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US Presbyterians vote to divest from firms to pressure Israel

Presbyterian Church USA to divest from three companies – HP, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar – over Israeli supplies in occupied West Bank
Israeli soldiers arrest a young Palestinian boy following clashes in the centre of the West Bank town of Hebron, on June 20, 2014 (AFP)

WASHINGTON - The nearly 1.9 million member Presbyterian Church USA voted Friday after a contentious debate to divest from three companies that provide supplies to Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The 310 to 303 vote at the influential Protestant denomination's meeting in Detroit, Michigan, means the group will pull financial investments out of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, the church's official news service said.

The church has about $21 million invested in the three companies, a spokeswoman told The New York Times.

Assembly moderator Heath Rada emphasized that the decision "in no way reflects anything but love for both the Jewish and Palestinian people," the church's news service said.

The measure also included a reaffirmation of Israel's right to exist, an endorsement of a two-state solution and encouraged interfaith dialogue, The Times reported.

It also included a provision to encourage "positive investment" to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, the Times said.

The close vote came after a week of intense lobbying and "most contentious debate of this assembly," the church's news service said, noting that divestment has historically been seen as a "last resort" after "other engagement tools have failed."

In a statement ahead of the vote, Presbyterian Church USA said it was considering divestment in Caterpillar because the company provides the bulldozers "used in the destruction of Palestinian homes, clearing land of structures and fruit and olive tree groves, and in preparation for the construction of the barrier wall."

Hewlett-Packard, it said, "provides electronic systems at checkpoints, logistics and communications systems to support the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, and has business relationships with illegal settlements in the West Bank."

And Motorola Solutions "provides military communications and surveillance systems in the illegal Israeli settlements."

At the 2012 General Assembly, Presbyterian USA voted to boycott products made in the Israeli settlements and to "begin positive investments in Palestinian businesses."

Companies react

HP spokeswoman Kelli Schlegel said that "respecting human rights is a core value at HP."

The HP systems used at checkpoints allow people to "get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way," Schlegel said.

Motorola Solutions said it has long worked in the Middle East and "supports all efforts ... to find a peaceful resolution" to conflict.

It also said that its human rights policies are designed to ensure that its "operations worldwide are conducted using the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct."

Caterpillar, which described itself as "a values-based company," said it has "deep respect and compassion for all persons affected by the political strife in the Middle East and support a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"However, we believe it is appropriate for such a resolution to be reached via political and diplomatic channels," the company said in a statement.

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