Summary: Pax Christi International (PCI) is a Catholic organization with headquarters in Brussels.  Its International President is the Nazareth-born, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michael Sabbah.  While PCI claims to promote reconciliation and the defense of universal human rights, its activities related to the Middle East reflect an adoption of the Palestinian narrative and utilize international legal and human rights rhetoric to delegitmize Israel.  The UK branch of the organization is active in the boycott and sanctions movement against Israel and its website promotes radical NGOs and anti-Israel publications. The result of these activities is to further conflict, in sharp contrast to the claimed objectives.

Pax Christi International

Pax Christi International (PCI) was established in 1945 in order to “promote reconciliation ”. PCI’s aim is the “promotion of active Christian non-violence" and the “promot[ion], develop[ment], and defense of [universal human rights].”   It works “on a global scale on a wide variety of issues in the fields of human rights, security and disarmament, economic justice and ecology."   PCI has branches in over 30 countries, with its headquarters based in Brussels. PCI views “representation and advocacy” as a central part of its work and it has consultative status at the UN.

PCI is a Catholic organization governed by an International Council and an Executive Committee.  The organization is headed by International President, Nazareth-born Michel Sabbah.  Sabbah is the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and he considers himself to be a Palestinian.  Sabbah advocates for the Palestinian “Right of Return” and is a vocal critic of the Israeli security barrier.  In many speeches, Sabbah utilizes “Durban Strategy” rhetoric accusing Israel of “collective punishment” and “indiscriminate” attacks on Palestinians.  Sabbah minimizes terrorism by claiming that the “occupation is the fertile soil for terrorism” and places sole responsibility for making peace in Israel’s hands.  Sabbah characterizes acts of terrorism as acts of “resistance”.

Other Executive Committee members used their positions in Pax Christi as an anti-Israel platform.  Giovanni Scudiero published a highly biased account of his Fall 2003 visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the PCI website: “Bombings, more bombings, more occupation by IDF Forces, injuries, killings, destruction of more  houses, anger, frustration, despair, suicide … .Palestinian cities and villages are under siege in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”  Despite his detailed descriptions of Israeli checkpoints and characterizing them as “arbitrary”, his article only briefly mentions in passing two suicide bombings which occurred during his visit. 

Funding

PCI’s website shows a lack of transparency regarding its funding, only stating that “funding comes from contributions from the national sections and other sources like grants, sales of publications and newsletter subscriptions ”.[1]

Activities

Pax Christi International's activities are divided into " major themes which are treated by Commissions at our International Councils and by regions which are treated by Consultations and Working Groups". These activities range from international advocacy at the UN, lobbying government officials, and local missions within specific regions.   A main focus of PCI’s “movement” is the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  Despite its claims to “promote reconciliation” and the “defense of [universal human rights],” PCI’s activities’ adopt the Palestinian narrative and reflect the one-sided sentiments expressed by the organization’s President: 

  • PCI’s homepage prominently features a campaign against Israel’s security barrier.  It is the only country-specific “Focus” item on its homepage. The campaign, launched in 2004, calls on the adoption of the “Separation Wall” as the new symbol of “occupation” and for the lobbying of government officials.  An “information sheet” produced for the campaign downplays Israel’s security concerns and claims the real purpose of the “wall” is to “encompass and protect Israeli settlements.”  The campaign also includes postcards to be mailed to government officials.  These cards erroneously claim that the barrier has not prevented violence [2] and that it is a “major source of Palestinian oppression.” `PCI’s UK branch prepared the “information sheet” and lobbying postcards for the campaign.
  • Four statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Lebanon War are prominently featured on PCI’s homepage.  In these statements, Israel is blamed for “escalation” in violence, “collective punishment,” and “disproportionate and unjustified use of force.” PCI calls for the UN to hold Israel “accountable” for its “purposeful destruction of necessary civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza.”  No calls for accountability against the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah, or the Lebanese government are made.
  • PCI’s Executive Committee convened a meeting in November 2006 regarding the “Question of Jerusalem”.  In a statement adopted at the meeting, the Committee accuses Israel of marking Palestinian homes for demolition and denying building permits for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.[3]  The statement also erroneously claims the security barrier is “in most parts a concrete wall.”  (Less than 3% of the Barrier is a concrete wall, as required by security factors.) The Committee calls on the UN to convene an international conference on the “Jerusalem Question.”
  • PCI was an active participant at the 2001 Durban Conference.  Prior to the Conference, several Jewish groups criticized PCI at a Council of Europe meeting for “tak[ing] up the themes of Arab propaganda and plac[ing] those who terrorised on an equal footing with their victims.”  At the Durban Conference, several Catholic NGOs including Pax Christi, released a statement calling for the restoration of land “to those dispossessed.”

Pax Christi UK [4]

Pax Christi UK (PC-UK) is one of the national branches of Pax Christi International and is especially active in promoting the Palestinian narrative and demonization of Israel.  PC-UK's website does not provide any funding information although PCI describes the structure of the PC national organizations as "autonomous ... according to its own situation." In response to an NGO Monitor inquiry, an official of PC-UK stated that the organization’s funding comes from member subscriptions, donations, and small grants.

Israel is specifically singled out on Pax Christi UK’s website.  The site highlights five main areas of activity: “Israel/Palestine”, “Middle East”, “Security and Disarmament”, “Wars and Rumours of War” and “Young People as Peacemakers”. Although “Israel/Palestine, has its own section (the only country featured in this way), a large proportion of the other sections appear to be focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict as well.  PC-UK’s “Peace Resources” publications include “Remembering 40 years of occupation in Palestine”; a resource pack for purchase entitled “Living Under Occupation: Daily Life for the people of Palestine” which contains maps and information on “The Fence/Wall, Soldier Choices, Israel, Britain and the Arms Trade”; and goods whose proceeds support “craft-workers in Bethlehem whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the on-going occupation . . . ."   Many public events, including a “Silent Vigil for Palestine and Iraq,” sponsored by the organization, also focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Pax Christi UK’s “Israel-Palestine” Section

The “Israel-Palestine” Section promotes demonization and the international isolation of Israel. These activities omit the context of terrorism and ignore Palestinian violence and corruption as sources of suffering.  Numerous radical and/or politicized NGOs (many of whose activities have been analyzed in detail by NGO Monitor) are linked on the Israel/Palestine webpage including Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the Alternative Information Center, The Refuser Solidarity Network, Jewish Voice for Peace, B’tselem, and Machsom Watch

PC-UK’s website highlights several lobbying efforts and boycott and sanction campaigns against Israel of which PC-UK is an active proponent:

The “Israel/Palestine” Section also highlights emotive stories about the Separation Barrier; a video entitled, “The Wall”; and links to a blog, “Live from Occupied Palestine.”  The blog, written by an employee of Trocaire, the overseas development agency of the Irish Catholic Church, accuses Israel of, among other things, “war crimes” and “systematic oppression”. These articles promoted by PC-UK locate the cause of Palestinian suffering in Israel, and ignore Palestinian terrorism, factional in-fighting, and corruption. 

Conclusion

Pax Christi International and its UK branch place disproportionate emphasis on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The organizations’ activities are aimed at isolating Israel internationally and employ the rhetoric of international law and human rights to delegitimize the State of Israel.  Such activities are incongruous with the organizations’ mission to “promote reconciliation and peace” and the “defense of universal human rights.”

Footnotes:

1. NGO Monitor sent an inquiry to PCI for further clarification on its funding sources.  As of April 11, 2007, NGO Monitor has yet to receive a response.

2. For more information on the reduction in terrorist attacks since the construction of the Separation Barrier, click here

3.Independent research conducted by Israeli attorney, Justus Reid Weiner, has found these accusations to be without basis.  

4. Pax Christi France and Pax Christi Italy also have specific sections devoted to Israel/Palestine, though Pax Christi UK appears to be the most active. Pax Christi Netherlands is a member of the "United Civilians for Peace" (UCP) coalition, which the Dutch development NGO, Kerkinactie, left In December 2006 over UCP's bias against Israel.  Kerkinactie stated that the UCP paid “too little attention . . . to the necessity of security for all peoples in the region, including Israel itself,” and due to its "reputation of being 'one-sidedly pro-Palestinian'" UCP could no longer “be sufficiently effective in its advocacy and lobbying work."