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What is the campaign?
The campaign calls on UK churches to stop their financial support of companies profiting from human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. Investing in companies which participate in the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory prolongs the abuse of Palestinians’ human rights. The occupation and the Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law, are a cause of poverty for Palestinians and an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. We are asking that churches carefully review their investments, and prayerfully consider strengthening their investment policies to ensure they promote peace and justice, rather than conflict and injustice.
For some churches, this might involve introducing a targeted investment screen. An investment screen is a test which current and future investments must pass to ensure they do not provide financial support to companies profiting from the occupation and human rights violations in the Palestinian territory. Where churches already have an investment screen, we are asking them to bolster the effectiveness of the screen and make sure it is working properly.
What difference does this make?
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory is costly and relies on financial support to sustain it. Ensuring our churches are not supporting the occupation financially will cut off one of the sources of income that enables it to continue. It will also demonstrate that churches in the UK are serious about actively promoting peace and justice, setting an example for other investors to follow. It will protect the moral integrity of churches’ finances, and send an important message of solidarity to people suffering oppression and injustice in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Why are you focusing on churches?
We believe our churches should lead by example and put people before profits. Churches have investments like any other large organisation, and they should ensure they are investing these funds ethically and in line with Christian teaching. We do not believe churches are deliberately, or even knowingly, using their funds to support human rights violations, but that is the effect of investing in companies which profit from the occupation and settlement economy. Our churches here in the UK should be beyond reproach when it comes to stewarding the funds entrusted to it. Most churches already have investment policies which prohibit investing in other harmful economies, such as tobacco and gambling, fossil fuels and the arms industry. It is only right that companies profiting from the occupation and human rights violations in Palestinian territory are held to the same standard.
Is this part of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement?
This campaign has one simple and very specific ask: that UK churches stop their financial support of companies profiting from human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory. This campaign is not formally part of the BDS movement. Neither is the campaign contrary to BDS. It shares the goals of freedom, justice and equality for all.
Is this anti-Semitic?
All organisations involved in this campaign are committed to the principle that everyone who calls the Holy Land their home have their human rights respected. This campaign is about human rights and justice which all people should have access to. It is not anti-semitic to challenge human rights abuses. One should not draw parallels between the occupation and being of the Jewish faith. This action calls on UK churches to stop their financial support of companies profiting from human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. There are many Jewish organisations, in Israel and in the UK, which also campaign on behalf of Palestinians’ human rights; it is certainly not anti-Semitic to do so.
If these companies are acting illegally, wouldn’t our government do something?
On paper, our government has many policies and laws that should prevent companies and other entities from violating international law. For example, the UK government recognises that settlements are illegal, and reiterates this position frequently. Unfortunately, there is a wide gulf between these laws and their implementation, and our government has repeatedly failed to hold companies or even itself to even though most basic legal standard on this issue.
We know from history’s lessons that grassroots pressure on companies and government is the most effective way to bring about change. Apartheid in South Africa also violated countless elements of international law, but companies only ended their complicity in that unequal system when they began to feel the pressure from ordinary citizens and institutions like churches.
Many of these companies provide jobs for Palestinians, isn’t that a good thing?
The impact of settlements on the Palestinian economy has been disastrous. The settlements are actually a cause of poverty and hardship for the Palestinians. The UN estimates that without the occupation, the Palestinian economy should easily be twice as large as it is; this would have a sustainable and positive impact on rates of unemployment and poverty. The settlements take land, water, and other natural resources from Palestinians, they restrict the movement of people and goods, and cause the Palestinian consumer market to be entirely dependent on Israeli companies and products.
Through lack of options, some Palestinians are forced to take jobs in Israeli companies and settlements to provide for their families. These jobs are often insecure and can leave the employees vulnerable to exploitation. Palestinian trade unions are united in their opposition to settlements and settlement trade. It would be far better if the occupation ended and the Palestinian economy as a whole was able to thrive, providing jobs and new business opportunities on a national scale.
This campaign attacks and demonises Israel, isn’t it better to promote peace by bringing communities together?
This campaign focuses on private companies operating unethically and making profit from human rights and international law violations. It neither attacks nor demonises Israel. It calls for churches to manage their finances in a way that is consistent with Christian teaching about peace and justice.
Peace cannot be achieved while Palestinians are subjected daily to poverty and human rights violations as a result of the occupation and the settlements. The occupation must end for there to be peace. For as long as the occupation is profitable and investments continue to flow to companies operating in the settlements, there is no incentive to make peace. The separation wall, checkpoints, and settlements are also a physical obstacle to bringing people together. The sooner these are removed, the easier it will be for the two communities to meet on an even footing and create the conditions for peace.
What about Syria, Myanmar, Yemen, or North Korea? Why do you care so much about Israel?
There are many cases of human rights violations around the world and all are contemptible. Any action taken to end human rights abuses anywhere in the world should be commended and supported. Rather than singling out Israel, we are simply asking that the same standards be applied here as elsewhere. After Russia’s occupation of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, the international community introduced a raft of economic measures in response. The 50-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory is the longest ongoing occupation in the world. It is right to highlight this and help churches ensure they are not financing it.
This doesn’t seem very balanced?
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not balanced. Under international law, it is a situation of belligerent military occupation. Israel, a fully-fledged state and nuclear power, with foreign support, maintains full control over Palestinian territory and the millions of Palestinians living there. Palestinians in the West Bank live under military law and have no civil or democratic rights under the Israeli military regime which controls the territory. Those Palestinians are denied the same rights that are enjoyed by Israelis who live in the same territory. Taking a balanced approach to this situation means understanding the power imbalance that currently exists.