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Day Four

Discussion begins on Mideast report calling for limited boycott

By Mike Milne

A United Church working group of three volunteers and a half-dozen staff spent two years researching and writing a 29-page report and crafting a proposed church policy on Israel and Palestine. Declaring the Israeli occupation of the West Bank the main obstacle to peace in the region, the draft report called for a boycott of products from Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. The proposal provoked intense lobbying in the weeks leading up to General Council — lobbying that has continued in the corridors outside the main meeting room at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Commissioners had their first chance to deal with the report on day four, spending a morning’s worth of business time officially receiving it, adding some wording and changing some numbers before getting bogged down in the proposal’s language and running out of agenda time.

“Now I think you could say they own the proposal, in terms of understanding what it says,” said Rev. Bruce Gregersen, the working group’s senior church staffperson. When commissioners return to the proposals, they will likely be ready for substantial debate and decision-making, he added.

Before beginning discussions, commissioners heard from the working group, chaired by former moderator Very Rev. David Giuliano and members Rev. Thom Davies and Rev. Barbara White. The group held wide consultations and visited Israel-Palestine last year. Davies also spent three months volunteering for a World Council of Churches accompaniment project in a small Palestinian village in the West Bank. He was blunt about what he saw.

“In Yanoun, I witnessed the theft of land . . . theft of water . . . and the consequences of settler violence,” he told commissioners, explaining the group’s decision to back a  boycott. “The logic is very simple. . . . Settlements have been deemed illegal under international law. So to buy settlement products would be to buy stolen property.”

Commissioners also heard from two interfaith guests.

Dr. Victor Goldbloom, chair of the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation, admitted settlements are “a problem that needs to be resolved,” but spoke out against the proposed boycott. He says the approach to seeking peace in the region needs to address “two grave imbalances in the Middle East,” citing hatred against Jews being taught in schools and mosques, and “an imbalance in the value placed on human life” between Palestinians and Israelis.

Ramzi Zananiri, a Palestinian who works for the Middle East Council of Churches, used statistics and data on the growth of West Bank settlements to illustrate what he called a “policy of humiliation and subjugation of Palestinians with total control of their resources.” He urged commissioners to back the boycott as “active solidarity toward righteousness and justice, with the hope for an equitable and just peace and security for both people in Israel and Palestine.”

Discussion of the report and its proposals will continue on day five.

Interfaith guest Dr. Victor Goldbloom urges commissioners to defeat a proposal to boycott items produced in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Photo by David Wilson
Interfaith guest Dr. Victor Goldbloom urges commissioners to defeat a proposal to boycott items produced in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Photo by David Wilson

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