Open letter to the Quakers of Britain in response to their support for BDS

Dear Quakers in Britain.

I read your press release dated 5th April 2011, which I am afraid, evidences your woeful grasp of the complexity of the situation in the Middle East.  I quote directly from your release below, and my reply follows.  I have read that Quakers hold that an authentic Christian belief results in both an inward faith and an outward expression of that faith.  Nowhere can I find a reference which enjoins Quakers to sit in judgement about matters with which they cannot possibly be fully informed.  Neither do Quaker teachings enjoin Friends to be blind to the consequences of their actions to promote peace when these actions favour one side over the other, and when these result in the favoured side believing that the methods it resorts to (however violent and deadly) are supported by decent people:

“Quakers in Britain have agreed to boycott products from the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  The settlements are illegal under international law. Quakers consider that this boycott is a nonviolent move for peace for Israelis and Palestinians. The decision makes clear that Quakers are not boycotting Israel.

“Half a million Israeli settlers live illegally in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). The settlements and infrastructure on Palestinian land are protected by the Israeli government and military and prevent or restrict Palestinians access to their land, water supplies, education, health services and more. Extensive settlement infrastructure divides up Palestinian land, creating obstacles to peace.

There is much that is wrong and shows lack of informed thinking about the above. I would refer you to the arguments of the late Professor Julius Stone—considered one of the premier legal theorists —who maintained that the effort to designate Israeli settlements as illegal was a “subversion. . . of basic international law principles.

Stone drew upon the writings of Professor Stephen Schwebel, former judge on the Hague’s International Court of Justice (1981-2000), who distinguished between territory acquired in an “aggressive conquest” (such as Japanese conquests during the 1930s and Nazi conquests during World War II) and territory taken in a war of self-defense (for example, Israel’s capture of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 war). He also distinguished between the taking of territory that is legally held by another nation (such as the Japanese occupation of Chinese territory and the Nazi Germany occupation of France, Holland, Belgium and other European lands) as opposed to the taking of territory illegally held. The latter applies to the West Bank and Gaza, which were not considered the legal territories of any High Contracting Party when Israel won control of them; their occupation after 1948 by Jordan and Egypt was illegal and neither country ever had lawful or recognized sovereignty. The last legal sovereignty over the territories was that of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate which encouraged Jewish settlement of the land.

Article 49 was intended to outlaw the Nazi practice of forcibly transporting populations into or out of occupied territories to death and work camps  and thus cannot be applied to Israel because Arab residents were neither forcibly transferred, nor were Israelis intended to (nor do they) displace Arab residents of the territories. Arabs continue to live in these territories and their population continues to grow.

As for Israel preventing access to medical services from the West Bank, this, too, is one-sided and therefore questionable.  This is one of many joint projects.  I am surprised that you did not mention it, or this. See also the Save a Child’s Heart Project, which treats Palestinian children and others from around the world.

“Palestinian Quakers are calling for Quakers around the world to consider boycott, divestment and sanctions because of the worsening situation caused by Israel’s occupation. The decision was made on Saturday (2 April) by the representative decision-making body for Quakers in Britain, Meeting for Sufferings. The Meeting has not yet considered a Quaker view on divestment and sanctions.

The “worsening situation”(where it exists) is primarily caused by the support of Mahmud Abbas who praises the perpetrators of terror on the one hand, whilst mouthing platitudes about peace with Israel in public on the other.   The glorification of terror against Israeli civilians and the teaching of it and  Jew-hatred in PA schools and on children’s television  is reprehensible and is itself an infringement of children’s human rights which the Quakers would do better to address than to castigate Israel.  The threats of violence from these are the principal reasons for the continuation of the checkpoints on the West Bank. The most recent example of the outcome of Palestinian support for terror was in the massacre at Itamar.

I note that your statement makes no mention of the improvement in economic and other standards in the West Bank, nor does it seem to have considered the likely impact on the standard of living and quality of life of ordinary people there if your boycott were to go ahead.

“The Meeting heard that most Jewish Israeli peace groups support boycotts of settlement products.

Many Israeli peace groups (and I note that you add the “Jewish” as a spurious attempt to convince the reader that because Jews themselves support it, boycott must be tenable) do not speak for the majority of intelligent people, Jews or otherwise .  Please read also, “Don’t divest, invest.

“People matter more than territory’ says the minute from the Meeting. And, ‘We pray fervently for both Israelis and Palestinians, keeping them together in our hearts. We hope they will find an end to their fears and the beginning of their mutual co-existence based on a just peace. And so we look forward to the end of the occupation and the end of the international boycott.’

You say that you pray “fervently” for Israelis and Palestinians and yet you continue to castigate only one side!

By so doing you undermine what you say next above, about mutual co-existence.  By blindly supporting the Palestinian narrative without once demanding the same decency and humane behaviour from them as you demand from Israel, you reinforce their execrable behaviour towards Israel. Mahmud Abbas, in spite of his honeyed words in public about peace with Israel and his condemnation of the murders in Itamar, glorified terror in public within days of those murders.  I have not read an update of your press release in which you condemn this infamy, or even recognise it, or indicate in any way your understanding that it is a mockery of the Palestinian role in any peace process.  Israelis, too, look forward to peace, but not if one of its conditions is that they commit collective suicide!

“In the face of the armed oppression of poor people and the increasing encroachment of the illegal settlements in the West Bank, we cannot do nothing,’ the minute continued.”

“You cannot do nothing” but you need not resort to ill-researched, half-baked declamations by people whose minds are already made up before you rush to judgement.  As I have written above, the economy of the West Bank is growing apace, and whereas I can readily believe that there are poor among the citizens of the West Bank just as there are poor anywhere, there is really no need to resort to emotive language, such as “armed oppression.”  PA television broadcasts programmes which endorse terrorism and Jew-hatred, and this is taught to children in school.  These are infringements of their human rights.  Why are you not outraged about these, out of which grew the ideology which led to the massacres at Itamar?

“‘We are clear then that it would be wrong to support the illegal settlements by purchasing their goods. We therefore ask Friends (Quakers) throughout Britain Yearly Meeting to boycott settlement goods, until such time as the occupation is ended.”

I suppose that there is no law against boycott, but see above for my reference to why it should not be resorted to.  Everyone suffers, Palestinians most of all, and in any case it will not work.  Quakers may feel aglow with misplaced self-righteousness if they boycott Israeli settlement  goods,  but rest assured that your actions will be a drop in the ocean. Those of us who believe that you are misguided and un-Christian will buy even more Israeli settlement produce.

“Quakers consider that this boycott builds on their other nonviolent moves for peace in the region. Since 2002 Quakers in Britain have trained human rights observers for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The observers, called ecumenical accompaniers, work with Palestinians and Israelis to promote nonviolence by their protective presence, to monitor human rights abuses and to advocate for an end to the Israeli occupation.”

I say again that Quaker “nonviolent” moves for peace in the region, as long as they ignore the excessive Palestinian violence and fail to condemn that in like terms, serve only to rubber stamp that violence.  If your “trained” observers continue to promote this then they and you are complicit in terror because your “protective presence” must be negligible.


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