Guest contribution by Maryam I.
Last week the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted on whether they would divest from three war-profiting companies helping sustain Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine. The result of the vote was 333 against divestment and 331 for divestment.
Though we BDS activists can pat ourselves on the back and claim this as a victory, in the end, the fact is that the church assembly chose not to divest from an occupation, siege, and system of apartheid that deprives an entire people of their freedom, human dignity, right to an adequate standard of living, and national identity. The fact that the margin was close is encouraging in that it shows the assembly has a substantial amount of people with consciences, but the fact that the majority of them see no problem in aiding, financing, and profiting from the suffering of a civilian population that the United Nations and human rights organizations worldwide have condemned is no feat to be celebrated.
If we are to evaluate the recent position Christian religious institutions have taken with regard to the colonial state of Israel and it’s 64-year occupation, we must also look a few weeks back when the Vatican signed an agreement with the state of Israel. This 32-page agreement covered a number of complex (and boring) issues, and one of my superiors requested that I read the agreement, make notes on important issues covered, and report back to him so he can give an interview on it later that day.
This agreement both shocked and disgusted me as it showed the strange manner in which institutions and individuals worldwide react to Israeli aggression and domination.
Even the seemingly innocuous parts of the contract are sickening. There are several mind-numbing pages about the Church’s tax status. Here, the Vatican openly and unapologetically recognized Israel’s authority over areas of East Jerusalem that international law and agreements Israel itself has signed with Palestinians do not grant.
Not only does the Catholic Church, representing the over one billion it provides solace and guidance to, legitimize Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the Church had the audacity to grant Israel possession (not ownership) of Church properties for safekeeping. The agreement insinuates that Israel is more capable of caring for the Catholic sites in Jerusalem than native Palestinian Catholics are. This irrational act further proves how forgiving the world is when it comes to Israel’s crimes and forgetful it is of the damage Israel has done to a host of Palestinian community groups.
What I found most sickening were the positions the Church took in opposing the Israeli occupation or demanding certain rights for Church personnel. Why? Because I think if occupation is something worth condemning, and it is, then it should be comprehensively condemned. Condemnation should never focus only on the areas that hurt you and your friends while the rest of the world’s oppressed are left to submit to this form of inhuman treatment. Selective criticism is not criticism at all and through this agreement, the Church only supports maintaining the status quo
Also, if the Church thinks Israel should make healthcare available to it’s foreign officials based in Jerusalem, which it does, then local personnel, the congregation, and all others for that matter, should be entitled to access to healthcare as well. If the Church is the symbol of God’s will on earth and a reflection of His mercy and kindness, then why does it not defend the rights and welfare of all? Why are the Church’s criticisms so narrow? Why does the Church not seek the wellbeing of all Catholics? Why is this religious institution not dedicated to improving the living conditions and protecting the rights of all people, Catholic or not?
Maybe I give religious institutions too much credit or expect too much from them, but this agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel is a total disgrace and diminishes the work of every Catholic humanitarian and philanthropist who ever served humanity in the name of the Church. In the future, I hope that religious institutions will think of their purpose with regard to humanity as a whole before they deal with the Apartheid state.
Maryam I. is a third generation Palestinian refugee, born and raised in the United States. Currently, she interns at a Palestinian human rights NGO in the Gaza Strip. Follow her on twitter: @48Refugee.