Meeting in Kelowna, British Columbia, the Council adopted a multi-faceted resolution on August 13, two days after it had repudiated the “provocative, unbalanced and hurtful” language that had accompanied a few of the proposals it received calling for action on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“The United Church has not begun or approved a boycott at the national level,” said the Bruce Gregersen, General Council Officer for Programs, in summing up the actions of the Council.
“However, it has stated its encouragement and recommendation to its member bodies, that they are free to study, discern, and pray, and to undertake their own initiatives, which may include economic boycotts as a means to ending the occupation [of Palestine],” said Gregersen.
With a sense of urgency, the Council recommended that United Church Conferences, presbyteries, congregations, and community ministries immediately enter into consultation, dialogue, study, and prayer, and then undertake appropriate action toward ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. It also asked these bodies to enter into conversation as to how to move the two peoples toward reconciliation, including, but not limited to, economic boycott.
Comments around the debate covered a range of responses.
Nora Carmi, a Palestinian Christian refugee from Jerusalem, and an official guest of the Council, said, “I have had enough of hearing that it is two peoples to blame, and that it is a balanced situation.
“It [a boycott] has to include Israeli items made in the occupied territories…. You can choose the boycott that you want. It is not going to bring down the state of Israel,” said Carmi, who is Coordinator for community-building and women’s programs with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem and a member of the steering committee of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The Rev. Wendy Rankin, of Morden, Manitoba, said, “Boycott is a time-honoured method of making a point.”
In noting that the United Church had previously participated in the Nestle boycott, and the boycott against South Africa in support of ending apartheid there, she asked, “Where has our courage gone?”
The Rev. Mark Ferrier, of Mount Forest, Ontario, said, “Earlier we took no action of proposals that asked for a boycott. This is a back-door way to bring this back. We want to boycott boycott!”
The Rev. Doug Varey, a United Church minister serving with the Zambia Theological College in Kitwe, Zambia, said boycott is nasty, but it is used “in order to exert influence.”
Said Varey, “Only an outsider can do something about it.”
Speaking later, Gregersen said it was hard for the Council to find the common ground that it was seeking. “However those who were concerned that the church would implement a boycott will be relieved that no national boycott will be undertaken,” said Gregersen. “And those who seek strong action by the church to resist the occupation will recognize the importance of what the church has done.”
The Council also voted to direct its General Secretary, General Council “to engage in consultation, dialogue, and study with relevant partners and other interested parties concerning implications of past and future actions to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and enter into conversation as to how to move the two peoples toward reconciliation, including, but not limited to, economic boycott.”
It has asked that the General Secretary report back to the next General Council (in three years) and provide continuing guidance to the other levels of the United Church in the meantime.
The group voted to record its convictions that a just peace in the Middle East will require:
The Council asked the General Secretary to inform the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in writing, of the above convictions and urge that Canadian policy and commitments in the Middle East reflect this position.
The United Church of Canada’s participation in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel was affirmed by the Council. The church was asked to seek further ways of augmenting its physical presence in the Middle East.
In addition, the proposal passed by the Council supports the principles of the World Council of Churches’ Amman Call, particularly those that promote peace-making, bridge-building, and the development of long-term strategies for peace and right relations.
The decisions on the Israel/Palestine issues were made by commissioners meeting in one of three decision-making commissions at the Council.
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