Peter Makari, a Middle East missions executive for United Church of Christ, will speak today on using economic leverage to pressure Israel into ending its controversial occupation and settlement of what is considered Palestinian territory under international law.
The public is invited to attend the 7 p.m. talk on "Churches in the Palestine/Israel Conflict: The Role of Economic Witness and Persuasion," at Central Union Church. The meeting is sponsored mainly by the Friends of Sabeel Hawaii, a Christian ecumenical group that supports justice for Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land.
George Hudes, a Sabeel spokesman, said his group asked Makari to address the use of boycott, divestment and sanctions.
"We’re asking him to venture into somewhat risky and definitely contested territory," Hudes said. "Perhaps what is most important is that there be informed and rational discussion."
Makari is in Hawaii as keynote speaker at the UCC’s Hawaii Conference ‘Aha Pae‘aina, which began Friday and ends today at Nuuanu Congregational Church. He is an executive for the Middle East and Europe on the board of the Common Global Ministries under the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Makari played a role recently in helping church members better understand the uprisings in Egypt and other parts of the Muslim world. At the conference, which is celebrating 200 years of mission work, Makari is updating members about the ministries of UCC’s global partners in the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. (For more, visit www.global ministries.org.)
On the local level, Makari recommends that ministers and members pray for peacemaking initiatives and increase their awareness of Middle East issues. This will better prepare them to put their weight and financial support behind U.S. efforts that genuinely work toward reconciliation between Israel and Arabs, he said in a phone interview before the conference.
UCC supports a two-state solution, allowing both countries to coexist with equal governing authority, he said. U.S. policies perpetuate the conflict over the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory by providing military support to Israel and other countries in the region, he said.
"Preparing for war and talking about promoting peace seem to be a contradiction," Makari added.
Makari lived in the Middle East for seven years and worked with religious organizations in Egypt and Cyprus up until 2000. He authored "Conflict and Cooperation: Christian Muslim Relations in Contemporary Egypt" in 2007.
Drawing parallels between UCC’s mission work in Hawaii and the Middle East, he said the emphasis historically was on converting the native population to Christianity.
"Today our approach has changed dramatically. We do not attempt to convert people to Christianity, but to demonstrate our Christianity to the world, demonstrate the love of God, to love our neighbor in the way that is respectful," he said.
Hudes is one of the more outspoken Jewish critics of Israeli policies. Local UCC leaders asked him to speak at the 2005 synod in Atlanta in favor of a resolution calling for economic leverage to be applied to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
Hudes said he speaks from the perspective of an active member of the Jewish faith, whose parents survived the Holocaust and rejoiced when their dream of Israel’s independence in 1948 came true.
"My activist criticism of Israeli policies and actions by many other members of the Jewish faith is not anti-Israel. It is rather the expression by Jews who, more and more, see the occupation and its support as casting a shadow on the basic elements of Judaism," he said.
"There are many in Israel who feel the settlements are the worst thing that’s ever happened to Israel. This was said to me many times when I last visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2004," he added.
Hudes says the Israeli occupation is considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the world’s legal authorities.
"If Israel ever wants peace and security, it cannot exclude justice for the Palestinian people," he said.