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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

UN official calls for action, as Volvo machines used to demolish Palestinian homes

On 4 December 2012, Israeli forces used Volvo equipment to demolish a mosque in the Palestinian village al-Mufaqarah in the south Hebron hills.

At sunrise, Israeli police and soldiers arrived to protect the Volvo machine and to keep Palestinians at a distance. The mosque was built on the ruins of another mosque that was destroyed about a year ago. Watch the raw footage of the destruction, above, as published by the al-Tuwani project.

Volvo Group’s activities have drawn the attention of UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk. In a recent report to the UN General Assembly, Falk addresses the legal responsibility of business enterprises and corporations in activities relating to Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, presenting Volvo as a case study.

Falk recommends civil society to “vigorously pursue initiatives to boycott, divest and sanction” the companies mentioned in his report, until they bring their policies and practices into line with international laws and standards.

Volvo equipment used to demolish Palestinian homes

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Demolition in Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheer on 25 January 2012

(Ta'ayush)

Volvo equipment was also seen in action in the Bedouin village of Um al-Kheer on 25 January 2012. The bulldozers - escorted by military jeeps – demolished two houses that were not even under demolition order. The destructive action left an elderly couple, a mother and her nine children homeless.

The soldiers pushed people who wanted to stop the demolition away. Operation Dove filmed the demolition. A BBC report contains footage which clearly shows the Volvo equipment in action.

Photos of Volvo equipment appeared in a 5 January 2012 report by Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan on the demolition of four Palestinian homes in Jericho. The homes were located in Area C of the occupied West Bank. The center reports:

A huge number of Israeli forces surrounded the neighborhood at 10am, then cordoned off an area and barred entry to residents. Home owners and journalists were also prevented from entering, with officers citing security reasons. The four demolitions were carried out with no prior warning given to the residents. One owner, Saleem Siyam, and his family, had 5 minutes to remove their furniture and belongings from their home, while the other three families were given no opportunity.

Volvo must take its responsibility

Falk cites in his report Mårten Wikforss, Volvo Vice President for Media Relations and Corporate News. In 2007, Wikforss stated in response to criticism relating to the demolition of a Palestinian home in Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem: 

It is, of course, regrettable and sad if our products are used for destructive purposes. We do not condone such actions, but we do not have any control over the use of our products, other than to affirm in our business activities a Code of Conduct that decries unethical behaviour.

Wikforss added that “there is no way Volvo ultimately can control the use of its products.”

This answer did not satisfy Falk, who concludes that all companies that operate in or otherwise have dealings with Israeli settlements should be boycotted, until such time as they bring their operations fully into line with international human rights standards and practice.

Volvo Group should finally take its responsibility, for example by including in contracts that equipment may not be used in Israel’s unlawful acts such as the demolition of Palestinian property, the construction of the wall or settlements in the occupied West Bank. Modern GPS technology is used to track down people, so why can’t it be used to track down machines assisting Israel’s violations of international law?

Businesses must respect international law

Falk’s report is based on the principle that business enterprises and companies must respect international humanitarian law and should respect human rights. They should “avoid infringing on the human rights of those living under occupation and address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.” This basic principle was affirmed by the UN Human Rights Council when it adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights on 16 June 2011.

In addition, Falk refers to the Global Compact, a leading global voluntary initiative for corporate social responsibility which addresses the issue of business and human rights. Volvo is a member of the Global Compact. The first two its ten principles are:

  1. Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
  2. make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Volvo presented as case study

Falk presents in his report 13 case studies of companies involved in activities relating to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including Public Eye Award nominee G4S, Caterpillar, Veolia Environnement, Ahava, Elbit Systems, Motorola, Hewlett Packard, Assa Abloy and Volvo. Falk writes:

Volvo equipment and products are used in the demolition of Palestinian homes, the construction of the wall and the construction of Israeli settlements. Further, Volvo holds a 27 per cent share in the Israeli company Merkavim, which is a business that manufactures buses that are used to transport Palestinian political prisoners from the occupied Palestinian territory to prisons in Israel. The other 73 per cent of Merkavim shares are owned by Mayer’s Cars and Trucks, an Israeli company that exclusively represents Volvo in Israel.

Falk reminds Volvo of its commitment to respect human rights as laid down in its own code of conduct. In addition, as member of the Global Compact Group, Volvo pledges to realize and integrate the ten principles regarding human rights, work conditions and environment into its operations.

Meanwhile, activists and social responsible investors will follow Falk’s advice and intensify their pressure on Volvo Group.

Comments

Nieuwhof's meticulous research and ability to weave various strings of information together into a piece of journalistic work is an inspiring example for all investigative journalists.

The destruction of property not belonging to one is against the law. Doing it knowingly and willfully is, to me, the highest insult to the people that own the property and society as a whole. Volvo is only the machine of destruction, but may be held in contempt for their use in the willful use against the people of Palestine.
I suggest boycotting any vehicle with the Volvo logo, cars, trucks, and machinery of any kind world wide.

We must boycott Volvo!

It is incomprehensible that the makers of the safest cars in the world would be involved in such destructive behaviour. Volvo is not safe for everyone, apparently.
What is also incomprehensible is how long people have been pointing the finger at Volvo. And yet no change of behaviour. They really don't give a hoot. So yes, boycott, boycott!