November 17, 2016
The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Minister of International Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Dear Minister Bibeau,
The United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI) wishes to commend the Canadian government for the decision to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
As you are aware, the Nakba created 750,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948. Their ancestors lived in the region for thousands of years prior to the war that created the state of Israel. Since the Nakba, individuals and families have been denied the right to return to their homes as guaranteed under the 4th Geneva Convention. Their suffering and that of their descendants has escalated over time.
Many UNJPPI members have visited Palestinian refugee camps. Because of this experience, we recognize the urgent need that exists to provide humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees who are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the Middle East and who are in desperate need of the assistance.
On a personal note, as a human rights observer who served in Bethlehem in 2013, I grew weary of apologizing to many informed Palestinians for the policies of the previous Canadian government with respect to Palestine and Israel.
Your government has taken a positive step to help improve stability and offer a ray of hope in a situation that continues to deteriorate for more than five million Palestinian refugees.
Rev. Steve Berube,
Co-chair: United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel
Cc: Justin Trudeau
On Canada’s Decision to Fund UNRWA
Palestinian General Delegation in Ottawa: November 17, 2016
The Palestinian General Delegation in Canada welcomes the announcement of the Government of Canada and the decision to provide $20 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
This money is aimed at supporting nothing but regional stability and the dignity and wellbeing of people and communities in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, education, health and social services. Every child, woman and man benefiting from this funding shall be thankful to Canada; people and government.
The Palestinian General Delegation in Canada finds that this decision encompasses true Canadian values. It conveys to the world Canada’s moral message and deep-rooted commitment toward collaboration, equality, freedom and the value and dignity of all human beings.
The Palestinian General Delegation in Canada expresses its gratitude for the decision announced by the government of Canada, and expresses appreciation and thanks for all those who supported this decision.
Canada is an important and strategic country for the Palestinians with whom we enjoy historical relations and share common values. For that reason, the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada reiterates its commitment to work on developing bilateral relations that would ensure the prosperity of all Palestinians and Canadians. It further ensures readiness to remain a reliable partner when needed.
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Religion, Divestment, Shareholder Engagement, the United Church and the Way of Jesus
Religion is not rational. It is about relationships and symbols that speak to our lives and to our connections with what is within us and beyond us. It helps us connect to other people and to the creation as a whole. Religious beliefs ground our ethics. Theology helps us to see and hear the sacred in a disordered and flawed world.
Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple as a sign of God’s outrage with those who were taking advantage of the poor and powerless. After the incident, the money changers cleaned up the mess, complained to the authorities and went back to business as usual. Meanwhile, because Jesus had the audacity to react to immorality - he was arrested, beaten and executed.
Divestment from companies that support or profit from the occupation of Palestine may not be the same as overturning the money changers’ tables but it is a theological choice. Primarily, it says to our partners, “We will stand in solidarity with you in your hour of need.” It is a way for us to be “salt and light” in the world.
Human suffering may not trigger a change in corporations but it should elicit a response from Christians. Divestment clearly says we refuse to support corporations that make people suffer. It puts our relationship with our brothers and sisters who “cry out in anguish” ahead of any commercial enterprise.
In some cases, shareholder engagement is an effective tool to bring about change. Unfortunately, in Palestine and Israel it has failed. Larger churches in the US have worked with Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar and others for years with no success. Dr. Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and Harvard Law Professor, has clearly stated that attempts by the UN failed with most corporations.
A year ago, the General Council (GC) of the United Church of Canada, the highest decision making body of the denomination, a group we believe is guided by God’s Spirit, requested the United Church, our foundation and pension fund divest from companies supporting or profiting from the occupation. Four years ago, GC directed, “the Executive of the General Council to explore the wisdom of divesting in companies that are profiting from or supporting the occupation.”
In response, a committee was formed to develop a policy regarding what euphemistically has been called responsible investment. No actions and/or recommendations on divestment in support of our partners in Palestine and Israel and our other partners in Guatemala who have ongoing concerns with Canadian mining interests have been forthcoming from this group. This leads to the question, what is our priority, developing a policy or supporting those who have been and who are suffering?
The will of the General Council is clear – divest. So why not divest, as requested and then develop a policy for future guidance? After all, there is no legislation that prevents the United Church or any other body from investing in or divesting from any one corporation. The wisdom of the General Council is clear. The stories from our partners are compelling. The groundwork done by other churches is faithful. Finally, the overwhelming evidence from independent NGO’s, sister churches, the UN and other agencies in Palestine and Israel calls us to act!
The evidence in relation to the brutality of the occupation is abundantly clear. The firsthand accounts of our partners and the 20+ Ecumenical Accompaniers appointed by the denomination attest to daily violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian laws. Credible international groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, the World Council of Churches, B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and Addameer have clearly documented the reality of the occupation. Additionally, the last report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories is tantamount to an indictment for apartheid. So why not do the right thing, the just thing and act!
Religion and theology help to guide us in a disordered and tragic world. The prophet Micah wrote, “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The General Council has decided for justice and support for human rights and the rule of international law. It would serve us well as a denomination to listening to the cries of our partners and humbly respond by divesting from corporations that benefit from the occupation and then create a guide to responsible investing. After all, we do have a theological obligation to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered for 49 long years.
When we divest there will be criticism. There always is when we decide to stand for justice. I remember entering theological college in 1988 just after the GC decided that sexual orientation was not a barrier to ordination. There was a lot of criticism. Still, we trusted in the Holy Spirit guidance then and we did not delay implementation. Our church is richer for that decision.
Divestment is a sign and symbol of solidarity with those who are suffering. It is not a reasonable shareholder reaction – it is saying, “Here I stand I can do no other”. It may not be as dramatic as overturning the tables of the money changers but it is faithful to the one who calls us to be salt and light in the world.
August 5, 2016
Open Letter to David Coon re Green Party Policy on BDS
To: David Coon, NB Member of the Legislative Assembly
Cc: Elizabeth May, MP
August 5, 2016
I write to you as a fellow New Brunswicker as the Green Party convention begins in Ottawa.
As you know, I served as a human rights observer in Bethlehem three years ago and I am I am still in touch daily with the situation on the ground in Palestine. I regret to inform you and other Green Party members that the situation for Palestinians continues to deteriorate. A few examples follow:
The claims that BDS supporters are anti-Semitic are spurious and unfounded. Many Jews support BDS as is evidenced by the membership of Independent Jewish Voices in Canada and Jewish Voices for Peace in the US. Internationally respected human rights advocates such as Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Stephen Hawking and Alice Walker all support BDS. They too believe that legitimate debate is a hallmark of liberal democracies.
Canadians believe in human rights, the rule of law and free and fair debate. Therein, I trust the Green Party will stand in favour of supporting the rights of Canadians who advocate for human rights and the rule of law for Palestinians this weekend.
Rev. Steve Berube
Co-chair: United Network for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel.
Read the full letter and print (PDF)
Open Letter to Dion re Amnesty International report - "Israeli Government must cease intimidation of human rights defenders..."
Read the open letter to Minister Dion about the Amnesty International call to the Israeli Government to stop Human Rights violation.
Letter to GCE re Palestine Update
November 5, 2015
Dear Members of General Council Executive.
We, as the Co-ordinating Team of UNJPPI are writing to inform you of the current situation in Palestine and Israel from some of our sources and to encourage the Executive to move ahead immediately.
Read more and print PDF
Peace Requires Justice
In early April the Centre for Israel & Jewish Affairs (CIJA) sent a letter and brochure to United Church clergy that asked them and their congregations to consider supporting a “constructive alternative” to the UCC’s Unsettling Goods campaign.
CIJA, which describes itself as “the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada,” has been a vociferous opponent of the UCC resolution on Palestine/Israel which passed with a strong majority at the 41st General Council meeting in August 2012. The Unsettling Goods campaign is the UCC’s response to and implementation of the 2012 resolution.
The gist of the CIJA letter is that Unsettling Goods, which it narrowly portrays as a “boycott campaign,” (Unsettling Goods includes several components, including trust-building initiatives, economic action, and pilgrimage) is not a genuine peace initiative. The accompanying brochure lists eight organizations that are working in areas such as trust-building and dialogue, almost exclusively between Palestinians and Israelis living in Israel.
1. The CIJA initiative ignores the biblical mandate to “do justice”.
The Hebrew scriptures common to both Jews and Christians use the Hebrew word for justice, mishpat, more than 200 times. In its essence, mishpat means treating people equally, and ensuring that vulnerable and disempowered groups in society are accorded justice. CIJA talks about “creating conditions where trust can be nurtured” but true mutual trust and respect is built on the foundation of human rights and justice.
In their cover letter, CIJA quotes Psalm 34:14: “seek peace and pursue it.” However, there is an important clause that precedes this phrase. The full verse reads, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” The first part of the verse speaks to the imperative of doing justice. Justice requires us to understand and address the roots of inequality and conflict.
In the context of Palestine/Israel, there are at least three things to consider when it comes to doing justice:
a) the injustice and mistreatment of 4.3 million Palestinians living under oppressive military rule, occupation, and blockade in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
b) the injustice facing approximately 5 million Palestinian refugees living outside of Palestine/Israel who are both the original refugees forced to flee from their homes during the wars of 1948 and 1967, and their descendants. Their current living situations vary but many have been living in refugee camps for more than 50 years and have limited civil rights.
c) the injustices and discrimination faced by the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Israel.
The CIJA ‘Seek Peace’ initiative ignores the first two considerations and only tangentially addresses the third.
Taken in isolation, the work of some of the organizations being promoted by CIJA could be a helpful contribution to one dimension of the struggle for equality between Palestinians and Israelis living in Israel (note that none of the organizations promoted by CIJA make any mention of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land, or of Palestinian refugees outside of Israel/Palestine).
There are approximately 1.4 million Palestinians in Israel comprising nearly 20% of the total population. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom, passed in 1992 by the Israeli parliament, ensures that Israel is a state of “the Jewish people”. There are many laws in Israel that privilege Jews over Arabs. The 1950 Law of Return, for example, grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world but Palestinians are not afforded this right. The Israeli government has recently attempted to create another set of rules for a new category of Israelis, namely Christians in Israel.
As a minority, Palestinians face discrimination and second-class treatment; government resources are heavily skewed towards Jews. Palestinians have the lowest living standards in Israel and Human Rights Watch has found, for example, that government run schools for Palestinian children “are a world apart from government-run Jewish schools.”
Unfortunately, most of the organizations being promoted by CIJA do not take a rights-based approach to the problem of Israeli-Palestinian equality within Israel. Building trust and understanding between Palestinians and Israelis, the approach taken by these eight organizations, does not address the systematic and fundamental discrimination Palestinians face in Israel. Only one of the organizations, the Citizens’ Accord Forum between Jews & Arabs in Israel, makes any reference to the language of “rights”, pointing out for example, that “actual government expenditure on Arab citizens is, on average, 35% lower than that expended on Jewish citizens.”
2. Doing justice requires advocacy to change power relations and policies to ensure human rights are accorded to those suffering injustice.
Acting in the long tradition of United Church civic engagement, the Unsettling Goods campaign challenges unjust power relations between Palestinians and Israelis. The occupation results from the military subjugation of one people by another. Creating trust and understanding between people is a worthy goal, but unless those who wield power change their policies and actions, justice continues to be denied.
It is somewhat ironic that CIJA, which describes itself as an advocacy organization, is attempting to remove political advocacy as a tool in the campaign for a just peace in Israel/Palestine. They know that systemic change involves speaking to governments and decision-makers. And yet their own ‘Seek Peace’ initiative attempts to remove the conflict from the political arena and limit it to the personal realm.
In fact, both are important elements that are built into the Unsettling Goods campaign. The advocacy/boycott element of Unsettling Goods is critical because it shines a light on Israel’s illegal settlements and adds to the global pressure for Israel to comply with international law and human rights conventions. Boycott is a peaceful means of advocacy that is having a growing impact as more people become aware of the serious obstacle to peace posed by Israeli settlements.
3. Reconciliation is based on justice and the full implementation of human rights for all people—Palestinians and Israelis.
The CIJA initiative frames the conflict as one that can be solved by reconciling Palestinians and Israelis on a personal level. These are “genuine opportunities” to promote peace, it claims in its letter to United Church ministers. However, our biblical traditions affirm that reconciliation and justice are inseparable concepts. Reconciliation is based on “right relationships”. The Hebrew Testament word for peace is “shalom”, a word that implies both healing and well-being. Well-being cannot exist under occupation, where human rights are denied to an entire people and where military might is used to preserve “well-being” for one people at the expense of another.
Justice in Palestine/Israel will flourish when all people are accorded equal human rights: the right to self-determination, the right to water, the right to mobility, the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to cultivate one’s own land, the right to live in your house without fear of it being demolished or confiscated, and all the rights that are enshrined in international law. These are not concepts present in the CIJA “constructive alternative.”
So what is genuine peace?
There is another Bible passage that reads as follows: “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Palestinians and Israelis need genuine peace, peace based on justice.
In 2009, Palestinian Christians issued a document called A Moment of Truth: Kairos Palestine. “Our message to the Jews tells them: Even though we have fought one another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together. We can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of this love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.” These words from our Palestinian colleagues reaffirm the message that true reconciliation and trust must be built on the foundation of justice.
We cannot afford to delay justice any longer. The wounds that have been caused to Palestinians living under occupation, living without equal rights in Israel, living without homes and severely restricted in their daily lives as refugees—these are deep wounds that cannot be treated lightly. As UNJPPI members, we recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice, to the work of building a just society in Israel/Palestine that will create the conditions for reconciliation and trust which must follow.
[Download and print PDF document.]
UNJPPI Key Opinion Statements
October 1, 2014
July 14, 2014 -
April 22, 2014 -