by The Associated Press | Haaretz | 13 May 2005
The U.S. Episcopal Church, considering a review of investments in companies that do business with Israel, said on Thursday a high-level fact-finding team came back deeply disturbed after visiting the West Bank and nearby areas.
"Israel has a right to defend itself. But it appears that, in the name of security, injustices are being done to the Palestinians that amount to collective punishment," said Jacqueline Scott, a member of the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns.
She was part of a delegation that also included members of the church's Social Responsibility in Investments committee and Phoebe Griswold, wife of Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the 2.3 million-member church.
The investments committee is scheduled to issue a report to church leaders later this year on whether the Episcopal Church is profiting from its investments in corporations that help support Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories or that may be harmful in general to Palestinians.
It is not known how much of the church's roughly $3.6 billion portfolio might be affected or what companies could be involved, but the issue is heating up in America where the Presbyterian Church USA also has a study under way that could lead to divestments. The latter, with 2.4 million members, has a portfolio valued at $8 billion.
In addition, the World Council of Churches, the main body uniting non-Catholic Christians, encouraged its members earlier this year to sell off investments in companies that make money from the Israeli occupation.
"What the commission members found the most shocking of all was that the Wall or Separation Barrier or Fence, as it is variously called, is perceived by all parties as being almost entirely underwritten by the American taxpayer," said Michele Spike, another member of the commission.
The wall, which Israel said it had to erect as a security measure, "invades Palestinian fields, dividing grazing lands - including the valley of the shepherds at Bethlehem -- and, at times, encircling Palestinian cities," she added.
Any action on possible divestment by the Episcopalians would first be considered by the church's annual general convention in 2006.
The report issued by the church on Thursday said the divestment issue is complex and more work is needed.
Kim Byham, a member of the church's Executive Council and that group's liaison to the investments panel, said a period of "active engagement" with targeted companies would come before any divestment. He told Reuters that divestment "is not something that's on the horizon nor is it automatically ruled out."
He said the task of finding exactly which companies are involved and whether they are reflected in the church's investment portfolio is a complex one.
He was part of the team that visited the area earlier this month, and said he found that the occupation was "taking its toll on both sides.