Who profits from the occupation?

Israel/Palestine
on 22 Comments

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 companies.

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 demonstrations.

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.
 

About Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a Jewish-American physician. Her most recent book is Broken Promises, Broken Dreams, published by Pluto Press. It describes Rothchild's exploration of stories of Jewish and Palestinian trauma and resilience.

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22 Responses

  1. Potsherd2
    January 15, 2011, 11:42 am

    Where will Israelis dump their garbage when they’ve driven out all the Palestinians and turned the whole place into an Israeli settlement?

  2. Jim Haygood
    January 15, 2011, 11:43 am

    Obviously a tremendous amount of legwork went into producing the whoprofits.org site.

    Frankly, it ought to be reissued under a UN imprimatur, similar to the Goldstone report.

    After four decades of saying that the occupation is illegal, it’s the least they (the UN) could bloody well do.

  3. clenchner
    January 15, 2011, 12:04 pm

    “It is important to pick strategic targets that also involve an educational component.”
    This is the Gush Shalom approach, which targets settlement related targets for boycott. Sadly, the Palestinian initiators of the BDS call represent those who disagreed with the emphasis on the Green Line and called for a broader understanding of what ‘strategic’ targets are.
    And so, we have a de facto split. This allows supporters of the occupation to point out that BDS has nothing to do with opposing settlements or the occupation; it’s about Israel itself. What a blow to the hard and brave work of those who supported restricted BDS to truly strategic targets.

    The first goal of any strategy is to divide the opposition and united your allies. The BDS movement, unfortunately, unites the opposition while papering over real disagreements among its allies.

    • Potsherd2
      January 15, 2011, 1:29 pm

      Israel is the target because the occupation is run from Israel. The settlements don’t send the IDF to kick down doors and attack lawful protesters, Israel does.

      • Shmuel
        January 15, 2011, 2:25 pm

        Israel is the target because the occupation is run from Israel.

        It seems so obvious, doesn’t it. How can you separate the actions from the actors?

        Even from an educational standpoint: Boycotting settlement goods sends the message that the settlements are the sole issue and that the settlers themselves are responsible. Boycotting Israeli officialdom and institutions complicit in violations of human rights and international law (including settlement and occupation), as well as the settlements themselves, sends a different message entirely. Why should Palestinian civil society change it’s goals and messages to suit an agenda it does not share – that of liberal Zionists who choose to put all of their eggs in the post-67 occupation basket? When goals coincide, ad hoc cooperation is essential. When they don’t, there is no reason Palestinians and liberal Zionists can’t go their separate ways. And if BDS makes the latter feel uncomfortable, all the better. It’s meant to.

      • clenchner
        January 16, 2011, 10:36 am

        Based on that logic, the Who Profits website is doing a public disservice. It is creating a separation between ‘Israel’ and ‘Israeli occupation.’ Would be interesting to see an article against the activities of Gush Shalom, Who Profits or JVP for adopting this kind of attitude.

      • Shmuel
        January 16, 2011, 11:21 am

        There is indeed a problem in focusing exclusively on settlements and post-67 occupation, although Israel’s most flagrant violations of human rights and international law indeed occur over the green line. Whoever acts against these violations (targeting as many levels of complicity as possible, of course) deserves credit and cooperation, but to the extent that they ignore or minimise other core issues (i.e. the rights of refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel), deserve to be criticised. This need not undermine the good work that they do. Michel Warschawski of the AIC for example, has been quite critical of Uri Avnery, while cooperating closely with Gush Shalom wherever and whenever possible.

        When it comes to criticising the Palestinian BDS movement, I think that Israelis should a) try to understand why Palestinian goals are different (as explained by Yehouda Shenahav) and b) show a little humility with regard to an initiative endorsed by the entire gamut of Palestinian civil society. Israelis are still occupiers and the Palestinians still occupied. A little more solidarity and a little less condescension (knowing what’s best for the Palestinians in terms of goals and/or strategies) would go a long way.

      • Potsherd2
        January 16, 2011, 11:40 am

        Unfortunately, the existence of the Israeli state is legal according to international law. The activities of the Israeli state in the occupied territories are not. These activities are the proper object of sanctions and the Israeli state is the proper target for them.

      • Shmuel
        January 16, 2011, 11:52 am

        The goals of BDS:

        1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
        2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
        3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

        Nothing in there about the existence of the Israeli state.

      • Richard Witty
        January 16, 2011, 12:04 pm

        It is wrong to ask those of us that regard the form of Palestinian dissent that focuses on all of Israel, and also advocates for a single state, to shut up.

        Those that are trusting of Palestinian militant leadership (few Israelis, given the murderous second intifada and the Palestinian election of Hamas) can support the boycott of all Israeli institutions.

        Those that seek reform, actual change to a liveable situation, oppose the co-mingling of assets.

      • clenchner
        January 16, 2011, 12:07 pm

        You point to something important. An organization like Gush-Shalom, as well as many other Israeli dissident organizations, are concerned first and foremost with the preservation of their society into the future, a goal that required an end to both the occupation and the state sponsored discrimination of non-Jews inside Israel.
        It is for this reason that many define themselves as something other than ‘Palestinian solidarity activists’ while standing in the same corner, trying to hold Israel accountable for misdeeds. This is important…. much of the world falls into the camp of Pal solidarity supporters. But when we look at words and deeds from international civil society, especially in Europe, we see evidence of support for that part of Israel that would remain if the occupation would be eliminated. Not just the geographic remnant, but the vibrant social fabric that would be forced to re-knit itself around something other than domination.
        This is the Israel that the occupation AND Hamas threaten to destroy.
        (FYI: BDS does not have the support of the entire gamut of Palestinian civil society. That’s not a critique, just the facts. Were it not true, groups like Friends of the Earth Middle East or the Peres Center for Peace or even Seeds of Peace would not be active with Palestinians at all.)

      • annie
        January 16, 2011, 12:18 pm

        clencher, can you name some groups or individual palestinians who are against bds? or are you basing your assumption on the ‘evidence’ in your last sentence?

      • Shmuel
        January 16, 2011, 1:04 pm

        Allow me to defend Gush Shalom a little. I do not believe that its members “are concerned first and foremost with the preservation of their society into the future”. I think most are concerned first and foremost with the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians. These are good and sincere people. Of course they are also concerned with the future of their own society – the society responsible for countless atrocities against the Palestinians – but that is secondary to putting a stop to injustice. The reasons for their focus on ’67 are other, and are explained e.g. by Shenhav in Time of the Green Line and by Warschawski in his response to Avnery on BDS. We have discussed them before, but can do so again, if you like.

        The point I was trying to make is that there is a certain hubris in Israelis (members of the occupying society) lecturing Palestinians (members of the occupied society) on strategic choices, just because they make it harder to “sell” a very narrow view of Palestinian rights to the ignorant and the uninterested.

        If on the other hand, Gush Shalom is indeed as self-absorbed as you suggest, they must certainly understand that Palestinian advocates of BDS are also “concerned first and foremost with the preservation of their society into the future”, and are far less interested in what right-wing Israelis (or left-wing Israelis for that matter) may have to say about their campaign for equal rights. You disagree with their analysis of what’s best for them? At least give them a little credit for having thought that part through and reached a different conclusion, and remember that no matter what happens, they are always the first to suffer. In terms of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, call it whatever you like (solidarity, mutual interest, etc.), but Israelis – even well-meaning leftist Israelis – really should try to stop telling Palestinians what to do, and follow their lead for a change.

        FYI: BDS does not have the support of the entire gamut of Palestinian civil society.

        Pretty damn close though.

      • pjdude
        January 15, 2011, 6:59 pm

        exactly. pretending you can stop the settlements with out attacking its support lines is nonsense

  4. yonira
    January 15, 2011, 12:31 pm

    Who profits from the occupation:

    #1 Norman Finkelstein
    #2. Illan Pappe
    #3. Phil Weiss/Adam Horowitz
    #4. Max Blumenthal
    #5 Richard Silverstein

    • Philip Weiss
      January 15, 2011, 1:26 pm

      take my job– please!

      • annie
        January 15, 2011, 1:52 pm

        lol, you can’t give it away phil. ha!

    • Egbert
      January 15, 2011, 1:49 pm

      I like your sense of humour. Tell me that Jewish joke again, the one about killing a Turk and then resting.

    • tree
      January 15, 2011, 2:22 pm

      Yonira’s “logic”:

      Who profited from the Holocaust?

      Raul Hilberg

      You really do need to work on that logic thing, yonira.

  5. seafoid
    January 15, 2011, 12:37 pm

    “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.”

    None of the reaction will make any difference. The occupation is illegal, it is morally wrong and until now it has been hidden from the wider world because in essence it is deeply shameful while being highly profitable. Israel is addicted to the political equivalent of abusive porn and no Knesset bill will keep the secret intact forever.

  6. annie
    January 15, 2011, 2:15 pm

    great write up alice. nancy kricorian gave us an inside peek at the amazing amount of work attributed to this amazing group when she nominated Dalit Baum and Merav Amir for mondoawards. it’s a good read too. enough can’t be said about their accomplishments.

    thank you!

  7. Jim Haygood
    January 15, 2011, 4:58 pm

    ‘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.’

    So resisting demolitions of homes and schools could be classed as terrorism? Consider this example provided by Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian:

    ————

    On Wednesday, at about 7.30am, a convoy of military vehicles and bulldozers arrived [in Dkaika] to tear down 16 homes, an animal pen, a store and one of the village school’s classrooms. All were subject to demolition orders, granted because the structures were built without permission, which is almost impossible for Palestinians to get around here. Dkaika is in Area C, under full Israeli military and civil control, which accounts for 60% of the West Bank.

    At the time there were dozens of children inside the school. The soldiers tried to prevent its three teachers from entering the building. The teachers were handcuffed and blindfolded in front of their pupils before the bulldozers moved in.

    Residents had believed the demolition orders were on hold while a plan to regularise the village was considered by the Israeli authorities. They did not deny that buildings were erected without permission. Palestinian building is rarely approved in Area C, in contrast to permits for settlement expansion.

    link to guardian.co.uk

    ————

    Blindfolding and handcuffing teachers in front of their students [some of whom thought the building was going to be demolished with them trapped inside it] isn’t terrorism, because the uniformed soldiers doing it are employed by the Israeli state, which makes and enforces the Fighting Terrorism Law. But resisting them might be!

    Here’s what one of the Hasbara-bots said in the third comment to the article:

    Illegal structures are demolished every day all over the world.

    Israel is a tiny country, much of it desert, and needs strict legislation to prevent theft of its land by Arabs. Building is controlled by law, and if you don’t have a permit, your building gets knocked down – whether you are Arab or Jew.

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