews of Israel who live behind a wall, physical, psychological and spiritual, of soul-killing racism.  BDS is necessary, legal, time-tested, effective, and altogether loving act under the circumstances.  Feel-good concepts like positive investment in fact do harm:  they deflect from the hard work that remains to be done. They build the prison rather than tear down its walls.  

If you would know, John, what to do as a Christian facing this urgent cause, read Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  The words ring out to us today as if they had been written yesterday, and speak directly to the issue of BDS.  

"Why direct action? asked King. "Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path? You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored... The judgement of God is upon the church as never before.  If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century."