British-Danish security firm G4S has been severely criticized for its operations in the occupied Palestinian territories and in prisons and detention centers in Israel, including those housing children and “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial.
On 17 April Palestinian organizations called for action against G4S for its role in Israeli prisons where Palestinian political prisoners from the occupied territories are held in contravention of international law.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in London published Michael Deas’s report on the call and invited G4S to respond. G4S submitted an update with old statements that does not address the criticism of the provision of services to prisons in Israel. Meanwhile, about 2,000 Palestinian prisoners bellow out their ill-treatment in a mass hunger strike.
Who Profits - a research project of the Coalition of Women for Peace – has provided the information on G4S activities in Israel for the rejoinder below, including its extensive G4S report of March 2011.
Business as usual with private enterprises in settlements
Who Profits confirms that G4S provides security equipment and personnel to shops, supermarkets and businesses in the illegal settlements of Modi’in Illit, Ma’ale Adumim and Har Adar in the West Bank and in settlement neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem. Through its merger with Israeli security firm Aminut, G4S has incorporated security services to businesses in Barkan Industrial Zone in the West Bank. The continuation of Aminut’s business operations was announced on the website of G4S Israel.
Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Israel’s wall in the West Bank have confirmed that settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — which states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
Establishing businesses in the settlements entrenches the illegal settlements and may also lead to their growth. G4S assists this process by providing security services to the businesses concerned. Moreover, its action is discriminatory as services provided to the settlements cannot be used by Palestinians. G4S’s remark that “a number of contracts with private enterprises [in the West Bank] were not discriminatory or controversial” is therefore completely amiss.
Assistance to Israeli checkpoints
G4S Israel mentions its “homeland security activities” in a presentation of November 2011 (in Hebrew). The services include providing scanners to checkpoints in the “seam zone” and to Erez checkpoint in Gaza. The seam zone is located in the occupied territories between the green line — the 1949 armistice line between Israel as it was established in 1948 and the West Bank — and the wall. Who Profits ascertained that the checkpoints of Qalandia, Bethlehem and Irtah are included. The project has filed a request in the framework of the Israeli Freedom of Information Act to find out the full extent of G4S Israel’s services to checkpoints.
The system of checkpoints connected to the wall is designed to limit and control the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank. As such, the checkpoints serve Israeli settlement policies. The ICJ ruled that “the construction of the wall and its associated regime, by contributing to the demographic changes mentioned […] above, contravene Article 49, paragraph 6, of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” The “associated regime” of the wall includes the checkpoints. One can argue that by providing and servicing security equipment for the checkpoints, G4S Israel is facilitating breaches of the Geneva Convention.
Close ties with the Israeli police
There are close ties between G4S Israel and the Israeli police. G4S Israel mentions on its website that it is the sole provider of electronic security systems to the Israeli police. In its November 2011 presentation, the company confirms that it still provides security services to the Israeli police department in the West Bank. In addition, G4S Israel mentions that it provides access control systems, metal detection gates, public announcement systems, burglary detection systems, fire detection systems and building inspection systems to police stations inside Israel.
The ties between G4S and the Israeli police became even closer when - last year - the Policity group won a 25-year contract to build, operate and maintain the new Israeli police training center in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh. G4S owns 50 percent of Policity and will be the operating contractor of the project.
G4S must be aware of the instrumental role that the Israeli police play in implementing the country’s discriminatory and repressive laws, for example in the demolition of Palestinian property, the forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes, the repression of protests against Israeli policies, the violent blocking of Palestinians from prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the shutting down of Palestinian media. By providing services to the Israeli police, G4S has sided with the force that tramples on basic human rights.
Assistance to the Israeli Prison Service
G4S Israel is deeply involved in Israeli prisons by providing security services to all jails run by the Israeli Prison Service, including the so-called “security prisons” inside Israel and in the West Bank. The Israeli authorities label Palestinian political prisoners as “security” prisoners and the prisons where they are held are therefore called “security prisons.”
For example, G4S installed the peripheral defense systems on the walls surrounding Ofer “security” prison in the occupied territories and it operates a central control room for the entire Ofer compound which houses a military court. G4S equipped Ketziot and Megiddo “security” prisons in Israel with their entire security systems. The G4S website clearly indicates that Ketziot prison holds “2,200 security prisoners.” The same source reveals that G4S provided the central control room for the entire security system in Megiddo “security” prison where over “1,200 security prisoners” are held.
In addition, G4S provides security services to Damon “security” prison, to the detention and interrogation facilities of Abu Kabir in Jaffa, to the “Russian Compound” in Jerusalem and to “Al-Jalameh” (Kishon) detention center in Haifa. Human rights organizations have collected evidence showing that Palestinian prisoners are regularly subjected to torture and ill-treatment in these facilities. Cell 36 of Al Jalame prison is one the cells where Palestinian children are locked in solitary confinement for days or even weeks, wrote The Guardian in January.
Israel systematically denies Palestinian political prisoners their basic rights, including the right to a fair trial and to protection from arbitrary detention which are enshrined in international law. At present, Israel holds over 300 Palestinians - including 27 lawmakers - in arbitrary detention, which is also known as administrative detention.
In addition, Israel is not allowed to transfer Palestinian prisoners from the occupied territories to prisons in Israel, because Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits this. Thousands of Palestinian prisoners are thus unlawfully held in prisons in Israel. By delivering essential security services to prisons in Israel, G4S is assisting Israel in these violations of international law.
In its response to Deas’s report, G4S keeps silent about its services to the Israeli Prison Service. It is obvious that the company has no intention to exit these contracts.
Legal advice to G4S criticized
Following fierce criticism of G4S involvement in the Israeli occupation, the company engaged Professor Hjalte Rasmussen to review its business in the West Bank and to provide a legal opinion. During a three-day trip to Israel and the West Bank, Rasmussen visited a number of banks and supermarkets in East Jerusalem, and a shopping mall in the settlement of Maale Adumim. He also collected information from G4S in London and Israel. Rasmussen did not visit Israeli prisons.
At the time, Dan Church Aid and Amnesty International Denmark expressed their discontent about the poor quality of Rasmussen’s report; the former described it as “shameful” because it contains so many errors. The Secretary General of Amnesty International Denmark, Lars Normann Jorgensen, said that “a case as serious as this one requires more thorough observations in the areas concerned than Hjalte Rasmussen has done.”
Nonetheless, G4S writes to Business & Human Rights that Rasmussen concluded that “G4S did not violate any national or international law.” Given its weaknesses, G4S would be ill-advised to rely solely on Rasmussen’s opinion in concluding that their activities do not violate international law.
Contractual obligations no justification for continued complicity in the occupation
However, G4S concluded that it “would aim to exit a number of contracts which involved the servicing of security equipment at the barrier checkpoints, a prison and a police station in the West Bank,” explicitly excluding the provision of services to private enterprises in the settlements. In addition, G4S shows no intention of terminating its services to prisons in Israel. As long as G4S is in any way involved in the detention of Palestinian political prisoners in Israel or the West Bank, it is not moving in the right direction.
Moreover, exiting the contracts concerning the checkpoints, a prison and a police station in the West Bank might take until 2015. The company decided that it needs the permission of its clients – who are engaged in implementing the occupation and repression - to exit the contracts before the expiry date. Contractual obligations to Israeli state organizations cannot justify the company’s continued complicity in the occupation.
G4S should therefore remain a target of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as long as it continues to deliver services to the Israeli police, the Ministry of Defense, the Israeli Prison Service, the Israeli army, and the settlement businesses of any other client, since they are all key activities in the oppression of the Palestinian people.