LONDON // Christian clerics today demanded that the Church of England honour its commitment to disinvest from Israeli companies operating in the occupied territories. More than 20 clerics and theologians, including Alun Morinan, national co-ordinator of the Christian Network's Campaign Against the Arms Trade, signed a letter to be published today in The Guardian newspaper, calling for immediate action.
Amid growing public protests in Britain since the Gaza offensive, including a sit-in at a leading Scottish university and a mass demonstration on Saturday at an Israeli import centre in London, the clerics complain that the General Synod, the ruling body of the Church of England, had done nothing to implement a three-year-old commitment to disinvest. The letter says: "In February, 2006, the Church of England voted at the General Synod to disinvest in companies that operated in the Palestinian occupied territories, saying that there was a need for 'morally responsible investment'.
"This was a highly principled decision by the Synod, one that we totally support. "However, since that resolution was passed, the Church has not acted on that decision and it still remains that the Church of England has investments in companies that profit from the suppression of human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories. "We believe that given the events in Gaza as well as the continued illegal occupation of whole swathes of Palestinian land and the illegal land grabs by settlers, supported by the Israeli government, that the Church of England must make good on its policy of disinvestment and withdraw its investments from those who profit from the misery of millions of Palestinians immediately."
The London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) applauded the move. Betty Hunter, its general secretary, said the General Synod had taken "a morally courageous decision" to disinvest. "Sadly, three years on and the Church of England retains investments of £2.2 million [Dh12m] in a company, Caterpillar, whose bulldozers and heavy machinery are used to extract the legitimate residents of Palestine to be replaced by illegal settlers.
"I hope that the General Synod will take heed of what their own clergy and congregations are saying and disinvest now." Nobody from the Church of England was available for comment yesterday but, after the General Synod vote, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, appeared to back away from the call to disinvest. Apparently alarmed by the angry reaction of leading Jews in Britain, Dr Williams, who voted in favour of the motion, denied that it was a commitment to disinvest but, rather, "to engage with companies about whom we had concerns".
Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian campaigners in the United Kingdom were celebrating a victory in academia yesterday after a student sit-in in the foyer of Strathclyde University in Glasgow ended when the university authorities agreed to cancel a contract with an Israeli water company. About 40 students took part in the protest, organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, demanding that the university cut all ties with Israel following the Gaza offensive.
The students' demands included the cancellation of a contract with Eden Springs, its main water cooler supplier, and the creation of a scholarship programme for Palestinian students at Strathclyde. The university authorities agreed to both of these demands and also to broadcast an appeal across the campus for funds to help those suffering in Gaza. Danny McGregor, one of the protesters, told yesterday's Scotsman newspaper: "We are happy with what we have achieved. We were in there for 24 hours and we feel we made a lot of progress."
Peter West, the university secretary, said: "The university expresses its deep concern about the plight of the people of Gaza. We are particularly aware that the infrastructure of higher education has been damaged, making it particularly difficult for Palestinian students to pursue their studies. "The university has made a number of undertakings, including supporting its students in their effort to raise funds for the rebuilding of Gaza. In addition, it will create a scholarship scheme for Palestinian students, similar to the scheme already offered to students from Rwanda."
Dr West added that he hoped Strathclyde's actions would "encourage universities across Scotland" to join the scholarships scheme. In London, the Boycott Israeli Goods (Big) campaign organised a demonstration outside the main depot of Carmel Agrexco, the Israeli state export company. Tom Hayes, a spokesman for Big, said: "The aim of the protest was to draw attention to this company's sale of flowers from occupied Palestinian land on Valentine's Day.
"We are asking the British public not to buy bloodstained flowers for their loved ones this year. Following the murder of more than 1,300 people and the maiming of nearly 6,000, the majority women and children, in Gaza, it is vital that we keep in the public consciousness that, by purchasing Israeli goods, they are supporting the slaughter of innocent people." firstname.lastname@example.org