The church is called to seek justice when there is injustice, to struggle to free people from oppression, and to counter violence with strong messages to reconcile and heal. Countenancing any such wrongs without protest makes the church complicit if not culpable. We find this call in many places in the Bible:
• “[God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4).
• “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt. 5:9).
Since WWII, Israel has received more direct aid from the United States than any other country—and since 1965, nearly $3 billion annually in aid. In a 2007 agreement, the U.S. pledged to provide military aid totaling $30 billion over the next ten years (Ref. 1). Taxpayers would expect that the recipient of such generous amounts would have a solid international presence and would be in alliance with U.S. foreign policy; however, this is not the case. This overture calls into serious question the wisdom of such a financial arrangement by virtue of Israel’s pattern of human rights violations, its use of U.S. weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and its disregard of U.S. foreign policy.
The current Congress and administration should be urged to correct its foreign aid disbursement policy and to send a message to both parties that funds from U.S. taxpayers are not to be used for any activity which violates human rights or impedes peace. Rather than sending a mixed message to Israel and the world that exceptions are tolerated, conditions should be placed on any aid allocations until that country’s policy conforms.
The State of Israel has been cited by several organizations including the United Nations, B’Tselem (an Israeli organization), Amnesty International, and the Human Rights Watch—as engaging in human rights violations. U.S. weapons have been used to kill and injure Palestinian civilians and to destroy Palestinian infrastructure: specific violations include the use of cluster bombs in Lebanon in 2006, and the use of white phosphorous in the 2009 Gaza incursion (Refs. 6 and 7, also <www.amnestyusa.org>, <http://www.hrw.org/en/middle-east/n-africa>). Israel’s access to U.S. military aid enhances its capacity to commit human rights abuses (<www.ifamericansknew.org>, statistics updated Dec 3, 2009).
U.S. foreign policy contains strict procedures to build a peaceful solution one of which is halting settlement development. The current Israeli government resists such calls (Ref. 8). The Palestinian Authority must continue its efforts to resolve internal leadership issues, as well.
In regards to Israel/Palestine, the congressional committees responsible for fund allocation have been careful to assure that no funds go to Hamas or any organization advocating violence, and have from time to time delayed funds conditionally (Ref. 2).
The U.S. Congress has been faulted for not applying these strictures to Israel. Four times during the past thirty years, the PC(USA) has spoken out. The following are excerpts from overtures on this topic (Ref. 3.)
• In 1983, “… denying all forms of aid to Israel as long as that nation persists in creating new West Bank settlements…” (Minutes, PC(USA) 1983, Part I, p. 796.)
• In 1990, “… make continuation of U.S. aid …contingent upon an end to further settlements…and an end to human rights violations as enumerated by the U.S. State Department …” (Minutes, 1990, Part I, p. 105).
• In 1995, “… renew efforts to make U.S. aid to Israel conditional upon cessation of the appropriation of Palestinian land, … [u]rge the Israeli government to lift the military closures of Jerusalem that deny Christians, Muslims, and others access to their places of worship …” (Minutes, 1995, Part I, p. 689).
• In 1998, “… make continued aid and military assistance to Israel contingent on its fulfilling the terms of the Oslo Accords …” (Minutes, 1998, Part I, p. 655).
In addition, the Middle East Study Team, commissioned by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 2008, reports the need to account for the percentage of U.S. foreign aid that supports human rights violations (Ref. 4). Other organizations have joined their voices to this call (see below).
Members of the U.S. Congress and several U.S. administrations have from time to time also challenged the disbursement of aid to Israel by withholding or delaying it conditionally, though never in a sustained manner and ultimately ineffectively (Refs. 1 and5).
Any criticism of Israeli policy must be understood as criticism of government policy and not as anti-Jewish; many Jewish individuals agree with the arguments presented in this overture (see statement below from Jewish Voice for Peace.) While the Jewish people have suffered from persecution and have been victims of violence perpetrated by Palestinians, the Israeli government’s abuse of human rights, illegal land acquisition, and disregard for the peace process cannot serve as excuses and should not be subsidized by U.S. funds.
This overture communicates concern for Israel’s long-term secure place in the international community and for the Palestinians’ rights to unified leadership pledged to non-violence. Suspension of aid until conditions are met is intended as a strategy to move peace-making forward, and not as a punishment. Should Israeli aid be suspended, that country would be able to defend itself given strategic agreements and a strong military.
This overture also communicates our concern that the United States not be viewed as disrespectful to Muslims. For the U.S. government to have different standards for different countries implies discrimination. The international Muslim community holds the belief that the U.S. is inconsistent in its posture toward the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and, by virtue of the Palestinians being predominantly Muslim, disrespects Islamic believers (Ref. 9). It is hoped that, by achieving sound, consistent standards in its aid policies toward the Israelis and the Palestinians, the United States would be judged as a more fair and consistent nation.
Calls by Other Organizations for Conditions on Aid
Jewish Voice for Peace, January 2010
“Despite President Barack Obama’s very clear position against Israel’s blockade on Gaza and continued settlement expansion, Israel continues to forbid humanitarian assistance from entering Gaza and expand its West Bank. We are asking Congress, why is Israel being rewarded with almost three billion dollars in aid when it ignores American policies and continues to use our money to build settlements and maintain the blockade of Gaza? Shouldn’t our aid come with strings attached?” (<http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/publish/campaigns.shtml>).
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), 1991
“… to relate U.S. foreign assistance to the willingness of those nations to negotiate with one another in good faith and to adhere to international law and human rights conventions; and to oppose further housing loan guarantees to Israel unless and until the construction and expansion of settlements in the occupied territories is stopped” (Conflict in the Middle East, passed by the 1991 Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Florida, found at <http://archive.elca.org/socialpolicyresolutions/resolution.asp?id=19&ref=hts >).
Churches for Middle East Peace, September 7, 2005
“The US should condition special funds—grants, loans and loan guarantees—on Israel’s compliance with its Road Map obligations” (See particularly: <http://www.cmep.org/Alerts/2005/2005Sept7.htm>).
1. Sharp, Jeremy M., Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs. “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” December 4, 2009, CRS-Congressional Research Service, Report for Congress, RL33222, <http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33222_20091204.pdf>.
2. Zanotti, Jim, Analyst, Middle Eastern Affairs, “US Foreign Aid to the Palestinians,” July 16, 2009 CRS-Congressional Research Service, Report for Congress, RL22967, <http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/128341.pdf>.
3. “A Brief Summary of General Assembly Statements by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its Predecessors,” developed February 2005, updated March 2006, <www.pcusa.org/worldwide/israelpalestine/resources.htm>.
4. “Middle East study team nears release of its final report,” Presbyterian News Service, <http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/2010/10099.htm>.
5. Stevenson, Adlai E. III, The Black Book, Chicago: 2009.
6. B’TSelem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: “Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: Jerusalem, Israel. Annual Report 2007.
7. Dugard, J., Special Rapporteur for the United Nations, “Question of Violations of Human Rights in Occupied Arab Territories including Palestine,” Sept 2003. 59th Session of U.N. General Assembly, NY: Oct 28, 2004.
8. The Economist.Dec. 5–11, 2009.
9. Esposito, John L. and Dalia Mogahed, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. New York: Gallup Press, 2007.
The Presbytery of Chicago gratefully acknowledges the Presbyteries of Newark and Detroit for the helpfulness of their prior work in this area and for the remarks of the ACSWP to 11-01, 218th General Assembly (2008), in the drafting of the current overture.