The Israeli affiliate of Orange, the French multinational telecom company, provided direct material support to Israeli soldiers who participated in the deadly assault on Gaza last summer.
The firm has also sponsored two Israeli military units for several years, evidence of its deep complicity in Israeli military occupation and human rights abuses.
One of these units, the “Ezuz” tank company, took part in last summer’s attack on Gaza and was active in specific locations where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed.
Orange, previously known as France Telecom, is a major provider of mobile phone, land line and Internet services in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, including in Jordan and Egypt (through its subsidiary Mobinil). In the UK, Orange operates as part of a joint venture called EE, and in Belgium it owns a big stake of Mobistar.
In Israel, Orange makes its profits by licensing its brand to an independently owned Israeli company called Partner Communications Ltd. and selling equipment and other services to it.
Helping the attack on Gaza
Israeli warplanes and artillery dropped the equivalent of an atomic bomb on Gaza during 51 days last July and August, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, among them more than 500 children, and destroying vast areas.
According to Amnesty International, Israeli forces operated with “callous indifference to the carnage caused” by their attacks.
Throughout this horror, which Israel dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” Orange was on the front lines providing material support and boosting the morale of those carrying out the assault.
Orange waived service fees for soldiers “located in the area around Gaza” during the attack, Israel Hayom reported.
Every day during the assault, Orange sent “three mobile units to the soldiers’ gathering spots around Gaza,” the website Frumline reported in a 22 July 2014 article headlined “Orange in action on the border due to Operation Protective Edge.”
“The mobile units are equipped with generators, chargers for all types of devices, hundreds of fully charged batteries, and cellular devices, to allow soldiers to be in contact with their homes,” Frumline stated.
In Gaza, Palestinians who survived the assault have told of Israeli soldiers executing their relatives in cold blood.
Meanwhile in Israel, dozens of Orange employees fanned out across the country, visiting Israeli soldiers “and distributing tablet computers, to make their time in the hospital more pleasant.”
“Adopt a soldier”
Orange’s support for the Israeli military long predates last summer’s attack on Gaza.
“Our ongoing association with the soldier population began with the establishment of the Adopt A Soldier project by the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers,” Orange says on the “corporate responsibility” page of its Israel website.
As part of this project, the company has “adopted” two units: the “Ezuz” armored company, since 2005 and, since 2008, the “Shachar” search and rescue unit.
Dozens of firms, the vast majority Israeli, take part in the Adopt A Soldier project – “Ametz Lohem” in Hebrew. Among the more well-known internationally are the Israeli airline El Al and Strauss, the maker of Sabra brand hummus.
The participation of a multinational like Orange stands out – the only other readily recognizable international firm is the business services company Ernst & Young, which sponsors a drone unit.
According to the Orange website, the “adoption” consists of “joint activities of the soldiers with employees of the company, such as: sports, use of company facilities for training and conferences, support for lone soldiers, accompanying discharged soldiers on their pathway to civilian life and financing battalion-wide entertainment activities: hikes, athletics days, awards ceremonies for outstanding soldiers, and more.”
Ezuz in the attack on Gaza
An article in the November 2014 edition of the Israeli military magazine Shiryon (Hebrew for “Armor”) reveals that the Ezuz unit directly participated in the attack on Gaza and was present at times and places where hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands of homes destroyed.
Unit commander Lt. Colonel Aryeh Berger tells Shiryon that Ezuz was part of a force that invaded Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. There, he says that his men “attacked homes of Hamas activists” and “purified” buildings.
Human Rights Watch condemned Israel’s deliberate targeting of homes, merely under the pretext that they allegedly belonged to the families of persons associated with Hamas or other armed resistance organizations, as “unlawful.”
Berger also reveals that his unit was active in the area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza at the same time that an Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin of the Givati brigade, was reported captured near the city of Rafah, to the south. That capture occurred on 1 August 2014.
This places the Ezuz unit in two specific areas where mass killings took place.
In the Khan Younis area, Berger says his forces were tasked to “isolate” a village – which he does not name. Once the report of Goldin’s capture came, Berger says “we had to leave our task urgently and reinforce the Givati brigade, and we got there within three hours.”
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that dozens of civilians were killed in and around Khan Younis by airstrikes and shelling from tanks and gunboats.
On 1 August, during a short-lived “humanitarian ceasefire,” medical crews, journalists and residents entered the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, which had been besieged by Israeli forces. They found the bodies of dozens of dead civilians.
Some had been killed while trying to leave, waving white flags. Others died as their homes were destroyed on top of them.
The UK’s Channel 4 documented scenes of destruction and carnage as people entered the village on 1 August:In Rafah – presumably where Ezuz redeployed to reinforce the Givati brigade following the reported capture of Goldin – Israeli forces implemented the so-called “Hannibal Directive”: they carpet bombed the town by land, sea and air, killing more than two hundred civilians and destroying more than 2,500 homes.
There were so many dead that local hospitals were forced to store corpses and body parts in ice cream coolers.
While in Gaza, Ezuz commander Berger says he ordered his men not to drive on roads or through intersections. When tank commanders asked where they should drive, Berger replied “Everywhere else!”
He saw the assault on Gaza as a rare training opportunity: “I assigned one of my company commanders to document some of this by video, so we can illustrate it in training, show them for example how a tank drives through a grove of trees, because they don’t believe this is possible, or how the tank shoots in different situations. Because in training we don’t have planted grove areas we can keep running over, or a variety of ‘live’ houses to shoot at.”
This is the unit Orange has sponsored for a decade.
“Corporate social responsibility”
Orange says it has a comprehensive global program on “corporate social responsibility.”
The company claims that “our commitment to corporate citizenship means that everything we do is for a single purpose: using digital technologies to speed up progress for society.”
But by supporting the Israeli army through its Israeli affiliate, Orange has been helping to speed up the destruction of Palestinian society and to kill and injure thousands of people.
Although Orange does not own Partner Communications Ltd., it remains responsible and liable for Partner’s activities done in its name and with its brand. Orange directly derives profits from Partner’s activities through its royalty agreement, supplies Partner with equipment and is responsible for the stewardship and reputation of the Orange brand worldwide.
The parent company, moreover, appears to be fully complicit in helping Israel whitewash its reputation. In May 2014, its Orange Institute think-tank sponsored a conference in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem called “How Israel became a Tech Lab for the World.”
The promotional material says that in 2014 “the brand of ‘Israel as Startup Nation’ is shining even more brightly than when Orange Institute first visited in 2011.”
“From this small country of eight million people,” Orange Institute gushes, “we continue to see oversized returns.”
The conference promoted such topics as “civilian drone use” and “cyber-security innovations within the Israeli cyber ecosystem.”
Orange wants to claim credit for initiatives “supporting digital literacy” and promoting “eco-friendly solutions.”
It should also be held accountable for its complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. Consumers might do that by refusing to be Orange customers.
Orange has already come under pressure from French civil society over its Israeli affiliate’s complicity in Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights. A statement signed by dozens of French groups calls on Orange to end its deal with Partner Communications Ltd. over the latter’s operations on occupied lands.
Last year, the French government warned French businesses of the risks of doing business in Israeli settlements in occupied territories that are illegal under international law.
But there is also the possibility that Palestinian individuals or human rights groups could seek to hold Orange accountable for providing material support to war crimes – including in the form of equipment it supplies to Partner – under the emerging doctrine of corporate liability for gross human rights abuses.
Orange’s press office at its headquarters in Paris did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
With thanks to Dena Shunra for providing research and translation.
- France Telecom
- Partner Communications Ltd.
- Adopt A Soldier
- Strauss group
- Hannibal Directive
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International
- Operation Protective Edge
- Ernst and Young
- Deir al-Balah
- Aryeh Berger
- Khan Younis
- Givati brigade
- Hadar Goldin
- Channel 4
- corporate crime
- Orange Institute
- Brand Israel
- Israeli settlements
- Golan Heights