Danish-British security firm G4S recently stated its intention to withdraw from some of its contracts with Israeli companies in the occupied West Bank. However, the company intends to maintain its “security services” to illegal settlements in the West Bank and to prisons in Israel.
G4S’s withdrawal from some of its contracts comes after fierce criticism in Denmark of the company’s involvement in the Israeli occupation. In an 11 March statement, the company explained that “to ensure that our business practices remain in line with our own Business Ethics Policy, we will aim to exit a number of contracts which involve the servicing of security equipment at the barrier checkpoints, prisons and police stations in the West Bank.”
G4S’s role in the occupation was exposed by Who Profits?, a project from the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace, and Danish financial watchdog DanWatch. The groups revealed last November that the company supplies equipment and services to Israel for use at checkpoints, police stations and settlements in the occupied West Bank and at Israeli prisons.
Following the disclosure of the company’s involvement in the Israeli occupation, which was extensively reported in the Danish media, local politicians from socialist parties in Copenhagen, Gladsaxe, Roskilde, Odense and Aarhus have prioritized reviewing municipal contracts with G4S on their city councils’ agendas.
G4S-commissioned study absolves company of wrongdoing
Prior to its 11 March statement, in an effort to answer concerns from the Danish media and civil society, G4S contracted Danish expert on international law Hjalte Rasmussen to write a legal opinion on G4S’s activities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Rasmussen based his legal opinion on his previous, similar study for G4S done in 2002. During his three-day trip to Israel and the West Bank at the end of January 2011, he visited a number of banks and supermarkets in East Jerusalem, and a shopping mall in the illegal settlement of Maale Adumim. He also collected information from G4S in London and Israel, concluding that G4S’s activities do not violate any national or international law.
Although Rasmussen did not visit Israeli prisons, he says in his opinion that there is no evidence of “systematic abuse of prisoners in Israeli jails,” in contradiction to the documentation of numerous human rights groups.
The arrest and detention of political prisoners is one of the primary means Israel has historically employed to try to repress the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
However, Rasmussen argues in his report that inmates in Ofer prison — a massive detention and interrogation compound near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank — are “common criminals” that have been tried by independent, neutral criminal courts, “like inmates in other prisons on Israeli soil.” He writes that he did not come across any information on systematic abuse of prisoners in Israeli jails.
Dan Church Aid (DCA) and Amnesty International Denmark expressed their discontent in the Danish press about the poor quality of Rasmussen’s report, the former describing it as “shameful” because it contains so many errors (“Sikkerhedsfirma presset ud af Vestbredden efter fuprapport,” modkraft.dk, 14 March 2011). Secretary General of Amnesty International Denmark, Lars Normann Jorgensen said that “a case as serious as this one requires more thorough observations in the areas concerned than Hjalte Rasmussen has done.”
G4S involved in violations of prisoners’ rights
As The Electronic Intifada reported last December, G4S described in its own promotional material that it supplied a perimeter defense system for the walls around the Ofer prison compound, all the security systems in Keztiot prison and a central command room in Megiddo prison. According to G4S these prisons hold 4,900 Palestinian “security prisoners.” Critics of G4S contend that by providing services to Israeli prisons, the company contributes to the facilitation of Israel’s violations of rights of Palestinian political prisoners.
G4S refused to clarify to The Electronic Intifada whether its canceled contracts will exclude prisons in Israel. The company instead sent an email repeating the exact wording of its 11 March statement, leading to the conclusion that G4S will not end the delivery of “security services” to prisons in Israel.
Moreover, the company states it “will aim to complete this exit as soon as possible, but also recognize that we have contractual obligations to our customers which we must take into consideration.” This might mean that G4S will stay involved in the provision of “security services” in the West Bank for years.
In any case, the public statement by G4S indicates that companies are increasingly feeling the heat from civil society and solidarity activists over involvement with Israel’s occupation. G4S’s next test comes on 31 March, when the Copenhagen City Council will discuss the future of its contracts with the company.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.