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Quakers first UK church to boycott companies profiting from Israeli occupation

The decision fits into the church's history of boycotting the fossil fuel industry, arms companies and apartheid South Africa
A Palestinian boy walks past a mural calling people to boycott Israeli goods in the al-Azzeh refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem on 17 September 2014 (AFP)

Britain's Quakers announced on Monday that they will not invest any of their centrally held funds in companies that are profiting from Israel's occupation of Palestine, making it the first church in the United Kingdom to do so.

“Our long history of working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel has opened our eyes to the many injustices and violations of international law arising from the military occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government," Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said in a statement.

“With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in near sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation."

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and effectively the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East war and has since built settlements there and profited from the use of confiscated Palestinian lands, in contravention of international law.

We believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation

Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain

According to Ingrid Greenhow, clerk of British Quakers' trustees, the church doesn't hold investments in any companies profiting from the occupation. However, from now on it will make sure that this rule applies to all investments in companies that have interests in occupation-related businesses, she said.

"This includes companies – whichever country they are based in – involved for example in the illegal exploitation of natural resources in occupied Palestine, and the construction and servicing of the separation barrier and Israeli settlements," Greenhow said.

The upcoming publication of the UN Business and Human Rights Database will list companies complicit and involved in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Quakers are now going to boycott those companies, the church said. 

The decision, the statement said, fits into a long Quaker history of pursuing "ethical investments" by not investing church funds in the fossil fuel industry, arms companies and apartheid South Africa.

Historic solidarity

The Quakers' solidarity with the Palestinian people is longstanding.

In 1948, during the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) when 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes during the creation of Israel, the US branch of the Quakers set up refugee camps in the Gaza Strip which are still in existence.

The American Friends Service Committee, as the US Quakers are known, established the camps after finding the United Nations' Disaster Relief Project (UNDRP) was ineffective in aiding Palestinian refugees.

The Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, are a Christian group formed in England in the 1640s by George Fox, a young man who was displeased with the teachings of the Church of England.

Membership of the church in the UK was estimated to be 22,641 people in 2017.

In 1947 the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their opposition to "violence in any form".

Since 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has sought to highlight Israel's violations in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and pressure Israel into ending its 51-year occupation.

Recently, several US churches including the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church (UMC) and several Quaker bodies have voted to divest from Israeli and international companies targeted by the BDS movement.

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