Corporations found guilty at Russell Tribunal second session

Jurors at the London session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. (Kristian Buus)

On 22 November a jury of international experts announced their verdict that compelling evidence shows corporate complicity in Israeli violations of international law. The verdict followed two full days of presentations in London at the second international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine from 20 to 21 November.

The session examined the role of corporations in Israel’s violations of international law. It called experts and witnesses to present cases to the international panel of jurors. Although companies were invited to defend their actions, only Veolia Environnement, PFZW pension fund and security company G4S responded to the tribunal in writing.

The jurors included former French ambassador Stephane Hessel; Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; South African professor John Dugard; South African politician Ronald Kasrils; English lawyer Michael Mansfield; Spanish emeritus judge Jose Antonio Martin Pallin; former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; and UK barrister Lord Anthony Gifford.

According to the jurors, the corporations’ violations related to their supply of weapons and the construction and maintenance of illegal Israeli settlements and the Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The jury called for the mobilization of civil society to end the involvement of companies in Israeli human rights violations (Public Statement of the Russell Tribunal [PDF]).

Seven corporations were named by the jury for being complicit in Israeli violations. They include:

  • The British-Danish firm G4S, which supplies equipment used at Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank and Israeli prisons.
  • Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli company which collaborates closely with the Israeli military.
  • US-based Caterpillar, which supplies the Israeli military with modified D9 bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
  • Cement Roadstone Holdings, an Irish multinational corporation, which purchased 25 percent of the Israeli Mashav Initiative and Development Ltd. Israeli Mashav Initiative and Development Ltd., owns Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises Ltd., which is Israel’s sole cement producer, supplying 75-90 percent of all the cement in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
  • Dexia, a Franco-Belgian corporation that finances Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank via its subsidiary Dexia Israel Public Finance Ltd.
  • Veolia Transport, a French corporation is involved in the construction of the Jerusalem light rail which connects Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank with annexed East Jerusalem. Veolia is due to operate the light rail and also operates bus services to illegal Israeli settlements.
  • Carmel Agrexco, an Israeli corporation that exports agricultural produce including oranges, olives, and avocados from the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

During the Tribunal, Dutch divestment activist Saskia Muller presented the case of the Dutch pension fund Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW). The fund holds investments in more than ten international companies involved in Israel’s violations of international law, and one Israeli supermarket chain which provides services to illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. In its six-page letter to the Russell Tribunal dated 12 November, the PFZW board wrote that it is “deeply concerned about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the consequential long time occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel. It is further concerned about ongoing violations of international law in this context, and about possible complicity in such violations by companies that are active in Israel and the occupied territories.”

Representatives of the US peace group Codepink presented the case against Ahava cosmetics to the Russell Tribunal jury. And while the jury was presenting its conclusions on 22 November, the entrance to the Ahava store in London was blocked by activists who chained themselves to a concrete-filled oil barrel. This was the fifth protest by activists against Ahava, which manufactures Dead Sea products in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.

At the press conference, juror John Dugard, who recently served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, stressed that when the anti-apartheid movement pressured corporations to disinvest from apartheid South Africa, it was still debated whether apartheid constituted a crime against humanity. Corporations therefore argued that doing business with South Africa was not illegal.

Dugard added that the situation is very different with respect to Israel: “We are dealing with a criminal enterprise on the part of Israel. Under criminal and international law and in many cases under national legal systems, there is an obligation on the part of states to redress such illegality, but if states do not take action, there is also responsibility on the part of corporations and civil society to redress these wrongs.”

Ronald Kasrils, former South African minister, highlighted how mobilization of popular support by the anti-apartheid movement helped to isolate South Africa and overthrow the apartheid regime. At that time, the western countries were the pillars of support for apartheid South Africa, as is the case with Israel today. Kasrils said that the mobilization was not “anti-people, it was anti-system.”

Kasrils added that in South Africa the “particular groundswell internationally would even get through to the minority white people in South Africa. As we see now this [boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS)] call getting through to public opinion in Israel, among Jews in Israel and around the world.” Kasrils emphasized that the importance of BDS can not be “underestimated” and underlined the important role of civil society in pressuring governments to end Israeli impunity and criminal activity.

Juror Michael Mansfield, President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, stated that “the jury was horrified to note that the Israeli government is currently considering making protest and objection along these lines a criminal offense.” In its final statement, the jury called “on states to protect the rights of all those who initiate or take such lawful BDS actions.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian BDS National committee (BNC) endorsed the outcome of the Russell Tribunal in London. In a statement the BNC commented that “the tribunal spoke with a strong, clear and moral voice” (“BNC endorses findings of London session of Russell Tribunal on Palestine …,” 30 November 2010).

The tribunal has provided not only important knowledge, but also authoritative encouragement to solidarity groups, social movements, trade unions, political parties and concerned citizens to utilize BDS to hold Israel and its supporters to account. The next Russell Tribunal on Palestine will be held in South Africa, and will consider the applicability of the crime of apartheid in Israel.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland. Nieuwhof gave a presentation at the Russell Tribunal as the lead expert on public contracts regulations and the French multinational, Veolia, and its business practices in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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