Israeli forces are using Volvo construction equipment and trucks in the destruction of Palestinian property. The Electronic Intifada has previously documented the use of Volvo equipment by the Israeli government in its destruction of Palestinian property (“Photostory: Volvo equipment used in house demolitions,” “Volvo: Symbol of safety or human rights abuses?”).
Volvo construction equipment and trucks were seen in action on the construction site of Israel’s wall near al-Walaja village in the occupied West Bank. The wall will surround al-Walaja from all sides, completely isolating the villagers from their land, near East Jerusalem and on land of the original part of the village which was occupied and destroyed by Zionist forces in 1948, and which is now annexed to parts of Gilo settlement. The villagers of al-Walaja have resisted the wall’s construction and have tried to change its path by bringing the case to an Israeli court. On 8 November, Israel’s high court suspended the construction of the wall near al-Walaja for 45 days, but the court also ruled that bulldozers can continue to excavate along the wall’s path.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) reaffirmed the illegality of the construction of the wall and Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, in its 2004 ruling. According to the ICJ, construction activities should stop immediately and the wall and settlements should be dismantled.Â In recent weeks, the Palestinian Bedouin community of Abu Alajaj in Jiftlik, occupied Jordan Valley, was raided by approximately 200 Israeli soldiers. There are plans to expand on the illegal Israeli settlement of Massua and confiscate further land from the Palestinian shepherds of Abu Alajaj. In the early hours of 24 November, one house and three animal shelters were demolished by Israeli forces using a Volvo bulldozer. Settlers cheered the action by the Israeli army. Following the Israeli demolition, villagers found several baby goats lying dead on the ground and many more injured. Three Palestinian men were arrested during the raid.
The Palestinian Bedouins living in al-Araqib in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel also witnessed the destructive force of Volvo equipment when their village was destroyed for the third time by Israeli forces on 10 August. The demolition of 45 houses left approximately 300 persons homeless, including 200 children. In an earlier raid the Israeli police had uprooted 850 of the village’s olive trees. The land of al-Araqib is being confiscated for a “peace forest” funded by the Jewish National Fund, an international Zionist organization that assists the State of Israel with appropriating Palestinian land. About half of the 90,000 Bedouin holding Israeli citizenship live in unrecognized villages without access to basic amenities. Israeli professor Neve Gordon characterized the razing of Bedouin villages by the Israeli police as “ethnic cleansing” (“Ethnic cleansing in the Israeli Negev,” Guardian, 28 July 2010).
On 13 December, Volvo equipment was used in Lod near Tel Aviv by the Israeli authorities in the demolition of homes owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions expects the Israeli action to continue “in what is one of the biggest demolition operations inside the 1948 borders this year.” The Israeli action left seven families homeless and riot police were deployed at the site of the demolition to intimidate local residents. ICAHD reports “The houses, owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel are located in an area which is not zoned for building despite the repeated attempts of the residents to rezone the area in order to permit building. At the same time, large plans are already approved for Jewish-Israeli building as soon as the Palestinian houses are gone” (“Demolitions in Lod,” ICAHD, 13 December 2010).
In 2007, Volvo informed the Business and Human Rights Resource Center in London that Volvo Group does not condone the destructive use of Volvo equipment and would regret the use of its products for destructive purposes (“Volvo response to article about concerns on the use of Volvo vehicles in Israel and the Occupied Territories” [.doc], Volvo, 6 July 2007). The company claimed to have no control over the use of their products. However, as a partner in the UN Global Compact, Volvo should support and respect the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses. The Global Compact, launched in 2000, is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices. Volvo has also adopted principles of Corporate Social Responsibility. According to its website, Volvo “operations are part of the everyday life of numerous people worldwide. This gives the Volvo Group the opportunity to contribute to positive development in society, both in social, economic and environmental terms” (“Committed to Corporate Social Responsibility,” Volvo).
The Electronic Intifada asked Volvo to comment on how the company’s principles relate to the documented use of its equipment in Israel’s violations of international law. The External Relations Director of Volvo Construction Equipment, Bill Law, replied that there are tens of thousands of Volvo machines in operation across the world at any given time. He added, “We are not in a position to monitor how every one of our machines is used. Indeed both from a logistical point of view and a legal standpoint the company is not able to dictate exactly how every machine is used in the many countries in which they are operated, especially where machines may be used by second, third or even fourth generation owners. At the same time, within our sphere of influence, we have a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility. As a company we are involved in social issues, working together with everything from global organizations and universities to local authorities and citizens in order to contribute to a positive development on all levels.” However, the use of Volvo construction equipment and trucks in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people are contrary to Volvo’s basic values and commitments. Volvo Group has known about the destructive use of its equipment by the Israeli government since 2007 — if not earlier. But as its spokesperson makes clear, Volvo is not willing to put a stop to this.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.