Understanding BDS: Divestment

Understanding BDS: Divestment

They won’t give up

In 2003, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death in Gaza by an armored American made Caterpillar D9 bulldozer operated by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) while she was defending a Palestinian house about to be demolished. The tragic death of twenty-three-year-old activist pushed the launch of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) movement.

The divestment campaign calls for the withdrawal of investments in Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola, companies tied to human rights abuses. During trips to Israel/Palestine, I visited villages where demolition practices are common.

Al-Walaja is a small village near the edge of Jerusalem that overlooks the encroaching Jewish settlements of Gilo and Har Gillo. When orders to demolish the houses of villagers come, they have two choices: demolish your own home or have it demolished by Israeli militia at a greater cost often including additional fines. Most villagers destroy their own homes, save the stones and structural materials and rebuild again.

Abu Nidal invites our small group to his house and takes us upstairs onto an outside balcony. Trucks laden with construction materials pass along the dirt road below and I watch workers pound pilings into the bared ground on his land.

He points to a place on the other side of the road below. “My family burial site is there but we cannot go anymore.” He says the Israeli army bulldozed our olive, citrus and nut trees taking hundreds of dunums (1 dunum = 1/3 acre) of precious farmland for road construction and for a high separation wall that nearly surrounds the entire village, isolating it from our orchards and from other Palestinian communities.

“We are fighting back,” Abu Nidal says defiantly, “trying to hold on to what little we have left with legal action: I know we will lose but burdening the court roster with case after case sometimes postpones action.”

Al Walaja borders Jerusalem and Bethlehem and is an odd case. The village was annexed by Israel in 1949, but villagers were not regarded as Israelis did not get Jerusalem identification cards. Considered Palestinians, they are repeatedly denied Israeli issued permits required to build on lands owned by their families for generations.

Abu Nidal says they build illegally and their houses are demolished. Again they build and with predictable regularity, their homes are leveled. Again and again, villagers rebuild. “We won’t give up,” Abu Nidal announces proudly. He explains that Walaja is targeted because the Jerusalem Municipality intends to displace the residents and annex the remaining third of the land that was annexed in 1967 in the Six Day War.

He takes us on a walk alongside the partially built wall. Giant wall slabs wait nearby for placement to complete a separation barrier. I stop at a pile of rubble. Abu Nidal says that a day before, a house stood there. I stare at the sad memories of a home – tattered clothing, a crushed cooking pot, the shattered photo of a happy couple, a doll’s head, a baby crib and a toy truck. Thoughts flashed to recent TV pictures from home showing the aftermath of a tornado, the downcast faces of America’s victims left with nothing but a belief that help will come and a trust that it couldn’t happen again.

But this, I think as I look down, this wanton destruction is so unnecessary, so useless; and so few know that American investments help to make it possible.

Abu Nidal tells me the house was destroyed and rebuilt twelve times and that recently Israel made it illegal to save materials from destroyed homes. What will these people do? But I know they will defy orders and rebuild again and again and again.

When negotiations with the Israeli government repeatedly failed, Palestinians turned to churches for intervention on humane and moral grounds. In 2009, the Kairos Palestine Document, “A Moment of Truth” was issued (http://www.kairospalestine.ps/). Calling on the international community to implement nonviolent tactics to end the occupation, it included divesting from businesses and corporations in Israel profiting from human suffering and for creating a safer region for Jewish Israelis as well as Palestinians.

After prayer, discussion and reflection, upholding Christian values by divesting church funds from corporations not consistent with Church doctrine was agreed to be fully consistent with securing equal rights for all.

I attended The United Methodist Church General Conference in 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Held every four years, representatives from around the world gather to make church decisions. Palestinians had appealed for help to end Israeli occupation by divesting from companies that profit from suffering under occupation was one consideration. Caterpillar is among Methodist Church investments. Representatives from the Jewish Voice for Peace spoke with attendees and gave statistics compiled by ICAHD (Israeli Commission Against Housing Demolition) showing close to fifty thousand structures were bulldozed since 1967. In The vote to divest from Caterpillar inched closer than at prior conferences, but failed to pass

The beat goes on. According to the Electronic Intifada, 2016 was a record year for demolitions in the West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem. Reports of Israeli forces demolishing Palestinian owned buildings were reported in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina: and a day earlier 9 Palestinians including children were made homeless when two houses were destroyed in Silwan.

AIPAC continues to urge United States Congressional representatives not to support BDS movements referring to Palestinians as “Israel’s enemies” and accusing them repeatedly as attempting to undermine and destroy the Jewish state.” AIPAC claims BDS is “an effort to stigmatize, delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel.”

I want Israeli tour guides to take visitors to Al Walaja and meet ordinary people deprived of a bed to sleep in, a stove to cook on and after losing all that is precious, ask yourself, are these my values? Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Illinois, is one of the targets of the nonviolent divestment campaign opposed to companies that sell equipment used in human rights abuses.