MCC Photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler

The Rev. Alex Awad, dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College and pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church, speaks to an MCC learning tour group.

AKRON, Pa. – Concerned over the exodus of Christians from the Middle East and their situation in Palestine and Israel, MCC partners and Middle Eastern church leaders are urging Christians in the West to examine how their investments tie into this region.

The MCC U.S. Board of Directors explored the issue at its June meeting in Goshen, Ind., based on a staff letter asking the board to consider adopting an additional investment screen for MCC U.S.’ own investments. The screen would avoid MCC U.S. knowingly investing in companies that benefit from products or services that are used to perpetrate acts of violence against either Palestinians or Israelis.

“The Church in the Holy Land is calling Christian denominations to stop investing their pension funds in companies that do harm to peace, do harm to Palestinians and do harm to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians,” said the Rev. Alex Awad, dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College, an MCC partner organization, and pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church. “Instead the Palestinian church calls on churches to invest in companies that do no harm.”

Awad, along with other MCC partners, has asked MCC to consider the call of the 2009 “Kairos Palestine” document, crafted by Palestinian Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox church leaders. It explains the situation of Christians in the Holy Land and urges Christians around the world to explore boycotts and sanctions against and divestment from companies operating in and profiting from the resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Prominent evangelical Christian leaders in the U.S. – including Dr. Gary Burge from Wheaton College, Surge Duss from Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding and the Rev. Donald Wagner – are among those who recently drafted “Call to Action: U.S. Response to the Kairos Palestine Document.”The response, which includes a confession of the Western church’s failures with regard to both Palestinians and Israelis, calls on U.S. Christians not only to explore the call to boycott, divestment and sanctions but also to learn more about, pray for and reflect on the situation in this region. “We must work and even suffer for peace, filled with a heart of love for both Israelis and Palestinians,” the response states.

Daryl Byler of Washington, D.C., an MCC representative with his spouse Cindy in the Middle East since 2007, described the Kairos document, titled “A Moment of Truth; A World of Faith, Hope, and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering,” as “a cry for help, saying our situation here is entirely dire and the presence and numbers of Christians in the Holy Land continue to be threatened if things continue at their current rate.”

In the Kairos document, Palestinian leaders outline a dismal situation where a “separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another…”

“Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals,” the document stated. “Reality is the separation between members of the same family, making family life impossible for thousands of Palestinians…”

Emigration is another reality. In Bethlehem alone, the Christian population has dropped to 7,500 from 20,000 in 1995, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. “The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate,” the Kairos document stated.

Byler stressed that Christians in the Middle East see Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West as brothers and sisters in Christ and hope that they will reflect on the call to bear one another’s burdens, as Paul writes in Galatians 6:2.

“What does it mean to walk with our Christian brothers and sisters in this part of the world who are suffering?” Byler asked.

He gave the example of Zochrot, an Israeli MCC partner, “staffed by Israelis who could easily enjoy their privileges as Israeli nationals. Instead, they have courageously taken upon themselves the unpopular task of educating the Israeli public about the tragic story of 530 Palestinian villages that were depopulated or destroyed in order to create the State of Israel in 1948. Staff of Zochrot, which is the Hebrew word for remembering, believe that Israelis won’t be secure until they also seek justice for their Palestinian neighbors.”

Since 2009, virtually all of MCC’s partners in Palestine and Israel, including Christian, Muslim and Jewish organizations, have increasingly urged MCC to take seriously the call outlined in the Kairos document to boycott, sanctions and divestment.

At the MCC U.S. Board meeting in June, Byler noted the staff letter only calls for MCC to review its own investments to be sure it is not investing in companies that provide products or services that contribute to violence against Palestinians or Israelis. It does not call for broad sanctions against the Israeli government, boycott of Israeli products or divestment from all Israeli companies, nor does it ask MCC to lead a campaign telling others what to do.

J Ron Byler, executive director of MCC U.S., said that as a result of its discussion, the board asked staff to do more research, including conversation with the six Anabaptist denominations that sponsor MCC U.S. “Our focus on this issue arises from a clear call from our Palestine and Israel partners, and from relationships built over 63 years of MCC work in the region. The board’s decision also must be made reflecting MCC U.S.’ identity as an arm of the Anabaptist church,” he said.

He noted the MCC U.S. goal to live and serve nonviolently in response to the biblical call to peace and justice. “We invite prayers for board and staff in this important process of discernment for our organization.”

Read more about the Kairos document and discussions on this issue in the July-September 2012 issue of MCC’s Peace Office Newsletter. Find it online at peace.mcc.org.

Marla Pierson Lester is publications coordinator for MCC U.S.