Dutch company raided over involvement in occupation

The International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land was illegal. (Flickr)

Last week, the Dutch National Crime Squad raided and searched the headquarters of Riwal in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, following criminal complaints lodged by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq. Riwal is a European company that makes large-scale cranes and access equipment for construction sites and has been involved in the construction of Israel’s wall and settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Early morning on 13 October, more than forty detectives in plain clothes entered the Riwal building from different sides and ordered the staff to stay in the cafeteria as they conducted a thorough search for documents.

In March 2010, attorney Liesbeth Zegveld of Bohler advocates lodged two complaints against Riwal on behalf of Al-Haq. The criminal complaints assert that Riwal is complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These offenses are contrary to the Dutch International Crimes Act and six years ago, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian land was illegal.

Zegveld told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad earlier this month that “This company has knowingly contributed to apartheid and persecution” (“Inval Nederlands bedrijf wegens hulp bij bouw muur Israël,” 14 October 2010).

On 3 July 2006, two years after the International Court of Justice ruling, Riwal’s involvement with the Israeli occupation was unintentionally revealed in a Dutch television documentary on the West Bank wall. Alert viewers noticed the the Riwal cranes and Bert Koenders, then member of parliament, asked the minister of foreign affairs for clarification. At the time, Ben Bot, then foreign minister, replied that Riwal was an Israeli company. Two months later, however, a report by United Civilians for Peace (UCP), a Dutch nongovernmental organization, demonstrated that Riwal was a 100 percent Dutch company (“Dutch economic links in support of Israeli occupation …,” September 2006 [pdf]). Bot subsequently forced the company to promise that its equipment would be no longer made available for the construction of the wall.

Less than a year later, in June 2007, Riwal equipment was noticed at a construction site of the wall near Bethlehem. Pictures of the Riwal cranes were sent to UCP which asked the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem to conduct a further inquiry and B’Tselem confirmed that Riwal cranes were used in the construction of the wall. The news received extensive media attention in the Netherlands and led to a debate in parliament. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen warned the company: “I expect Riwal to stop providing cranes for the wall. I hope this will be the last we hear of it” (“Dutch gov’t warns company to stop work on W. Bank fence,” 9 July 2007).

Despite this warning, Riwal equipment was once again observed by the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace at the new Ariel West industrial park in the occupied West Bank in 2009. The director of Riwal Israel, Tal Pery, told Dutch journalist Simone Korkus in September 2009 that “it is very well possible that Riwal equipment is used in Ariel. We have a big fleet” (“Kritiek op hulp Dordts bedrijf aan Israël,” Algemeen Dagblad, 26 September 2009, via UCP).

Riwal’s activity building Israel’s illegal infrastructure in the occupied West Bank might be linked to the background of one of the owners of the company, Doron Livnat. Livnat is a board member of the Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), which has been characterized by Haaretz as a pro-Zionist lobby group (“Report: Dutch gov’t funding anti-Israeli organization,” 26 October 2007).

In addition, Livnat is the chairman of the Advisory Board of the Dutch Collectieve Israel Actie (CIA) which raises funds for Keren Hayesod, the official fundraising arm of the World Zionist Organization. Founded in 1920, Keren Hayesod aims to strengthen Israeli society, facilitate Jewish immigration to Israel and further Jewish Zionist education around the world, according to its website. Under Dutch law, donations to the CIA are tax deductible.

For more than four years a group of Dutch, Palestinian and Israeli organizations, parliamentarians, concerned individuals and lawyers worked together to document Riwal’s activities and hold the company accountable. The raid of Riwal’s offices by the Dutch public prosecutor shows the success of this cooperation and is likely to send a ripple though the European corporate community and may represent a tipping point in the financial and material support of European companies for Israel’s occupation.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.