Dead Sea (Photo: David Shankbone)
A new report by Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq accuses Israel of “encouraging and facilitating the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources and actively assisting their pillaging by private actors” in the Dead Sea region of the occupied West Bank.
By financially subsidizing the Mitzpe Shalem settlement and permitting the extraction of Dead Sea mud by Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd., Israel enables these “primary perpetrators of the war crime of pillage,” placing it “openly in violation of its obligations as an Occupying Power in the OPT,” the document says.
The report, which has already attracted attention from media including the Guardian, Inter Press Service, and Australia’s Fairfax Media conglomerate, follows a chain of victories for the Stolen Beauty campaign against Ahava, part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, this year.
Over the summer, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Canada all voted to boycott Israeli settlement products, with Ahava highlighted as a prime offender at each denomination’s conference.
In July, Abigail Disney , a Roy E. Disney heiress and partner in Shamrock Holdings, an 18.5% Ahava shareholder, denounced the company.
“I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the ‘plunder’ or ‘pillage’ of occupied natural resources and the company’s situating its factory in an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank,” Disney said.
“Because of complicated legal and financial constraints I am unable to withdraw my investment at this time, but will donate the corpus of the investment as well as the profits accrued to me during the term of my involvement to organizations working to end this illegal exploitation.”
Ahava also faced public protests from British scientists and filmmakers, as well as European academics, who signed statements opposing collaboration with it by the Natural History Museum in London, European governments and universities, and the European Union.
The Al-Haq report echoes a similar one released in May by Who Profits, which traced Ahava’s supply chain to the occupied shores of the Dead Sea – and its profits to illegal settlers.
For campaigners, both publications are worth reading. Al-Haq’s is particularly useful for its overview of international law as it pertains to occupation, settlement, and pillage. A sample offers a brief corporate profile of Ahava (with footnotes and much more at the link):
The Israeli cosmetic company Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. is located in the settlement of ‘Mitzpe Shalem,’ on the western shore of the Dead Sea in the OPT, and utilises the natural resources of the occupied territory. It is the only cosmetics company licensed by the Israeli government to mine mud in this area and offers an infinite range of products manufactured from the minerals and mud taken from occupied Dead Sea land next to the settlement.
The company, founded in 1988, does not manufacture for other companies or markets utilising other brands, and it entirely owns three international subsidiary companies in Germany, United Kingdom and United States. In 2007, Ahava’s annual revenue was 142 million USD. As of 2011, about 60 per cent of Ahava’s revenues were driven from exports mainly to European countries and the United States and the remaining 40 per cent from the Israeli market and tourism in the Dead Sea area.
Ahava’s shareholders also include Hamashbir Holdings (the investment fund of B. Gaon Holdings and the Livnat family), Shamrock Holdings (the investment fund of the Roy E. Disney family), which have 37 and 18.5 per cent of the shares, respectively.
Shamrock Holdings is involved in profiting from the Annexation Wall and its checkpoints through Orad Group, which manufactures electronic detection systems installed in fences as part of the Wall. In addition, the company also supplies Siemens traffic control systems for roads in the OPT on which only Israelis are allowed to travel, and Orad Group’s CCTV systems monitor the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem.
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. also runs a visitor centre for tourism and sales promotion in ‘Mitzpe Shalem.’ Ahava generates approximately five times more revenue than all comparable Jordanian companies producing and trading Dead Sea products.
The settlements of ‘Mitzpe Shalem’ and ‘Kalia’ directly benefit from the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources, holding 37 and 7.5 per cent of Ahava’s shares, respectively. Ahava receives numerous tax benefits from the Israeli government, as most of the companies located in settlements in the OPT, but the taxes and revenues paid by the company to Israel do not benefit the occupied Palestinian population.
Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. invests considerably in research and development on the therapeutic effects of Dead Sea minerals and mud on human skin. The company is working in close cooperation with many scientific Israeli and European centres and taking part in numerous EU funded research projects. In 2011, the company received 1.13 million EUR as financial contributions for its participation in a number of projects sponsored by the European Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (FP7).
Ahava is currently the coordinator of the ‘Skin Treat’ project for the development of customised skin treatments and services and partner in the ‘NanoReTox’ project studying the risks of nanoparticles to the environment and its effects on human health. In addition, Ahava has also joined in the ‘Nanother’ project, whose main objective is to develop and characterise a novel nanoparticle system that will be used as a therapeutic agent or diagnosis tool for certain types of cancer.