Monday, December 06, 2010

Corporate complicity in crimes against Palestinians

Corporations play a decisive role in enabling Israel to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity like destroying Palestinian homes.

Seven key corporations – some of whom actually boast of their role – take centre stage in an indictment handed down by an international tribunal, which met in London recently. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RTP), whose panel includes eminent British lawyers Michael Mansfield and Lord Gifford, heard what it called “compelling evidence” of complicity:

G4S, a multinational British/Danish corporation, supplies scanning equipment and full body scanners to several military checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza. G4S also provides equipment for prisons for Palestinian political prisoners.

Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli multinational, supplied the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (otherwise known as Drones) that were extensively and illegally used in the Gaza conflict. The British army has recently awarded Elbit a $1 billion contract.

Caterpillar, based in the US, supply specifically modified military D9 bulldozers to Israel, which are used in: (i) the demolition of Palestinian homes; (ii) the construction of settlements and the Wall; and (iii) in urban warfare in the Gaza conflict.

Cement Roadstone Holdings, an Irish multinational corporation, owns 25% of the Israeli corporation Mashav Initiative and Development Ltd, which in turn owns Israel’s sole cement producer, supplying 75-90% of all cement in Israel and occupied Palestine.

Dexia, a Franco-Belgian corporation, finances Israeli settlements in the West Bank via its subsidiary Dexia Israel Public Finance Ltd.

Veolia Transport, a French corporation, is involved in the construction of the East Jerusalem light railway. Veolia also operates bus services to illegal Israeli settlements as well as landfills where settlements dump their garbage on Palestinian lands.

Carmel Agrexco, an Israeli corporation, is an exporter of agricultural produce, including oranges, olives, and avocadoes from the illegal settlements in the West Bank. It also exports Palestinian products which are mislabelled as “made in Israel”.

An RTF statement at the end of the two-day hearing said: “It is clear from the evidence of witnesses that this conduct is not only morally reprehensible, but also exposes those corporations to legal liability for very serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. What distinguishes the present situation from others in which international action has been called for, is that in this case both Israel and the corporations that are complicit in Israel’s unlawful actions are in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Although companies were invited to defend their actions, only Veolia Environment, PFZW pension fund and security company G4S responded to the tribunal in writing. The jurors included former French ambassador Stephane Hessel; Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; South African professor John Dugard; South African politician Ronald Kasrils; Spanish judge Jose Antonio Martin Pallin and former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Dugard, who recently served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said: “We are dealing with a criminal enterprise on the part of Israel. Under criminal and international law and in many cases under national legal systems, there is an obligation on the part of states to redress such illegality, but if states do not take action, there is also responsibility on the part of corporations and civil society to redress these wrongs.”

Israel’s response? The Israeli government is currently considering making protest along the lines of campaigning for boycotts and disinvestments a criminal offence. It has also just carried out a new swathe of demolition of Palestinian homes. I am waiting with bated breath for the leaked cable from the US embassy attacking such policies.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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