|Corporate Economic Interests
Fuel Occupation of Palestinian Land
Interview with Dalit Baum,
project coordinator of Who Profits from the Occupation,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus
As more people around the world have become aware of Israel's abuse of the rights of Palestinians -- both with its recent attack on Gaza and its violent, restrictive and humiliating occupation of the West Bank -- there is growing interest in targeting the economic underpinnings of Israel's power and control.
A longstanding Israeli political organization, the Coalition of Women for Peace, has spent the past two years researching three issues related to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land: industries located within the illegal settlements of the West Bank, the economic exploitation of Palestinians, and the companies that help Israel enforce its brand of apartheid. The group has recently launched a website called "Who Profits from the Occupation," detailing the activities of some 200 Israeli and international companies.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Dalit Baum, who teaches feminist theory at Haifa University and is project coordinator for Who Profits from the Occupation. She explains how members of her group became involved and what their research revealed. Baum expresses hope that the website will serve as an informational clearinghouse for individuals and groups, inside and outside Israel, working for corporate accountability, social justice and labor rights.
For more information on the group's research on business interests in Israel and the West Bank, call the Coalition of Women for Peace's Tel Aviv office at 972-50-857-5728 or visit their website www.whoprofits.org
Israeli women expose companies complicit in occupation
Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 8 February 2009
Two years ago the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace set up its project entitled, Who Profits from the Israeli occupation? The coalition has a track record of successfully mobilizing the Israeli public in protests against the occupation, for women's rights and social-economic justice. For instance, on the day Israel's onslaught in Gaza began, hundreds of protesters were demonstrating that evening in the streets of Tel Aviv. In January, the Coalition officially launched its on-line database, www.whoprofits.org, listing companies directly involved in the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights. Dalit Baum, coordinator of the project, explains to The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof how the project came about.
The Electronic Intifada: Can you please introduce yourself to readers?
Dalit Baum: Let me first of all emphasize that this database is not just the initiative of a small group of lefties, but of a broad coalition. The Coalition of Women for Peace was founded in the early days of the second [Palestinian] intifada, and represents thousands of women organized in nine organizations, including Machsom Watch, Women in Black, Bat Shalom and New Profile. I am one of the co-founders of the coalition. You can find more info about us on our website. The "Whoprofits" project is carried out by a group of activists in our coalition. It is mainly run by volunteers.
I work as an instructor of Women's Studies at the University of Haifa and at Beit Berl College. For many years I have been involved in direct action to oppose the occupation with Anarchists Against the Wall, Women in Black and Black Laundry.
EI: What motivated the coalition to take up such an ambitious project?
DB: We regularly analyze the role we can play as an Israeli organization in the global movement against the occupation. In the past the debate in Israel focused on the costs of the occupation and about how this money could be used in more constructive ways. The movement used slogans such as "money to the poor neighborhoods instead of to the settlements." In time, we learned this argument was not convincing to the public. People knew that the occupation is costly, but that there are also economic incentives. It is hard for us in Israel to dissociate ourselves from the economy of the occupation. The occupation gives Israel the benefit of cheap Palestinian land and labor and of a total control over the Palestinian economy to ensure it cannot compete with the Israeli economy.
We decided to shift our perspective and frame the debate in terms of who profits from the occupation. The past two years we have worked on mapping Israeli and international corporations directly involved in the construction of Israeli colonies and infrastructure in the occupied territories, in the settlements' economy, in building walls and checkpoints, in the supply of specific equipment used in the control and repression of the civilian population under occupation. We have learned that our database contributes to fill the international information gap. Our work complements the work done by global activists campaigning against the corporate involvement in the occupation of companies such as Motorola, Assa Abloy, Unilever, Veolia, and Africa-Israel, because we are on the ground, we can go to settlements and we have access to information in Hebrew.
EI: How do you make sure the database is a reliable source?
DB: All the information about companies published on our website is based on collected hard evidence. We collect documents from the companies involved, and from Israeli government bodies. We also collect evidence by visiting sites and taking pictures of the presence of companies in the occupied territories. For each company we have a file with first hand accounts of its involvement. We have much more info than is published on the website. We found that many factories operating in the Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank are not registered as such. It requires more work to expose their involvement in the occupation. We are thorough in our research, but of course appreciate to receive feedback on how we can improve the quality of the database and any correction and additions sent to us will be checked.
EI: What is your view on the boycott of settlement products?
DB: In many countries activists organize boycott campaigns of specific settlement products. But our database is not a boycott list. We are trying to offer a broader scope including companies profiting from the settlement industry, economic exploitation of Palestinian resources, markets and labor, and the control of the Palestinian population. For us as Israeli activists, it is quite impossible to dissociate ourselves from all these companies. Our mapping includes major Israeli banks, international high-tech companies, and transportation giants, with different levels of involvement.
We believe that civil society can and should try and change these corporate policies, but there should be different methods in approaching these different companies. For instance Veolia as a company involved in the Israeli light rail project in Jerusalem, involved in the practical annexation of settlements to Israel we have managed to help uncover the fact that they also operate a landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley. Another example is HeidelbergCement, owner of Hanson Israel, a company with four plants in the West Bank, including a stone quarry, exploiting nonrenewable Palestinian natural resources in the Israeli construction industry.
We would like to encourage activists to be creative. A letter to Hewlett Packard questioning [the involvement of their subsidiary,] EDS Israel, in the automated biometric access control system installed in major checkpoints is for us as important as the Swedish campaign that led to Assa Abloy's decision to divest from Barkan Industrial Zone.
EI: What has been the response to the database in Israel?
DB: For two years we have been working mostly under the radar. We managed to work with and assist many groups in Israel and abroad. Now is the time to give more publicity to the database. It serves our goal of educating the Israeli public about how companies profit from the occupation of Palestine. It also offers the public a new mapping of different types of involvement in the occupation, and exposes how this involvement has permeated big parts of the Israeli economy, including big banks, major telecommunication firms, construction and transportation firms. It is not clear yet what the response will be.
EI: What are your criteria for success of the Whoprofits database?
DB: I would consider our database a success when it serves our educational goal. I want us to succeed in reaching out to more people, in Israel and abroad, to inform them about how companies and economic interests sustain the Israeli occupation. Then, I personally would want to see people try and influence the interests of these companies, in order to help stop the occupation. In a few years' time I hope that companies will be more worried about being seen as involved in the occupation in any way and even appeal to remove their listing on our website. The real success would be in changing public opinion and actually ending the occupation.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.
Dalit Baum [University of Haifa, Women's Studies]
and Merav Amir [The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University]
Who Profits of the Occupation
Israeli and international corporations are directly involved in the occupation: in the construction of Israeli colonies and infrastructure in the occupied territories, in the settlements’ economy, in building walls and checkpoints, in the supply of specific equipment used in the control and repression of the civilian population under occupation.
Press Release: A New Online Directory
General Info Updated: 01-02-2009
from The Coalition of Women for Peace
The Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel has launched a groundbreaking new database of companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation. This online database reflects an on-going grassroots investigation effort by the Coalition of Women for Peace, a leading Israeli feminist peace organization dedicated to ending the occupation and reaching a just peace in Israel/ Palestine. Rigorous research, including site visits and cross references of documents, have resulted in a database of several hundred international and Israeli companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation. During 2009 we intend to upload hundreds more of companies which are under investigation.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights is fueled by corporate interests. Israeli companies and multinational corporations deal in real estate; develop the Israeli infrastructure and settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories and the Golan Heights; contribute to the construction and operation of an ethnic separation system, including checkpoints, walls and roads; design and supply equipment and tools used in the control and repression of the civilian population under occupation.
While governments are calling on Israel to stop settlement expansion, multinational corporations continue to participate in the Israeli colonial enterprises in the oPt and the Golan Heights in their investments and operations. Consumer markets around the world also continue to accept settlement products, and thus tacitly support the effective economic annexation of occupied resources including land and labor into Israel (See our on-line section about the settlements’ industry).
While the Separation Wall and the checkpoints devastate the Palestinian economy (as attested to by the World Bank), fragment Palestinian society and prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian political entity, dozens of companies see these barriers as a new business opportunity. They build the infrastructure, develop the technologies for control of the occupied Palestinian population, and some operate the repressive measures as subcontractors for the Israeli state. This “counterterrorism” expertise and accompanying homeland security technologies are later marketed globally. (see our on-line section about the control of population).
In this database, we provide information and draw attention to the various sorts of corporate interests that help maintain the Israeli occupation, through specific examples. We wish to stimulate a candid public debate about the costs and benefits of the occupation to different parts of Israeli society and how these interests influence political decision-making in Israel and globally.
We do not call for any one specific form of action towards any of the companies on our database, since different methods and strategies are appropriate for different conditions and locations. As an information center, we plan to support and encourage diverse methods to influence corporations to stop their involvement in the occupation.
Dalit Baum, project coordinator, explains: "Many companies attempt to mislead customers - they hide the reality of their operations in the settlements by marketing their products from within Israel. Through site visits, we have been able to map some of these companies and to identify them on our website. Large construction firms also try and downplay their involvement in Israeli real estate deals on Palestinian land – and we want them to answer for it. For the first time, we are shining a light on corporate practices that sustain the settlements or benefit from the unequal setting of the occupation; these cannot be condoned as regular business activities”.
Jan 18 2009
Esther Kaplan and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark
Activists have set up a new database, Who Profits?, which tracks Israeli and international corporations that are directly involved in the construction of Israeli infrastructure in the occupied territories, in building walls and checkpoints, and in the supply of specific equipment used in the control and repression of the civilian population under occupation.