Working Group on Israel-Palestine Annual Reports
The Working Group on Israel Palestine sends this report to Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends and to the BYM Peace and Social Concerns Committee for their prayerful consideration. In discerning those aspects of Light that BYM Friends can bring to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, we seek Friends’ continued support for the work of FCNL, AFSC, and Ramallah Friends Meeting and School. We seek creative endeavors that advance peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. And, to encourage return to negotiations leading Israel and Palestine to identify a negotiated final status fair to all, we recommend that Baltimore Yearly Meeting join American Friends Service Committee, three BYM Monthly Meetings, the Presbyterian Church USA, and countless others in endorsing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
What is BDS? BDS means boycott of products made in the illegal Israeli settlements, divestment from corporations that support and profit from the occupation, and sanctions by governments on Israel’s violations of human rights. It is a collection of courses of action for those seeking a nonviolent path to bring about justice in Israel and Palestine. Each declaration of support for BDS varies based on the discernment of those initiating it. We seek that discussion among BYM Friends at annual session this year.
Examples include, significant European pension funds have divested from certain Israeli institutions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation divested from an Israeli corporation. At the initiative of a Quaker group in St. Louis under the leadership of Sandra Tamari, the municipal council turned down a contract with Veolia because of its actions in the West Bank. Recently, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from three companies on the BDS list. The American Friends Service Committee and three BYM monthly meetings--Sandy Spring, Richmond, and Charlottesville--have adopted minutes supporting aspects of BDS. Presently, Bethesda and Langley Hill monthly meetings are considering minutes.
What has the Working Group done this year? Interim Meeting in March 2013 established the Working Group on Israel Palestine at the recommendation of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee. On December 9, 2013 the Working Group sent an email, which was placed on the BYM website, describing the long history of Quaker involvement in the Middle East and particularly Palestine. It highlighted the long and unsuccessful effort to reach a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need to consider boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a tool to reach that resolution. In March 2014 the Working Group provided a letter to the March 9, 2014 Interim Meeting encouraging monthly meetings to consider the issue of BDS. We attach the March 9th letter to this annual report.
Why is continued focus on Israel and Palestine and BDS important? Since submitting the March report, the prospects of achieving resolution of the conflict have gone from bad to worse. The effort to achieve an agreement led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has collapsed. Even while the negotiations were ongoing, the prospects of an agreement were dubious as Israel continued to establish settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem in violation of international law and Gaza was not party to the negotiations.
The asymmetric power relationships between Israel and the Palestinian territories create a disincentive for Israel to negotiate. The US declines to use leverage in more appropriate use of its annual billions in economic and military assistance to Israel. The Government of Israel is well aware of the political and economic consequences of BDS, evidenced by the strong reaction to Secretary Kerry’s reference that support for BDS would grow if Israel left the negotiating table.
Because negotiations are not moving forward, BDS has been chosen as a nonviolent tactic to encourage Israel to come to just agreement with the Palestinians.
John Salzberg (Sandy Spring), clerk