Parishes are being urged to withdraw their money from the Church of England after a decision to continue its current investment in US company Caterpillar inc.
A coalition of 12 groups, including the Amos Trust and War on Want, have written a letter organised by Friends of Sabeel UK, to dozens of churches asking them to take out their money from the Churchís Central Board of Finance (CBF) until it ends its involvement with the controversial company.
Presentations to diocesan synods and clergy conferences in the coming months are also being planned.
Detailed in War on Wantís recent ëalternative reportí on Caterpillar, thousands of Palestinian homes and vast swathes of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli military using armoured Caterpillar D9 bulldozers. The bulldozers have also been used in the construction of Israelís Separation Wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in July 2004.
One of the companyís machines killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie two years ago.
The Rev Stephen Sizer, Vice Chair of Friends of Sabeel UK, said that the number of churches boycotting the CBF could rise to hundreds as the campaign gathered momentum.
The groups have taken the action after the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) reaffirmed its decision not to recommend disinvestment in Caterpillar. This was despite the call from last monthís General Synod that EIAG give weight to the "illegality under international law" of the activities in which Caterpillar was involved.
The Church's General Synod - equivalent to its 'Parliament' urged that the EIAG hold intensive discussions with Caterpillar, "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".
It also urged that "in the light of the urgency of the situation, and the increased support needed by Palestinian Christians" members of the EIAG "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."
However, without visiting the Middle East, the EIAG said it could ìfind no compelling evidence that Caterpillar is or has been complicit in human rights abusesî.
The EIAG said that it would instead continue its programme of engagement with Caterpillar, which it said had been productive. It did add however that it would revisit the decision if there were new sales of Caterpillar equipment to the Israeli Defence Forces for use in the demolition of Palestinian houses.
Garth Hewitt from the Amos Trust told Ekklesia; "I am frankly puzzled by EAIG's attitude. If they are saying we can ignore the position of the Synod then who runs the church? The only option is for people to withdraw their money to another body that is ethically acceptable."
Rev Stephen Sizer, Vice Chair of Friends of Sabeel UK, criticised the group for making the decision before visiting Palestinian Christians, as Synod had requested, and seeing the destruction caused by the Caterpillar machines. He told Ekklesia: ìThis is a precipitous and premature decision, which fails to heed the call from Synod.î
"They have dug themselves into a hole" Sizer continued, "and it appears that they are only partly controlled by the Church of England. They appear to be trying to distance themselves from the Synod's decision and viewpoint. There appear to be other interests at work here, besides those of the Church."
In recent months the church has been attacked from within its own ranks for other financial decisions it has made, including the sale of estates housing 1,100 tenants, including key workers such as ambulance staff and teachers.