Church of Scotland considering boycotting Israel [pg. 6]

The Church of Scotland is set to consider divestment and support for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in Judea and Samaria during its General Assembly meeting in May, to "show solidarity with the Palestinian people." These moves are expected to be recommended to the assembly by the committee of the Church and Society Council, one of the church's most influential bodies. The council is to present its report, "Investment in Palestine and Israel." This follows the Church of England's decision last month to divest from companies such as Caterpillar, whose products Israel uses in the territories. The report includes a call for Israel to negotiate with Hamas and for the World Council of Churches to coordinate a listing of products whose source is in "illegal settlements." The General Assembly meets each year in Edinburgh and has the authority to determine how the Church of Scotland operates. It is also the highest court of the Church. David Alexander, a member of the committee, said, "The issue is with the occupation of territories that are illegally occupied in terms of UN conventions. Like any paper, it will not command 100 percent support, but the council was unanimous in supporting it as a very considered statement of the issues and a very even-handed approach to both communities." Suggesting "positive investment" as a better instrument, he said, "It may mean the church looking at investment in firms involved in, for example, housing developments or water supply in Palestine." The report maintained that there had been little progress since a Church and Nation Committee report in 1998. It read, "It is concerned that the lucrative markets for British and Western armaments have blinded us to our responsibilities to the poor and oppressed in the Middle East." It goes on to say that Israeli policy "deliberately undermines economic efforts by and on behalf of the Palestinian people, drawing particular attention to the issues of water." In response to the 2001 Church and Nation Committee report on Jerusalem, which led the church's General Assembly to recognize "the illegal occupation of Palestinian land as a fundamental difficulty" and the importance of economic policies for any attempt to address the situation, the report says, "The ever-increasing number of settlements represents an economic stranglehold for any hope of Palestinian recovery and that travel for Palestinians, essential for trade to function, was being made progressively more difficult." The divestment call follows also from the 2004 report on the "separation wall." That report said, "Thousands of hectares of heavily cultivated Palestinian farmland have ended or will end up on the Israeli side of the wall. It is estimated that about 100 square kilometers (of a total of 5,800 in the West Bank) are now on the Israeli side. The bulk of this is agricultural land with olive trees, fruit trees and various crops. Thirty-six communities east of the wall have been cut off from their land and some 72,000 Palestinians have been partly or totally deprived of their livelihood... Large tracts of Palestinian farmland (estimated between 600-1200 hectares) have been, or will be, destroyed as a result of the 50-100 meter security zone that surrounds the wall." Based on this evidence, the new report mentions the "frustration that nothing seems to move on and that far from using economic levers to promote peace and justice, the West seem only to engage those levers to reward and support an illegal occupation." The report calls on the European Union to ensure the clear labelling of products that come from settlements in the West Bank so that "consumers can make an informed decision on whether or not to purchase them" and suggests that the investment bodies of the church should "investigate possibilities for positive investment in the Occupied Territories." While there is no direct call for the cessation of terror activities, the report says, "The time has now come for Hamas to depart from those aspects of its previous rhetoric and actions which have been aimed at the destruction of Israel, in order to be a proper and effective government for the Palestinian people." A Church of Scotland spokesman said, "This issue will be discussed at the General Assembly in May, when representatives from presbyteries and congregations across Scotland will have the opportunity to debate the whole of the Church & Society Council's report. "The delegates, known as commissioners to the Assembly, will be able to approve, amend or reject this proposal as they see fit." The Church of England voted to support a call from the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem for "morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories" and to disinvest in companies "that profit from the illegal occupation until Israel changes their policies." The decision has been described as ill-judged and badly timed by leaders of the Jewish community and by some Christian groups. Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, "There are daily reminders of why Israel's unique circumstances mean that so much emphasis has to be placed on the security of her citizens, be they constant rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians, or calls from Hamas or the Iranian president for the destruction of Israel. This resolution takes no account of these, or of Israel's unilateral efforts to assist the Palestinians in nation-building, such as the disengagement from Gaza. For that reason, this decision, even if only symbolic, is to be deplored." Britain's chief rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, also decried the decision but called on the British Jewish community to remain calm, respond with dignity and work together as a community.