Monday, December 15, 2008

Under civil society pressure, Unilever withdraws from settlement

We just wanted to share a success story with all of you! Kudos to all of the civil society activists across Europe who worked on this:

November 27th 2008
Unilever withdraws from an Israeli settlement

United Civilians for Peace (UCP) welcomes Unilever’s decision to divest from a factory based in an illegal Israeli settlement on the West Bank. This decision comes in a period in which UCP and Unilever Netherlands are engaged in a constructive dialogue about Unilever’s presence in Barkan. UCP and Unilever discussed the ethical considerations with regards to investment in settlements and Unilever’s responsibilities within the framework of Corporate Social Responsibility.

In 2006, a report by United Civilians for Peace concluded that the Anglo-Dutch multinational owns a 51% share in Beigel & Beigel, a pretzel and snacks factory. This factory is located in Barkan, an industrial zone in Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Last Wednesday, Unilever announced their decision to divest from Beigel & Beigel.

Since the publication of the report “Dutch economic links in support of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and/or Syrian territories” in 2006, UCP has advocated the departure of Unilever from the settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This resulted in a constructive dialogue with Unilever Netherlands and UCP research into the legal and ethical implications of Unilever’s investment in Beigel & Beigel.

The research document titled: “Improper Advantage: A Study of Unilever’s investment in an illegal Israeli settlement” concludes that:
- The land of the Barkan industrial zone was confiscated from surrounding Palestinian villages by a military order issued by the Israeli Defence Force issued in 1981, and declared “state land”. International Law prohibits the confiscation of occupied land not for military purposes.

- Because the factory is located in an illegal settlement, Unilever complies with violation of Palestinian human rights and the structural discrimination of Palestinian workers.

- Beigel & Beigel benefits from subsidies that are allocated by the Israeli government to the industrial zones in the settlements. Also, the factory has been guaranteed a state grant for a plan of expansion.

The report is available as of Friday November 28th.

UCP congratulates Unilever with their decision to divest. This important and constructive step shows that Unilever takes serious both the provisions of international law as well as its Corporate Social Responsibility. Israeli settlements form a major obstacle to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the industrial zones play an important economic role in maintaining these settlements.

Not for publication: For more information and to request a copy of the report “Improper Advantage: A Study of Unilever’s investment in an illegal Israeli settlement”, please contact Merijn de Jong (United Civilians for Peace) +31(0)30-8801581 / +31(0)6-27249753 or

The report is available as of Friday November 28th.

United Civilians for Peace (UCP) is a Dutch platform that strives for a just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UCP is a joint initiative of Oxfam Novib, Cordaid, ICCO and IKV Pax Christi.

__Oxfam works with others to overcome poverty and suffering.Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 612172.Registered office: Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford, OX4 2JY.A registered charity in England and Wales (no 202918) and Scotland (SCO 039042)

Seventh International Conference statement


We are more than 200 Christians from five continents who have come together to commemorate the tragic events that occurred 60 years ago in the lives of the people of Palestine. While we have come to hear from and to offer our solidarity and support to the indigenous Palestinian community in both Palestine and Israel, we have also heard from brothers and sisters in the Muslim and Jewish communities as they too have borne witness to the injustices visited upon the Palestinian population of this land. They have seen more than 531 villages depopulated and destroyed, and the creation of more than 750,000 refugees who have not been allowed to return to their homes since 1948.

We recognize the irony in the coincidence that this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The establishment of peace with justice requires that the full truth be told about the events of 1948 and the subsequent displacement of hundreds of thousands more Palestinian citizens in 1967, a process which has continued to the present day. The human rights of the Palestinian people continue to be crushed under a military occupation that dehumanizes both oppressed and oppressor. We share our conviction that it is only an acknowledgement of the full truth behind and within this current state of oppression that will lead to true freedom for all parties in the conflict.

Truth is essential for peacemaking. We acknowledge the truth that our silence about the status of the Palestinian people equals complicity in this ongoing tragedy. The status quo is a crime against humanity. As Christians, we can no longer be silent. Things worsen as each day passes. The so-called peace process is rather a consistent and persistent process of death and destruction, both physically and spiritually. The Nakba - the catastrophe - that has been imposed and is still being imposed on the people of Palestine--continues unabated and unrestrained. The truth of it is silenced or ignored both in our churches and in our media. This must change if we are to be true to Jesus' call to be peacemakers.

We have been encouraged by the thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who have practiced methods of nonviolent resistance in seeking to bring an end to the current conflict. We lift up the practice of nonviolence as the most practical means of achieving peace in this situation where the balance of military power is so overwhelmingly one-sided and where the reliance upon violence only continues to make matters worse. We are concerned by the use of the Bible as an instrument of colonialism and exploitation by those who would enlarge the conflict. We reject the exclusivism presupposed in such an interpretive approach to biblical truth. We seek the reconciliation of all peoples throughout the world, and therefore call on our brothers and sisters in the worldwide church to speak out and act out the ministry of reconciliation.

We have been touched by the faces of children wherever we have gone. We have come to realize that an entire generation of children is being crippled because they have no access to the nutrition needed for normal growth and development, and thus endure spiritual and social alienation, violence and lack of opportunities which none of us would tolerate even for a day in our own communities. We remember the call of the Nobel peace laureates that the first decade of this new century be devoted to nonviolence. We hear anew the call of Jesus to "let the little children come unto me," to let them be placed in the center of the current picture of marginalization, thus challenging the international community with their vulnerability and their need for protection. Therefore, we call upon all our churches and governments:

▪ to work with renewed energy for an end to this endlessly spreading military occupation;

▪ to insist on full implementation of all United Nations resolutions and all human rights requirements in international law which pertain to Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the right of return for Palestinian refugees;

▪ to insist on greater freedom of movement and more humane conditions in the occupied territories;

▪ to insist that Israel accord equal rights to all its citizens, Jewish and Palestinian alike;

▪ to divest themselves from investments in companies that enable the occupation;

▪ to insist that Israel lift its ongoing siege and collective punishments which prevent the free movement of people, goods and humanitarian aid in and out of Gaza; and finally

▪ to support the work of Sabeel in its efforts to build bridges of nonviolence between people in all the monotheistic religions represented in the region.

We have heard the call of urgency from our fellow Christians in this holy land. As in Jesus' own day, so Bethlehem lies under military occupation today surrounded by a prison wall. Our memories of the birth of The Child of Bethlehem 2000 years ago are contrasted and challenged by the reality of the children and the parents and the grandparents of Bethlehem today. As followers of that holy child, may our spirits meet in Bethlehem's streets as we join in prayers and actions for light and life! May we seek creatively to disturb the status quo with acts born of the Spirit of courage, love and truth.

Monday, December 1, 2008

7th International Sabeel Conference: A Time To Act

The last full day of the International Conference was entitled, “A Time to Act” because the lectures this day highlighted the way in which the Nakba continues to impact Palestinian society in negative ways on a daily basis and the urgent need to respond to this problem as internationals.

The first lecturer, Dr. Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), speaking from a Jewish Israeli perspective, pointed out that the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict stems from an exclusive Israeli identity by which Jewish Israelis believe that they have exclusive right to the land. Therefore, “It’s a matter of 1948, not 1967” because the affects of this sense of entitlement have continued in various manifestations since 1948, the occupation of the West Bank being only one of these.

The first panel discussed a central issue to the peace process that continues to be on the negotiating table, the status of Jerusalem. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, founder of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), speaking on this topic, described the Wall as a “sharp knife cutting us [Palestinians] to pieces”. The construction of the Wall, or the “Separation Barrier” consists of rows of 25-foot concrete slabs in urban areas while other sections of it consist of an electronic fence equipped with surveillance devices, a trench, and barbed wire. The construction of the Wall has resulted in Israel’s further annexation of Palestinian land, the impediment of a West Bank economy, and the fragmentation of Palestinian society. Btselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories doubts the Israeli government’s intention for building the Wall as a security measure:

“The route of the Barrier, however, defies all security logic and appears politically motivated. In Jerusalem, the Barrier roughly follows the municipal boundary, set when Israel annexed East Jerusalem. This boundary ignores urban planning considerations; it cuts through Palestinian neighborhoods, at times literally running down the middle of busy, urban streets. Leaving 220,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites on the Israeli side of the Barrier, it is hardly consistent with the State’s own security logic: does the State of Israel consider Palestinians living on one side of the street dangerous, but not those on the other side?”

-Btselem “A Wall in Jerusalem: Obstacles to Human Rights in the Holy City” Summer 2006

(This particular portion of the Wall is located in the Bethlehem area and separates the Ayda Refugee Camp residents from one of their only sources of income, their olive grove)

Mahdi Abdul Hadi underscored the urgent need to take immediate action when he warned that another Nakba, “catastrophe” is immanent.

The second speaker on the panel, Elias Khoury is a lawyer based in East Jerusalem specializing in real property law. His vocation is inspired by his father’s lose of land during the Nakba in 1948. Khoury challenges Israeli policy regarding settlements, house demolitions, the decisions of the Planning and Building Commissions, etc. through the legal system.

The next panel’s topic concerned civil rights. Sarah Kreimer, a Jewish Israeli activist and Chair of the Board of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, called for the cessation of harmful unilateral actions on the part of the Israeli government and fair allocation of funds. Currently, the “facts on the ground” contradict governmental declarations. Kreimer urged the internationals to act immediately stating, “The future of Jerusalem is being determined every day by facts on the ground and we can be a part of that today”.

The second speaker on this panel, Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American based in Ramallah and specializing in business development, provided his analysis of the situation. Describing the various statuses of Palestinians vis-à-vis the state of Israel, he states that the status of Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship is of a 3rd or even 4th class citizen. He went on to speak on the problematic status of Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza “residents”. He states that this status connotes impermanence, “something the Israeli government bestows upon you and can take away”. The arbitrary revocation of this status in East Jerusalem is a tool by which the government rids the area of Palestinians and creates Jewish neighborhoods in their place (creating new facts on the ground). Further tools of repression include: inflated taxation without the provision of equal municipal services, the legal maze for the required periodic renewal of residency, and the difficulty in obtaining building permits. Sam Bahour concluded his talk by stating that though the Palestinian people are fragmented as a result of Israeli policies, they are held together by an undeniably just cause. Bahour ended with a quote, “There is nothing whole like a broken heart”.

The evening closed with dinner at the Ambassador’s Hotel and the keynote address given by Manuel Hassassian, the current Ambassador of Palestine to the U.K. He told his audience that “The Nakba is going on today”.

The last day of the International Conference provided the inspiration for the participants to act. Former prime minister of the Netherlands, Andreas Van Agt described his conversion to supporting the Palestinian cause and called on the internationals to put pressure on the Israeli government to observe international law through their respective governments.

Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., American Civil Rights Movement activist, minister, and educator, offered inspiration by recounting stories from the Civil Rights Movement. Lafayette entitled his talk, “The Struggle, the Suffering, the Success” and stated that “pain can be a sign of healing”. In order to bring about change, one must suffer. However, this suffering is to be distinguished from the suffering that occurs on a daily basis due to dehumanizing Israeli policies. The suffering Lafayette describes is deliberate and empowering. Lafayette called the audience to move past nonviolent resistance and change the power dynamic by putting your opponent on the defensive resisting the change that you are creating through nonviolent action.

Mairead Maguire, an Irish peace activist committed to nonviolence and Nobel Peace Prize winner, further urged the audience that nonviolence does work and has worked to improve the situation in Northern Ireland. Lily Habash, advisor to the Bureau Chief/ Cabinet Secretary General at the Office of the Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayaad in the Palestinian National Authority closed the panel by appealing to the internationals to help Palestinians better communicate their cause to their respecting countries. Habash views the Palestinian position not as one of victimization or despair but of hope.

7th International Sabeel Conference: creating cultural bridges

But this and the whole conference experience also drives home something else, namely, the personality and character of so many Palestinians -- kids, youths, and older -- we met and which my country rarely is enabled to see: persons of warmth, courage, humor, dignity, grit, and a fantastic spirit of welcome
Darrel Meyers

The 7th International Sabeel Conference moved to Jerusalem but before traveling south, the international participants had the opportunity to connect with the local Christians in Nazareth. They joined in fellowship with congregations of various churches located around Nazareth. Following the service, the 300 participants were broken into groups of two to five people to eat at Nazarene family homes enjoying homemade Palestinian cooking. This informal setting allowed participants to identify with Palestinians living in Israel with citizenship on a basic human level by sharing in a universal family activity.

After lunch, participants traveled to Jerusalem and were greeted by local Jerusalemites and clergy at Saint George’s Church. This gave internationals another opportunity to connect with local Palestinians, thus exposing the internationals to a Palestinian population in a different socio-political position vis-à-vis the Israeli state.

The next day of the conference was devoted to the issue of refugees and how the solution of this issue is integral to a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In order to introduce this topic Adel Manna, research fellow at the Jerusalem Vanleer Institute, briefed the participants on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. Manna described the context in which the five waves of refugees either fled or were expelled. It is important to note that expulsion of Palestinians occurred during the First and Second Truces of the 1948 war. Further to this, it is not widely known that expulsions continued after the war and through the 1950s. In fact, 30,000-50,000 Palestinians became refugees after the conclusion of the war constituting an ongoing Nakba.

The overview continued with a briefing by Allegra Pacheco, OCHA, concerning the occupation and annexation of Palestinian land. The concept of occupation is one of a temporary nature by international law. However, the settlements have been established with the intention of permanence and much of occupied land has remained closed areas considered military zones inaccessible to Palestinians for decades. In addition, Israel continues to annex Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and in the construction of the wall. Annexation is defined as the acquisition of land by force and is in contravention of international law.

Concluding the overview, Bob Tobin, Sabeel volunteer, read a letter from UNRWA representative Sami Mshasha describing the situation of Palestinian refugees inside of Israel and the West Bank today.

Following the briefing, the participants traveled to one of four refugee camps located in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank: Dheishe, Aida, Azza, and Aroub Camps. They attended general tours of the camps and were divided into small groups in order to visit with different families in their homes. The participants learned about the hardships of life as a person with refugee status directly from camp residents. Currently, unemployment is at eighty percent in the Dheishe Camp. This is caused mainly by the construction of the wall cutting the inhabitants off from their olive trees. In addition, the residents are subject to other forms of discrimination. One woman recounted the story of her son being arrested without charge. He has been in jail for seventeen years now and still has not been charged with any criminal offense.

After the visits, all of the participants convened in the al-Feneiq Center of Dheishe Refugee Camp to attend panels. The first speaker, Muhammad Jaradat, BADIL Resource Center, spoke on the topic of refugee rights and international law today. The second panel was entitled, “The Church’s Response to the Occupation”. The speakers included: Mr. Rifat Kassis, World Council of Churches, Mr. Tarek Abuata, Christian Peacemakers Team, and Mr. George Sahhar, Sabeel board member.

The evening concluded with the Ibda’a Dance Troupe performing Dabka, the national dance of Palestine.