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University of Haifa
[Haifa U, Gender] Dalit Baum, Who Profits: Palestinians allowed to grow products not as profitable as Israeli ones

Who profits from the occupation?


onJANUARY 15, 2011


As we learn more about the BDS movement, a critical question emerges:
what companies are involved with which activities that ultimately
sustain the occupation?
In Tel Aviv we meet Dalit Baum, an Israeli
member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and specifically, the group
Who Profits? She explains that the organization was developed to
understand the economics of the settlement project. A short haired woman
with intense black eyes and an ironic sense of humor, she states that
the project aimed to investigate corporations directly involved in the
occupation, to figure out the specifics, the financial interests, and
who is making money from whom. After meticulous research, four years
later they have a website, whoprofits.org, that has a partial data base
listing approximately 1000 companies.

The criteria for inclusion on this list involves work in building
settlements, marketing settlement goods, using industrial space within
settlements, providing crucial services to settlements such as
transportation, and providing equipment to the military such as for
building walls and checkpoints. She notes that Israel has exploited the
Palestinian labor pool and the Palestinian market, it is a captive
market where Israeli policies have shut down much of the competition.
For example, Palestinians are only allowed to grow agricultural products
that are not as profitable as Israeli products and do not compete in
European markets when compared to Israeli goods.

Who Profits is a unique grassroots organization that does impeccable
economic research with careful documentation using concrete proof with
governmental and company documents. They are very careful to stay within
the letter of the law, as any suit for damages would be disastrous in
the Israeli courts. An example of their work involves "Crossing the
Line," a fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that crosses the
Green Line into the West Bank in two sections. The Israeli neighbors did
not want the train and noise near their property so the project was
moved and this will entail almost the entire destruction of the
Palestinian village of Beit Iksa. Painfully there is now a petition to
the world from the Palestinian village to put the train on land that is
ALREADY expropriated. The train is being built by European and American

Then there is the issue of financing of the occupation. All six Israeli
banks are directly involved in supporting settlements. Dalit reminds us
that you cannot separate the economy of the occupation from the economy
of Israel from the economy of the US for that matter. For instance, Soda
Stream, an Israeli company that makes carbonated water, just went public
on Nasdaq.

She turns her attention to what does it mean to boycott settlement
markets. She describes 18 tycoons that control the large corporations
that are involved and notes that if they start losing money, they will
pull out of the settlements. She describes living in Israel both as
frustrating but "We feel effective." As an example, her group
will go to a checkpoint, they will document the infrastructure, the
telecommunications, etc, and then google the companies, do the
appropriate research, and put the information on the website.
"Direct action with no gas! We use our privilege to see the
occupation." They also go to security industry exhibitions and meet
with people eager to sell a host of weaponry. She focuses on crowd
dispersal, what is called in the business, "nonlethal weapons"
although everyone knows that these weapons can be lethal in high enough
doses or with direct impact. For her she feels this is personal, as an
activist who has been faced with tear gas and other methods used at

Another aspect of this macabre business Dalit describes is weaponry
produced in the US. Because the US gives Israel an enormous amount of
money to buy American military equipment, there are now Israeli
entrepreneurs who establish companies in the US and then benefit from
the largesse of our tax dollars. Thus there are many forces within the
US that have strong economic interests in maintaining this lucrative
arrangement where the US is basically financing its own war industries.
This lead a group of activists, after a demonstration, to return empty
tear gas canisters to the US ambassador. They were promptly arrested for
possession of weapons, but the charges were later dropped.

Dalit reminds us that there is a lot to be done in the US and any effort
contributes to the cause. It is important to pick strategic targets that
also involve an educational component. She feels boycotting computer
companies or generic drug companies, for instance, are not strategic
activities. She is very optimistic, both because this movement is led by
Palestinian activists and because there is a response in the Israeli
Knesset that implies that people in power are worried. The Anti BDS law
in process will make individuals personally liable for any damage to
companies. The Association Law aims to outlaw any NGO that provides
information to foreign entities that might lead to charges of war crimes
against Israelis. The Fighting Terrorism Law targets any Israeli or
Palestinian activist who does any activity against Israeli soldiers or
State symbols, and vaguely and obscurely defines all of these activities
as terrorism. This could include nonviolent, legitimate resistance to
the occupation. The Prohibition on Instituting Boycott Law will
criminalize Israeli citizens who support local and international BDS
activities. Recently the Knesset began an investigation of the funding
of NGOs.

Dalit sees these rightwing trends as plunging into fascism and of
particular concern is that these anti-democratic assaults are
originating in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which is supposed to
be the cornerstone of a democratic society.

I leave this meeting with the sense that there is a tremendous amount of
work to be done in the US which is actively enmeshed with the military
machinery and corporations that make the Israeli occupation possible. In
addition, the "only democracy in the Middle East" seems to be
heading rapidly in a dangerous direction; I wonder how many "Israel
right or wrong" supporters fully appreciate this and when will
supporting the actions of the Israeli government become untenable to a
wider group of people. I am impressed that a small group of thoughtful
and dedicated activists can have such a significant impact on the
process. I only hope that the next time I visit Israel, I will not be
visiting them in prison.

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