Quakers in Britain are considering a challenging call from Palestinian Quakers in the West Bank. It calls on Quakers around the world to consider boycott, divestment and sanctions, in response to the worsening situation caused by Israel’s occupation.
Since 2002 Quakers in Britain have taken a leading role on behalf of British and Irish churches and church organisations, training human rights observers for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
The aim of this programme is to end the Israeli occupation and bring a just peace based on international law. EAPPI was established by the World Council of Churches in response to a call for international help from church leaders in Jerusalem.
The observers, known as ecumenical accompaniers (EAs), work with Palestinians and Israelis to promote non violence by their protective presence, monitor human rights abuses and advocate for an end to the Israeli occupation.
Several EAs were among those who spoke on Saturday at the Meeting for Sufferings, Quakers’ representative decision-making body. They spoke of EAPPI work to encourage supermarkets to accurately label goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlements are illegal under international law.
Quaker Peace and Social Witness has encouraged Quakers to take this up with their local supermarkets and many individuals and local meetings of Quakers are doing that. Some Quakers on Saturday said they refuse to buy Israeli goods. However, the discussion focused on settlement goods and not on boycotting Israel.
Marigold Bentley, Assistant General Secretary of Quaker Peace and Social Witness said Quakers are not being asked to lobby the UK Government for sanctions, nor are they, at this stage, proposing a boycott of Israeli products.
Discussion brought together experience and knowledge. As well as a Quaker Council for European Affairs discussion paper, some referred to the Bethlehem “Kairos Palestine” document, in which fifteen Palestinian Christian church leaders have written: “We condemn all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and we call on you to condemn it and oppose it in all its manifestations. At the same time we call on you to say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. As we have already said, we see boycott and disinvestment as tools of non violence for justice, peace and security for all.”
The meeting gave full support to the EAPPI and to its work on appropriate labelling. Recording the need for Quakers in local and area meetings to study further and consider next steps the meeting agreed: “We need a spiritual faith-based response as we struggle between how the world is and how we want it to be. We need to find strategies to challenge the violence and work to end it.”
Approximately 23,000 people attend Quaker Meetings for Worship in Britain, and there are more than 475 Meetings.
Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends.