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Church Votes to Sell off Shares in Caterpillar

Reported by The Guardian February 7, 2006

The Church of England’s general synod – including the Archbishop of Canterbury – voted last night to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

The main target of the plan will be the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar which has supplied vehicles used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes. When the worldwide Anglican communion called for such a move, at a meeting last summer, there followed protests from Israel and Jewish groups. The church currently invests about £2.5m of its £900m share portfolio in Caterpillar and had been engaged in negotiations with the company about its activities. Caterpillar insists it has not provided the earth movers directly to
Israel but to the US military which sold them on.

So passionate was the debate that it squeezed out an equally contentious decision last Friday by the Church commissioners, managers of the church’s investment and property portfolio, to sell off the century-old Octavia Hill housing estates for more than 1,000 poor tenants in south London to property developers.

On the first day of its meeting in London, the general synod, the church’s parliament, heard denunciations of Israel’s use of the machines from one of its own bishops and from the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, who is Palestinian, whose letter was read out.

The Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who is chairman of Christian Aid, told the meeting that the problem in the Middle East was the government of Israel rather than Caterpillar but that it was vital that the church should invest only in organisations which behaved ethically.

A CD containing a PowerPoint presentation on Divestment (based on the Sabeel MRI report), an audio presentation and the text of the Divestment paper presented to the Church of England General Synod is available for £5 including postage. An MP3 version of the talk will be available for download from Stephen Sizer’s website www.sizers.org later in the week.

Here is the text of the motion passed by General Synod:

“This Synod:
a) heeds the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc, until they change their policies;
b) encourages the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to follow up the consultation referred to in its Report with intensive discussions with Caterpillar Inc, with a view to its withdrawing from supplying or maintaining either equipment or parts for use by the state of Israel in demolishing Palestinian homes;
c) in the light of the urgency of the situation, and the increased support needed by Palestinian Christians, urges members of the EIAG to actively engage with monitoring the effects of Caterpillar Inc’s machinery in the Palestinian occupied territories through visiting the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East to learn of their concerns first hand, and to see recent house demolitions;
d) urges the EIAG to give weight to the illegality under international law of the activities in which Caterpillar Inc’s equipment is involved; and
e) urges the EIAG to respond to the monitoring visit and the further discussions with Caterpillar by updating its recommendations in the light of these.”

The Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, the Right Revd Riah Abu El Assal had sent the following challenging message to the Synod:

“I am saddened to witness less courage within our church than one would expect. Both time and energy have been spent on issues such as human sexuality. But non violent instruments such as divestment from companies that produce death rather than life does not get the same attention. No wonder the church is loosing credibility in many parts of our world.

The Elijah’s are absent and the voiceless wait in vain for church Synods to be their voice. Need the church wait until there are no homes and no trees for our people to wake up and tell the Ahabs of today that Naboth is but another child of God and deserves to lead a life with dignity and secure enough that those bulldozers will not reach his home.”
+ Bishop Riah Abu El Assal