On 24 November, Israeli forces protected the Volvo and Hyundai equipment that was used to demolish three homes in Beit Hanina, occupied East Jerusalem. Haitham Katib made a video on the action. The photo is a screenshot from his video. The destructive action left twenty people homeless, including six children. Since 1967 around 2,000 homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The Israeli authorities demolished more than 670 East Jerusalem homes between 2000 and 2008. The number of outstanding demolition orders for East Jerusalem is estimated at up to 20,000.
ICAHD estimates that about 25,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were demolished between 1967 and 2010.
Impact of home demolitions on children
The impact of home demotions on children has been researched by the Palestinian Counseling Centre, Save the Children and the Welfare Association, all based in Jerusalem. In their report Broken Homes they write:
The demolition of a home not only destroys a physical structure, but has numerous consequences: it tears down the family structure, increases poverty and vulnerability, and ultimately displaces a family from the environment that gives it cohesion and support. This has long-term physical and mental health consequences.
Their research shows that children who have had their homes demolished “fare significantly worse on a range of mental health indicators, including: withdrawal, somatic complaints, depression/anxiety, higher rates of delusional, obsessive, compulsive and psychic thoughts, attention difficulties, delinquency, violent behavior – even six months after the demolition.” In addition, children’s educational achievement and ability to study deteriorate.
Sixteen-year-old Alaa Ameen Hamdan expressed her feelings in a drawing of a home demolition in Jenin.
Volvo’s paper-thin commitment to human rights
The Electronic Intifada has documented the use of Volvo construction equipment and trucks by Israeli forces in the destruction of Palestinian property. Photostory part one was published in 2008 and part two in 2010. The documents show the use of Volvo equipment in the destruction of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem, Al Walaja near Bethlehem, Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley, Al-Araqib in the Naqab, and Lod near Tel Aviv.
Until today, Volvo has refused to take responsibility for the destructive use of its products by the Israeli forces. This standpoint is difficult to reconcile with the company’s commitment to human rights. Volvo is a participant in the UN Global Compact, a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices. Participants in the Global Compact are supposed to be committed to supporting and respecting the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and to ensuring that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
What will Volvo say to Palestinians who have seen Volvo equipment destroy their property? Would the company dare to quote its Code of Conduct, which states that “within its sphere of influence the Volvo Group supports and respects the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and ensures that it is not complicit in human rights abuses.” Furthermore, Volvo claims in the Code of Conduct that it “encourages suppliers, dealers, consultants and other business partners within its sphere of influence to adopt these principles.” If Volvo lived up to its expressed commitment to human rights, the company would have tried to stop the use of its equipment in the Israeli destruction of Palestinian property.
Japanese crane manufacturer and Caterpillar set precedent in Iran
While Volvo’s track record of involvement in Israel’s destruction of Palestinian property increases, Japanese crane manufacturer Tadano has decided to cut business ties with the Iranian government. Ynet reported on 15 July:
The company’s announcement came several days after United Against Nuclear Iran President Mark D. Wallace published an op-ed in Los Angeles Times where he names the Japanese Tadano company as one of several companies exporting cranes to Iran.
“In response to Iran’s brazen attempts to intimidate and terrorize its own people, United Against Nuclear Iran has launched a Cranes Campaign. The goal is to educate crane manufacturers worldwide about the Iranian regime’s clear misuse of their products and how such use can tarnish their brand image,” Wallace wrote.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) defines itself as a “not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group that seeks to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons.” It was founded in 2008 by former US Ambassador to the UN Mark Wallace, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and Middle East expert Dennis Ross. Information about the members serving on the UANI advisory board show its ties with US government circles.
Years of campaigning by Palestine solidarity activists have failed to convince Caterpillar to end its involvement in Israel’s human violations. The “heavy weights” of UANI pressurized Caterpillar to end its business with Iran using huge billboards. Within a month, Caterpillar announced that it would end its business deals with Iran.
UANI has shown the BDS movement that companies can be forced to take respect for human rights more seriously.