The Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement made a major advancement on Saturday, as one of the largest churches in the United States voted in their biennial national meeting to divest from several companies that have contracts with the Israeli military to provide equipment used to occupy and invade Palestinian land.The companies: Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar have long been the target of activists calling for divestment from Israeli apartheid policies. The Presbyterian Church’s holdings in the three companies total about $21 million.
Hewlett Packard sells biometric scanners to the Israeli military to use at checkpoints throughout the West Bank and on the Gaza border, as well as navigation equipment used by the Israeli military in targeting fishermen in Gaza.
Motorola Solutions provides communication equipment used by the Israeli military at checkpoints and during invasions of Palestinian towns and villages. Motorola previously owned a subsidiary that provided bomb fuses to the Israeli military, but sold off the company to an Israeli firm several years ago, after becoming a target of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement.
A spokesperson for the company recently stated that Motorola’s checkpoint equipment helps ‘people to get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way” – a claim vehemently denied by Palestinian living in the West Bank, who are delayed for hours and even days waiting at the hundreds of checkpoints controlled by the Israeli military.
And Caterpillar is known worldwide for its D9 Armored bulldozer, used to demolish Palestinian homes, farmland, barns and sources of livelihood. The American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by a D9 bulldozer in 2003 while standing in non-violent protest in front of a Palestinian home in Gaza.
A lawsuit against the company by her parents failed, because Caterpillar argued that it was not responsible for how its products were used by the end purchaser. In recent years, the company has defended its sales to Israel by saying that the sales go through the U-S government, so they are not responsible for where the bulldozers and other equipment end up.
In the debate leading up to the vote among Presbyterian church representatives, numerous impassioned speakers stood up to share their perspectives on the issue. One of the last speakers to get up before the vote was a white South African who thanked the church profusely for deciding to divest from apartheid South Africa during the 1980s.
She said that while living under apartheid, as a beneficiary of that system she did not see how racist and horrific it was, but when churches like the Presbyterian Church USA divested, and the system eventually fell, all South Africans, black and white, were able to regain their humanity.
The vote Friday was the culmination of a ten-year long process of research, dialogue and engagement with the companies involved – divestment was seen as a last-ditch solution after all other alternatives had failed.
The group Jewish Voice for Peace applauded the decision by the church to divest, saying, “This is a turning point. The Presbyterians’ decision is a major development in the longstanding work to bring the US into alignment with the rest of the world.
This decision will have real consequences, sending a message to Palestinians that the ongoing violations of their human rights is worthy of action on the global stage, and to companies and the Israeli government that the occupation is both morally and economically untenable.”