Christian peace campaigners are this morning welcoming the vote last night by the Church of England's general synod - including the Archbishop of Canterbury - to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
The main target of the plan will be the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar which has supplied vehicles used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes.
It follows examination by the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group of whether the shares currently held in Caterpillar were consistent with the Church’s ethical investment policy, which prohibits investment in arms companies or companies making ‘weapons platforms’ such as naval vessels or tanks.
When the worldwide Anglican communion called for such a move, at a meeting last summer, there followed protests from Israel and Jewish groups.
The church currently invests about £2.5m of its £900m share portfolio in Caterpillar and had been engaged in negotiations with the company about its activities. Caterpillar insists it has not provided the earth movers directly to Israel but to the US military which sold them on.
But the BBC reports that Caterpillar has faced criticism from UN officials. As detailed in War on Want’s recent ‘alternative report’ on Caterpillar, thousands of Palestinian homes and vast swathes of agricultural land have been destroyed by the Israeli military using armoured Caterpillar D9 bulldozers.
Caterpillar bulldozers have also been used in the construction of Israel’s Separation Wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in July 2004.
One of the company’s machines killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie two years ago and Christian churches in the USA have also begun discussions over divesting from Caterpillar.
On the first day of its meeting in London, the general synod, the church's parliament, heard denunciations of Israel's use of the machines from one of its own bishops and from the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, who is Palestinian, whose letter was read out.
The Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who is chairman of Christian Aid, told the meeting that the problem in the Middle East was the government of Israel rather than Caterpillar but that it was vital that the church should invest only in organisations which behaved ethically.
So passionate was the debate that it squeezed out an equally contentious decision last Friday by the Church commissioners, managers of the church's investment and property portfolio, to sell off the century-old Octavia Hill housing estates for more than 1,000 poor tenants in south London to property developers.
This decision has itself been branded "unethical" by campaigners.