Britain Yearly Meeting has decided to back a boycott of illegal Israeli settlement goods. The decision was made at Meeting for Sufferings, a representative body of Quakers in Britain, at its meeting on Saturday 02/04/2011.
“People matter more than territory” says the minute from the Meeting on Saturday. “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.”
“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 states. “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.”
The decision came after Meeting for Sufferings produced a minute in 02/2011 recognising that there needs to be a ‘challenge to political systems that deny the equality of Israeli Jews and Palestinians’.
Britain Yearly Meeting has already been advocating a boycott of illegal settlement goods through its involvement in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). It has advocated appropriate labelling of goods from the illegal settlements.
The Meeting for Sufferings minute from the February meeting stated: “We are in unity in supporting EAPPI and its work on the issue of proper labelling of settlement products. We encourage Friends to study the subject of economic boycott using the documents we have had today.”
“Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)” is an international economic, cultural, sporting and education campaign that was started in 07/2005 after a call to this effect from Palestinian non-government organisations. It came one year after an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice stated that the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by Israel is contrary to international law.
The BDS campaign aims to end Israel’s “occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands” and aims for “dismantling of the wall;” Israeli recognition of the “fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;” and Israeli respect, protection, and promotion of “the rights of Palestinians refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution194.”
The call for BDS was also made in the Kairos Palestine document, issued by a group of Palestinian Christians in 2009.
An epistle at the 2010 meeting to celebrate 100 years of Ramallah Meeting House (which is located in the Occupied Territories) asked “…Friends to consider adopting boycott, divestment and sanctions as we may be led to do, individually or corporately.” The epistle was formally received by Quaker World Relations Committee on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting in 2010.
The Quaker Council for European Affairs also works on issues surrounding Palestine and Israel. A statement on the QCEA website says: “Our approach is based on our belief that the occupation affects not only Palestinians but also Israelis. We see the suffering experienced by both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis. Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone, victim or perpetrator of violence and human rights abuses, and we endeavour to ensure that this is reflected in all of our work.”
In February, Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, the representative organisation of British Jews, told the Jewish Chronicle: “As historically strong friends of the Jewish people in our darkest hours, it is troubling that the Quakers don’t show the same level of understanding of the threats facing Israel. Those advocating boycotts fail to realise that these tactics play directly in to the hands of the enemies of peace. They are counterproductive, damage the livelihood of Palestinians and do nothing to encourage economic and cultural ties which would build bridges towards a long-lasting and mutual peace on all fronts.”
The full text of the minute reads:
Boycott, divestment and sanctions (Israel/Palestine)
Further to minute S/11/02/4 of 5 February 201, we receive minutes on this matter from the following Area Meetings: Southern Marches (paper S/11/04/mc i a), Sussex East (i b), Surrey & Hampshire Border (i c), Swarthmoor (i f), North London (i g), Cambridgeshire (i h), East Cheshire (i i), Ipswich & Diss (i j), North West London (i k), Bristol (i l), Hampshire & Islands (i m), Devon (i n), Manchester & Warrington (i o) and North Cumbria (i p).
Our assistant clerk has summarised the 14 Area Meeting minutes received, and we have returned to our consideration of the issues raised in the papers received at our last meeting (paper S/11/02/A prepared by Marigold Bentley, Assistant General Secretary of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW), the Kairos Palestine Document A moment of truth (paper S/11/02/B), and the Quaker Council for European Affairs Discussion Paper entitled Responses to the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (S/11/02/C)).
We have heard of the responses of Jewish Peace Groups within Israel. We hear these Israeli citizens risk being criminalised by their government if they actively support the Palestinian call for cultural and economic boycott. We were informed that most Jewish Israeli Peace Groups support the boycott of settlement goods, and only some support a boycott of Israel.
A just peace for Palestine means security for Israel too, and nonviolent protests by both Israelis and Palestinians for the end of the occupation are heartening to observe.
For nine years Quakers have been witnessing individually and through the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) to the human rights abuses of the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Today we have considered whether we should add nonviolent action to our witnessing – not as punishment or revenge, but as an external pressure to achieve change.
We understand the history and the trauma of the past, but it is Israelis who are the stronger and they need to make the changes.
John Woolman’s words remind us of the powerful sense we have of being brothers and sisters with people of other faiths. There are three main faiths in this part of the world, and we want to proceed in ways which allow dialogue to continue. We consider we should now act publicly, and, well-informed, be able to explain our action to others – because people matter more than territory, and because we approach others with a desire for peace.
Difficult decisions taken by us today can be reversed. The request for boycott comes from those who will suffer most, but a decision for boycott will give hope to Palestinians and support to those in Israel who are working for peace.
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.
Our hearts are full of compassion for Israelis and Palestinians, all of whom are suffering from the effects of the occupation.
We are clear 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.
We are not at this time proposing to boycott goods from Israel itself, being unwilling to jeopardise continuing dialogue with Israelis and British Jews.
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. We envisage our future relationship with both peoples as one of loving and generous co-operation.
Although we unite in this decision we recognise that Friends have different views, and we must treat one another tenderly.