Tag Archives: divestment

Life beneath the drones: part six – ‘They get money and they cost our lives’

An Israeli surveillance balloon over a house in Al Qarara, close to the home of the Abu Zneid family - Photo taken by Corporate Watch, November 2013

An Israeli surveillance balloon over a house in Al Qarara, close to the home of the Abu Zneid family – Photo taken by Corporate Watch, November 2013

This is the sixth and final instalment in our series of articles focusing on what life is like for people in Gaza living beneath Israel’s military drones. For more reading about the history and impact of drone use in Gaza, first hand accounts of drone attacks and information and ideas for action against drone manufacturers and investors in drone technology, see part one, two, three, four and five

We met the Abu Zneid family in al Qarara, an agricultural village to the north of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in November 2013. We had been told about their story by professor Haidar Eid, a member of the Gaza steering committee of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [PACBI] and a univerity lecturer. When we asked if he knew anyone we could interview about Israeli drone attacks he said: “You need to hear what happened to this woman I was teaching, She was the most brilliant student I had ever had before she was killed by a drone in 2009”. Continue reading

Palestinian family forced from their home by Israeli drone attacks

This is part five of our series of articles focussing on what life is like for people in Gaza living beneath Israel’s military drones. To read part one, two, three and four click here.

We met Abdullah and Ebtihaj Al Habil at their house to the North of Gaza City in December 2013. Abdullah told us that he has been attacked by Israeli drones on two occasions. The attacks have forced them to abandon their home and find new accommodation.

The first attack came in 2009. Abdullah told us: “My family’s house is near here. We were all there when the bombing started. We decided to come here and get some clothes and then we were going to go to the UNWRA school in Shati Camp. I parked the car opposite the house and walked toward the house alone. I got a bag of food and clothes from the house. I could hear the drones in the sky above making a humming sound. I ran with the bag from the house toward the car. They fired. I heard the rocket. I looked round and could see it flying towards me. I jumped out of the way, hit a wall and a splinter from the rocket hit my leg.” Abdullah showed us his leg, which had a chunk of flesh missing.

Scars on Abdullah Al Habil’s leg from an injury sustained in a drone attack in 2009

The second attack came in 2012: “Three pillars of my house were destroyed by firing from the sea, an Apache [helicopter] fired three rockets at the house and machine gunned our water tanks. Then a drone strike hit the roof.” He shows us where the drone hit. Abdullah tells us that. “the wall of the house was damaged”. He hasn’t been able to afford to repair it and the roof leaks when it rains.

Abdullah points to damage to his roof caused by the attack on their house by an Israeli drone and an Apache Helicopter in 2012

“The attack happened after midnight, we heard the firing from the Apache and took our five children to take cover in the stairwell. They were firing white phosphorous munitions so we hid under soaking wet sacks to protect ourselves from burns. We could not go out of the house because the warships were firing into the street. We tried to call an ambulance but the phones were blocked. We heard the drone attack happen after the Apache.

Damage caused to water tanks on the roof of the house by machine gun fire from an Apache helicopter in 2012

“We know that a drone fired on us because one of the three rockets did not explode. The rocket was one metre long, two inches wide. The middle is made of plastic. The two tips were made of iron and at the end was a propeller.

“Our house was hit by white phosphorous ammunition [probably from the ships]. We tried to put it out but we couldn’t, it just kept burning.

“In the early morning the house across the street was hit by an F-16, killing three people.

The view from Abdullah and Ebtihaj’s window of a crater caused when the house opposite them was hit by a missile from an F-16

“When we came back to clean up the house after the attacks we found that papers had been dropped warning people to leave their homes. We had not seen the papers before the attack started. There was no reason given for the attack on our house.”

Abdullah tells us, “I paid $50 000 to repair the house. The construction materials were very expensive because of the siege. The government and UNWRA promised us support but it did not come. They just gave us some food and mattresses when we went to the UNWRA school. I had to buy new furniture, a TV, tiles for the bathroom and repair the ceiling. However, we no longer want to stay here. It is too dangerous. We are living somewhere else.

According to Abdullah: “Israel depends on drones more and more. More than any other warplanes. In 2009 and 2012, they were used for both surveillance and for attack and they were sending information to help the [Israeli naval] ships target their missiles.”

Increasing deaths caused by drone strikes

The number of deaths (as a proportion of total deaths) caused by drone strikes has been increasing. The Gaza based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights provided Corporate Watch with these shocking figures for the years 2000-2012:

Year

Total recorded number of people killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza

Number of people killed by Israeli drones in Gaza (% of total)

2000

123

0 (0%)

2001

243

0 (0%)

2002

472

0 (0%)

2003

398

0 (0%)

2004

646

2 (0.3%)

2005

99

0 (0%)

2006

534

91 (17%)

2007

281

98 (34.9%)

2008

769

172 (22.4%)

2009

1058

461 (43.6%)

2010

72

19 (26.4%)

2011

112

58 (51.8%)

2012

255

201 (78.8%)

 

The companies behind Israel’s drone strikes

The battlefields of Israel’s militarism and occupation have proved effective testing grounds for new types of weaponry. Israel’s constant state of warfare has ensured a reliable marketplace for Israeli arms manufacturers. According to Drone Wars UK, surveillance drones were first used in Egypt in the lead up to the Yom Kippur War. The first recorded use of an Israeli drone to help piloted warplanes bomb targets (target acquisition) was in 1982 in the run up to the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon. According to the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, the first recorded use of an armed drone by Israel was in 2004. The experience gleaned during years of military repression has made Israel the largest exporter of drone technology in the world. Israeli arms companies have sold drones to over 50 countries.

Israel’s market leaders in drone technology are Elbit, a private Israeli company based in Haifa. Elbit have partnered with French company Thales to manufacture the Watchkeeper drone for the UK military. A list of the Watchkeeper programme’s subcontractors can be found here.

The Watchkeeper is being tested at Parc Aberporth facility in Wales. Miitary testing is being carried out in Wiltshire at Boscombe Down. Campaigners in Wales have been protesting for years against the flying of drones at Parc Aberporth.

Thales’ UK locations can be viewed here.

Elbit’s UK locations can be viewed here.

In 2007 Elbit bought UK company Ferranti Technologies, based in Oldham, Manchester.

Two-way arms embargo

In 2011 a group of grassroots Palestinian groups called for a two-way arms embargo. This means an embargo on arms sales to Israel and on purchases of weapons from Israeli companies, until Israel abides by international humanitarian law. The Palestinian Boycott National Committee wrote at the time: “A comprehensive military embargo on Israel is long overdue. It would form a crucial step towards ending Israel’s unlawful and criminal use of force against the Palestinian people and other peoples and states in the region, and would constitute an effective, non-violent measure to pressure Israel to comply with its obligations under international law.”

The campaign recognises that buying arms from Israeli companies fuels Israeli militarism and strengthens the occupation and siege. In the UK, there is a call by a coalition of groups including War on Want for campaigners to pressure their representatives to support a two-way embargo; end all contracts with Elbit Systems and Elbit subsidiaries; end all arms trade with Israel; and suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement and all EU research funding for Israel’s arms companies.

Target the shareholders

Protesters demonstrate outside Newport Magistrate’s court where four people were on trial accused of aggravated trespass for occupying a Barclalys Branch this week. They were found not guilty!

The Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions demands action to persuade the investors in companies complicit in Israeli militarism to divest their shares. Barclays PLC is the named owner of over 50, 000 shares in Elbit Systems.

During the most recent Israeli attack on Gaza, in which 2,191 Palestinians were killed, campaigners held demonstrations and occupations of branches of Barclays bank all over the UK, including in Aberdeen, London, Brighton, Manchester and Wrexham. An Avaaz petition calling on Barclays to divest has gained nearly 2 million signatures. On 6 September 2014, campaigners in Wales held an occupation of a Barclays branch in Newport in solidarity with Gaza. Several people glued themselves to furniture inside the bank, closing the branch for several hours. Campaigners also staged an occupation of a Barclays branch in Brighton on October 11th.

In the face of these growing protests against its shares in Elbit, Barclays has claimed that it only holds these shares “on behalf of clients and to hedge exposure against customer facing transactions”. This explanation doesn’t get Barclays off the hook. The practice of ‘hedging’ is still a form of investment and in agreeing to purchase the shares in Elbit on the behalf of their customers the bank is ignoring the war crimes being carried out against people like Abdullah and Ebtihaj using Elbit’s equipment. Barclays have the power to refuse to purchase shares for their clients in unethical companies like Elbit. There is a need for further concerted action to persuade Barclays to change their position and to have nothing to do with shares in Elbit.

Continue reading

Palestinian women’s union calls for a boycott of Israel

In December 2013, Corporate Watch interviewed Taghrid Jooma of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) about the union’s work in Gaza and its view of the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions. A video interview with Taghrid is embedded below, to view the video with English subtitles hover over the bottom of the video and click subtitles/cc.

Taghrid told us that “UPWC was established in 1981 in the West Bank to advocate for women’s issues – economic, social and political. It has 3500 members in Gaza. It is a part of the General Union of Palestinian Workers (GUPW), affiliated to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Continue reading

Palestinian students call for Barclays boycott over Elbit investment

Barclays stop arming Israel demoPalestinian students have made this call for students around the world to stop banking with Barclays:

The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI), a group of Palestinian students in Gaza dedicated to the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign of Israel and the global justice movement for Palestinian justice and liberty, respectfully call on students around the world to stop banking with Barclays until Barclays divests from and ceases trading in shares in Elbit Systems, the major Israeli military company and drone manufacturer. Continue reading

Life beneath the drones: Part four – ‘We do not need just words’

The scene in Zaytoun after the attack by an Israeli F-16, November 2012, photo courtesy of the Abu Zor family

The scene in Zaytoun after the attack by an Israeli F-16, November 2012, photo courtesy of the Abu Zor family

Click here to read parts one, two and three.

This article tells the story of the Abu Zor family, who lost three family members after the Israeli military fired on their neighbourhood from a drone and F-16. Their story shows that Israel’s practice of firing a warning shot from a drone before destroying homes does not prevent deaths of people not involved in fighting. The family want action from solidarity campaigners against the companies manufacturing the weapons that were used to target them.

Corporate Watch interviewed the Abu Zor family at their ruined home in the Zeitoun district of Gaza City. Their house had been destroyed in an Israeli F16 attack on 19th November 2012. The bombing came at 3am in the morning during the Israeli attack known as ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’, which killed 255 Palestinians in eight days. According to the Gaza based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights 201 out of 255 of these people were killed by attacks from Israeli drones. When we met them in December 2013 they were still in the process of rebuilding their home.

As we speak to Hamad and Mohammed Abu Zor, their children gather to listen to the conversation. We learn that many of these children lost their mothers in the attack. We are encouraged to look at their scars and feel the soft patches in their skulls where they were crushed when the house’s roof caved in on them, as if the family need to impress the reality of what happened on us. For these young children, as for many people in Gaza,  being involved in telling the story of how they saw their loved ones killed has become a normal occurrence. A duty to make people aware of the real story of what happened to them.

Roof-knocking

Before the attack the Israeli army had fired on the neighbourhood with a drone, supposedly to warn people to leave the area. This practice of firing a warning shot from a drone has become known as ‘roof-knocking’. In reality, roof-knocking is not really a way to protect life, but simply a way for Israeli commanders to avoid accountability by claiming that they did all they could to warn civilians.

In fact these ‘roof knockings’ are an added danger to those beneath the bombs and are not effective as a warning. In the Abu Zor family’s case it had fatal consequences. Continue reading

Barclays Stock Brokers facilitating investment in the arms trade

images.duckduckgo.com
Barclays Bank claims that it is “not an investor in the defence industry” (defence is the euphemism the industry uses to avoid talking about trade in weapons). However, the bank profits from investment in the arms trade through providing its Barclays Stock Brokers service, which facilitates the buying and selling of shares, including shares in arms companies. In one of the options offered by Barclays to its UK customers the bank advertises that: “Barclays Stockbrokers will hold your assets on your behalf”. According to the Barclays Stockbrokers sales team the bank allows its customers to invest in any company they wish in “up to 18 different markets”. Barclays Stock Brokers’ customers are able to trade in whatever company they like, regardless of Barclays stated ethical policies. Continue reading

What it means to survive a drone attack


(For English subtitles please click the subtitles icon in the right hand corner of the you-tube panel and turn subtitles on).

“On 6 November 2006, I was waiting for a bus to go from the north of Gaza city to school. A kindergarten bus was driving past. A rocket fell down and exploded. Five people died including a six year old child.”

Mohammed Azzam, was 16 at the time of the attack. According to the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights the attack was by an Israeli drone.[1]

We met Mohammed Azzam at his family’s home in Gaza City in November 2013. As we sat down to talk we were disturbed by the sound of an Israeli F-16 overhead. Mohammed has grown up in a besieged city under constant Israeli attack. Just a few days before we met, Gaza had been attacked by Israeli F-16 strikes and we had been kept awake by the sound of drones. For the Palestinian survivors of Israeli drone attacks their trauma cannot be dealt with and put behind them. Instead it is an ongoing daily experience, full of triggers that can reopen old wounds.

Click here to watch a video of Mohammed speaking about his experience. (For English subtitles please click the subtitles icon in the right hand corner of the you-tube panel and turn subtitles on).

Continue reading

A shareholder activist’s account of the G4S AGM

Protest at G4S Agm 2014

Protest at G4S Agm 2014

Submitted by a guest author who attended G4S’ AGM

The G4S AGM, on 5 June 2014, passed with predictable controversy. More than 10 protesting G4S shareholders and proxies were forcibly removed, in some instances by being dragged across the floor by their hands, and the shareholder questions were overwhelmingly focussed on G4S’ actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), HMP Oakwood and other prisons and detention facilities which G4S are involved in globally.

 The atmosphere was confrontational, verging on combative. More than 10 members of security flanked the sides of the room, leading one shareholder to tell the Board: “I haven’t been eyeballed this much since Chelsea [football matches] in the 1980s.” Another added: “this cannot be acceptable. You cannot have people being dragged out.”

When the time came for shareholders and proxies to pose questions to the Board, 26 questions were asked, of which 13 related to the OPT, significantly overshadowing the five or so questions asked on corporate issues.

Challenging the independence of the ‘Human Rights Review of G4S Israel’

I assume myself that this company has human rights at its heart. It is very deeply felt beyond that.”
Claire Spottiswoode, Chair of G4S’ CSR Committee

Many of G4S CEO Ashley Almanza’s responses on Israel and the OPT referred back to the ‘Human Rights Review of G4S Israel’ which G4S had released about 36 hours prior to the AGM. The review, written by Dr Hugo Slim and Professor Guglielmo Verdirame, held that: “It is not possible to say in any meaningful way that G4S has responsibility for any human rights violations allegedly being carried out by the State of Israel in detention, crossing points or settlements.”

This review, and particularly the independence and objectivity of its authors, was heavily challenged by shareholders and proxies. Mr Almanza had repeatedly emphasised that it was important to G4S that the authors were “independent, credible experts.” But several shareholders and proxies referred to, and quoted, sections of the review which tested this. In particular, they referred to sections which seemed to imply that Palestinians themselves are responsible for violations of their human rights (in a section entitled: ‘Palestinian Responsibility for Human Rights Risks’, p 12) and that the campaign against G4S is a “key part of a wider strategy by the Palestinian solidarity movement to delegitimize the State of Israel” (p. 2). Seemingly undermining the value of his earlier reliance on the review’s findings to absolve G4S of any responsibility for, or complicity in, human rights violations, Mr Almanza ultimately conceded that G4S does not necessarily share the view of the independent experts that it instructs.

 G4S’ contracts in the OPT and Israel

Our 7th value is ‘safety first’. We are not yet satisfied; there is more to do.”
Ashley Almanza, G4S CEO

One of the key issues that shareholders and proxies wanted addressed at the meeting was whether G4S would stand by its 2011 and 2012 commitments to withdraw from contracts involving servicing security equipment at military checkpoints, a prison and a police station in the West Bank by 2015.

Positively, G4S did confirm that it would not be renewing these contracts. However, rather than standing by its commitment to do so by 2015, Mr Almanza instead referred to three relevant contracts, which fall away at the end of 2014, 2015 and 2017, respectively. Consequently, it appears that it could now be three more years (in addition to any warranty periods, as Mr Almanza made sure to emphasise) until G4S ceases to be involved in providing services to prisons and checkpoints in the OPT, rather than one more year, in line with the 2011/2012 commitments.

Mr Almanza added, in a brief comment, that could almost have gone unnoticed, that the contract that expires in 2014, the so called ‘Framework Agreement’, applies not only to prison facilities in the West Bank but to “all facilities.” In the face of strong evidence which suggests that child Palestinian prisoners are being held within prisons in Israel, a number of shareholders and proxies pushed for more information. When expressly asked whether by ‘all facilities’ Mr Almanza meant facilities in the West Bank and Israel, Mr Almanza would only repeat that the relevant contract applied to ‘all facilities’; he provided no further details and so the extent of G4S’ commitment remains unclear.

Clearer, more specific commitments are needed

How are you going to stand up to morals and ethics as a team, by including rather than excluding, and by better engagement with those affected?”
G4S Shareholder

Although Mr Almanza’s statements about discontinuing certain G4S contracts in Israel and the OPT are positive, not enough information has yet been provided to understand the nature of G4S’ commitment, how it impacts on G4S’ involvement in Israel and the OPT, and when we can expect the commitment to be realised. Military Court Watch, an organisation which monitors the treatment of children in Israeli military detention, has argued that G4S’ statement that it will not be withdrawing for another three years “may be considered to be an aggravating rather than a mitigating circumstance in any future criminal or civil action.” Further, G4S remained silent on its continuing provision of services to businesses in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Campaign pressure is therefore continuing. And it is achieving significant successes.

Following a substantial reduction of the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation’s shareholding in G4S in May 2014, the Foundation announced, in the days following the AGM, that it has now sold its entire stake in the business. And one week ago, the largest American protestant church, the United Methodist Church, also divested from G4S, stating, with reference to its initial purchase of the shares: “if we could turn back the clock, if we knew then what we know now, we probably would have deferred the purchase until we completed our research.”

The G4S AGM has, again, introduced more questions than answers. There is now a pressing need to obtain clear and specific commitments from G4S on the timing of its exit from contracts in the West Bank, and the details of its exit from all Israeli prison contracts. Not only will G4S have to make satisfactory and timely commitments, but it will also have to fully realise them. Until this has been done, the international pressure on G4S will need to continue.

 

Co-Operative Asset Management confirms it has dropped G4S

The Co-operative Asset Management, owned by the Co-Ooperative Group, has confirmed that it has ditched its investment in G4S. The Co-Op owned shares in the British-Danish company through the NCH Pumpkin Fund. Andy Hammerton, Public Relations Manager at the Co-Op told Corporate Watch that these had been divested in Summer 2012. Continue reading

BDS Victory: EDOM’s Chairman promises to resign and divest shares

Jimmy Russo, the Company Chairman of EDOM, has told Corporate Watch that he plans to “resign” from his chairmanship and “actively seek to sell” his 20% shareholding in the Israeli company. His announcement was in reply to questions about new evidence found by Corporate Watch that EDOM UK, the Israeli company (despite the misleading name), is packaging cherry tomatoes in the Israeli settlement of Beit Ha’arava in the occupied Jordan Valley.

EDOM branded products are sold in Sainsburys stores in the UK

EDOM UK cherry tomatoes acquired from a packing house in the illegal settlement of Beit Ha'arava - Photo taken by Corporate Watch researchers February 2013

EDOM UK cherry tomatoes acquired from a packing house in the illegal settlement of Beit Ha’arava – Photo taken by Corporate Watch researchers February 2013

Packing house being used to package EDOM UK cherry tomatoes - the signs on the outside say Agrexco and Hadiklaim - photo taken by Corporate Watch 4th January 2013

Packing house being used to package EDOM UK cherry tomatoes – the signs on the outside say Agrexco and Hadiklaim – photo taken by Corporate Watch 4th January 2013

Back in 2010 Corporate Watch urged Russo to divest his shares. We wrote:

“To continue to maintain shares in EDOM is to ignore the suffering of those who have lived their entire lives under Israeli apartheid and occupation. The only way to remain ethical in this context is to divest.”

Russo, who is also the director of British company Valley Grown Salads (VGS), made the following “commitments” on 7th February 2013:

“1. I will confirm that I will resign as [EDOM] company chairman with immediate effect as I do not want my company, VGS receiving this constant harassment every year and being involved in political situations which are totally out of my control.

2. I will actively seek to sell my 20% stake holding in the company as the aggravation for no reward is not worth continuing with.”

Russo confirms that VGS will not source goods from the West Bank in the future but says that the company will continue sourcing from EDOM and other companies in Israel.

Russo also pledged to answer questions put to VGS by Corporate Watch and other media outlets.

Corporate Watch has contacted EDOM but has not received a reply. Continue reading