Volvo: Symbol of safety or human rights abuses?

On their website Volvo says they want their cars to be “an exciting experience.” What they don’t mention is that Volvo bulldozers are being used to destroy Palestinian homes in the Negev desert. (Regional Council of the Unrecognized Villages)

The automotive manufacturer Volvo writes on its website that is has the vision of being “the most desired and successful premium car brand by creating the safest and most exciting car experience,” and “choosing a car is about the comfort and safety of your passengers, most especially your children.” However, the Palestinian people in Israel, including the Bedouins, and the occupied territories might have another view on Volvo.

Home demolitions

According to a spokesperson from the Association of Forty, the unrecognized Bedouin Arab villages Atir and Um Hayran in the Naqab (Negev) were aggressively attacked on Monday morning, 25 June 2007 by more than 1,500 Israeli soldiers. They were accompanied by Jewish youth in orange shirts. Hussein al Rafay’a, head of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RUCV) in the Naqab, was arrested because he tried to block the Israeli forces and machinery from approaching the villages and its inhabitants. His colleague managed to take pictures of the demolitions, showing how the big, powerful, yellow Volvo bulldozers razed the homes of the Bedouin villagers to the ground. At least twenty houses were demolished and properties were confiscated, leaving over 150 men, women and children homeless.

United Methodist Church urges for divestment

At its annual conference, 8 to 10 June this year, the New England United Methodist Church issued a report on companies which were identified as supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The report is a product of a Divestment Task Force, consisting of eight clergy and lay members, which was created to implement the resolution on divestment as a peaceful way to work towards justice and peace in the Middle East, adopted at the annual conference of 2005.

The task force has done extensive research, and examined many companies to determine whether they support significantly the Israeli occupation. Each identified company was contacted in writing with the concerns, and given a defined period to respond. The report is transparent about the data that were collected. The report also includes a list of twenty companies, including Volvo, from which United Methodist individuals, churches and investment managers in the New England Conference are encouraged to divest.

Volvo blacklisted

On the basis of well the documented research the United Methodist Church came to the conclusion that Volvo supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine in a significant way. The report states, “Volvo bulldozers have been photographed and videotaped destroying Palestinian homes. They have also been used in Israel’s construction of the Separation Wall, which is on Palestinian land and has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. Mayers Cars and Trucks in Israel is a Volvo distributor, and according to Israeli sources is one of the main providers of construction equipment for the settlements and the wall.”

The United Methodist Church’s blacklisting of Volvo followed calls from War on Want and Pax Christi for economic measures against Volvo as a company profiting from the Israeli occupation.

Symbol of safety or abuse?

Many drivers choose a Volvo car because of the perception that it provides safety for the family. For the Bedouin Arab families in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab the Volvo brand has a completely different meaning. When the yellow Volvo bulldozers enter the villages, the owners of the houses that have received a demolition order from the Israeli authorities, feel anger, hatred and fear. They know that the Israeli forces bring in the Volvo bulldozers to destroy their homes, leaving them, their children and grandchildren behind in insecurity.

Adri Nieuwhof is human rights advocate based in the Netherlands.

Related Links

  • Dozens made homeless as police demolish Bedouin houses, IRIN (26 June 2007)
  • BY TOPIC: Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions