Committee recommends labeling Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and lives as ‘apartheid’

Louisville, Kentucky – Like the 225e General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) gathers for historic hybrid meeting at the Presbyterian Center, International Engagement Committee spent more than three hours debating INT-02: Recognition that the laws, policies and practices of Israel constitute apartheid against the Palestinian peopleultimately voting 28 to 3 to recommend to the assembly that the Israeli government’s occupation and treatment of Palestinian land and people be labeled as “apartheid” by the denomination.

The legal definition of apartheid was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 30, 1973, as follows: “inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the domination of a racial group of persons over any another racial group of people and to systematically oppress them”. .”

Outside the Presbyterian Center where the commissioners were meeting, pro-Israel groups like Presbyterians for Middle East Peace protested with a large hot air balloon emblazoned with the words: “PCUSA: Fight Racism. Not the Jews.

Protest against actions on Israel / Palestine being considered by General Assembly 225 of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Todd Stavrakos with Presbyterians for Peace in the Middle Eastone of the protesting groups, said Outlook, “We are here to express our concerns about some of the overtures that are directed towards the State of Israel and the Jewish community. … We are really concerned about the overture that would seek to label the State of Israel as an apartheid state. First, we don’t think that’s true. And second, it’s part of a larger campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel. We have seen many activists who support this cause harass the Jewish community, and the Jewish community feels threatened from all sides on this day. Anti-Semitism is at its highest level in recent history.

Attempts at previous GAs have failed to get the assembly to label the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestinian land and control of the Palestinian people as apartheid. Members of the International Engagement Committee testified today that commissioners from previous assemblies said they believed the actions of the Israeli government constituted the legal definition of apartheid, but were unwilling to formally apply the term.

At 220e GA (2012) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, among the 11 openings concerning Israel, one asked the assembly to “to recognize that the laws, policies and practices of Israel constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people”. It was recommended in committee for disapproval 29-19. The disapproval was passed by the assembly 463-175.

Today, David Thornton, former Chicago Presbytery teaching commissioner, spoke in favor of openness as presented by Grace Presbytery, saying, “You speak truth to power. You call it that. Law student in the past, res ipsa loquitur — the thing speaks for itself.

Through impassioned testimonies, openness advocates shared stories of the brutality inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.

The Nakbah, an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe” or “disaster”, refers to the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel in 1948 and the destruction of Palestinian homes. In 1949, a border was declared in an armistice agreement between Israel and its neighbors Egypt, Jordan and Syria. During the June 1968 Six-Day War, Israel crossed the 1948 border, known as the Green Line, and seized the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, Israel has been accused of continuing to occupy more land and displace more Palestinians.

Richard Gibson, an advocate for the opening of the Northwest Coast Presbytery, told commissioners that his presbytery voted 99-0 to approve INT-02, saying, “My friends, words matter. And the churches are called to use the correct word, “apartheid,” which points to a truth about the relationship of the State of Israel with the Palestinian people. …Israel became an apartheid state because it continues to restrict Palestinian rights, movement, worship, housing, media, health care, education. … With this openness, we seek peace and justice for all people in this land of the Bible.

As in previous years, some commissioners were reluctant to use strong apartheid language, referring to the former apartheid regime in South Africa where the term originated, which ended in 1994 after decades of protests and riots against the white ruling class.

Leslie Latham, a former teacher commissioner from Western New York Presbytery, was the last person to speak at the committee and said, “I thought I was going to stand up and speak out against this. [overture] because I don’t think the word “apartheid” will get us anywhere. But, I am also doomed. … I changed my mind. … I realized we had to use that word. But, we must realize that Jesus, when he spoke to his enemies, still loved them. I liked them. I liked them. I liked them. So we tell the truth about what is happening in Israel and Palestine. We tell the truth about what is happening in our own country, in our own backyard. But we always do it out of love, not as a weapon.

Discussion within the international engagement committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

In other actions, the committee recommended approval with a vote of 31-0 INT-13designating May 15e as a Palestinian Nakbah Remembrance Day, and INT-04 by a vote of 30 to 0, which, among other things, calls on the General Assembly to endorse a statement on humanitarian concerns regarding Israel and Palestine, to reject the doctrines of Christian Zionism, to repudiate all forms of anti-Semitism and of Islamophobia and to repudiate the move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2018. The committee also recommended 31-0 approval of INT-10calling for an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government.

The committee will conclude its work tomorrow by examining INT-09: Regarding depleted uranium in Iraq and INT-17: Afghanistan: A Time to Med — From the Social Witness Policy Advisory Committee before adjourning.

Michael A. Bynum