Thousands of people took to the streets across Palestine last week to salute the struggle of the more than 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners that remain in Israeli jails (photos here).
Demonstrations in solidarity with political prisoners were also held in cities across the world, from Buenos Aires to Brussels.
Protests were held at the London headquarters of G4S, the British private security company that helps Israel run its prison system, and at the London, Johannesburg and Seattle offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charitable foundation, over its $170 million investment in G4S.
Activists march on the Johannesburg offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation(BDS South Africa)
Copies of a petition signed by more than 11,500 people that argued the foundation’s holdings in G4S makes it complicit in Israel’s prison system, including the use of torture and detention without trial, were delivered to the Gates Foundation offices.
The petition, initiated by the Palestinian prisoner support group Addameer and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee and backed by more than 160 organizations, points out that G4S is “at the heart of [Israel’s] prison system … installing and running security systems in Israeli jails” and that the Gates Foundation was undermining its stated support for the idea that “every life has equal value” by investing in G4S.
“The Gates Foundation is legitimizing and profiting from Israel’s use of torture, mass incarceration and arbitrary arrest to discourage Palestinians from opposing Israel’s apartheid policies,” the petition adds.
While alleviating the suffering of children living in poverty is presented as a key pillar of the Gates Foundation’s work, the foundation has so far failed to respond to an open letter from Palestinian organizations that highlighted the role that G4S plays in the detention and mistreatment of Palestinian child prisoners.
G4S helps to operate the Russian Compound and Jalameh interrogation centers where children are frequently held and the Damon prison where children are subjected to violence, the letter explains.
In a mealy-mouthed response to The International Business Times, the Gates Foundation states its investment portfolio is a “separate entity from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its investment strategies are set by its trustees.”
Any attempt to imply that Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation have no control over their investments is in direct contradiction to its investment policy, which states that:
When instructing the investment managers, Bill and Melinda also consider other issues beyond corporate profits, including the values that drive the foundation’s work. They have defined areas in which the endowment will not invest, such as companies whose profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that they find egregious.
With its active participation in human rights abuses in Palestine but also in South African prisons, abuses in the UK migration and deportation system and numerous other violations, G4S clearly meets the definition of a company whose profit model is based on egregious activity.
In a bizarre comment that seems to suggest that human rights abuses are acceptable so long as the resulting profits are reinvested in humanitarian projects, the foundation also states that its funds are “actively managed so the foundation has the most money possible to support the great work the foundation does with partners around the world.”
By failing to meaningfully engage with those who are questioning its links to Israel’s prison system, the Gates Foundation has ensured it will continue to face calls to divest from G4S.
G4S is set to face mounting pressure ahead of its shareholders’ meeting in London on 5 June, during which it will be grilled by activist shareholders on whether it intends to renew its contract with the Israel Prison Service, which is due to expire in 2015.
Having already lost millions of dollars as universities, trade unions, campaign groups and private firms cancel contracts to protest G4S’ role in Israeli apartheid, students and academics at the University of Helsinki have just launched a campaign calling on the Finnish college to break its contract with G4S.
G4S has previously announced that it intends to end its role in running Israel’s military checkpoints and providing services to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Until now, it has failed to do so.