International Law versus Facts on the Ground


‘Profiting from the Occupation’ was the title of a conference held on 9 July, organised by the charity War on Want. The aim was to highlight firms that support the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. As readers will know, by 9 July Gaza was already under siege with a power station attacked, many people without water and electricity, a number of their elected representatives under arrest and people being killed.


Since then we have seen the bombing of Lebanon in response to Hizbollah attacks on northern Israel with Beirut’s airport, and the country’s power stations, roads, and bridges destroyed and a mounting civilian death toll. Gaza has remained under siege. At the time of writing the response of world leaders appears to amount to little more than pious hopes for peace.


Speakers at the conference stressed the continued attack on Palestine, the desire to create ‘facts on the ground’, the significance of the issue for the rest of the world and the importance of our response. These points, I feel, have relevance now and for the future notwithstanding the present heightened level of conflict. First though I’ll say something about Caterpillar bulldozers because it illustrates the unacceptable situation which is ‘normal’ for Palestinians.


1.0                  ‘A key weapon’


The conference looked at house demolitions and Caterpillar - the firm that supplies bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes. Perhaps Caterpillar might argue that it can’t be held responsible for the use the Israelis make of its vehicles? Not really because the bulldozers, which are supplied direct to the Israeli Defence Force, are armoured and specially modified for use in Palestine. The main blade is much larger than normal and angled so when two storey houses are demolished the bricks fall away from the bulldozer. There is a huge ripper hook on the back of the vehicle for tearing up pavements which also cuts through electricity cables, and water and sewage pipes. As one Israeli military commander said “Caterpillar bulldozers have become the key weapon in urban warfare support”. Other firms – for example Daewoo and Volvo - have also supplied equipment to contractors but it is Caterpillar, involved in the destruction of Jenin and the death of Rachel Corrie, that has become the symbol of the demolition process.


The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has calculated that some 12,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967. Over 70,000 people have seen their houses destroyed while many more have had farms, orchards and olive groves razed to the ground.


Bulldozers supplied by Caterpillar, Daewoo and Volvo are also used in the construction of Israel’s Separation Wall. The Wall was ruled illegal under international law in 2004 at the International Court of Justice, but construction continues.


2.0                 Disinvestment


Caterpillar is one of the firms being targeted as part of a major campaign with for example pressure being put on church organisations in the USA and UK to stop investing in the firm. Another company to be targeted is Connex for building the light rail system which is a vital component of plans for the annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem. Agrexco, which is Israel’s largest exporter of fresh produce, is also doing very well out of the Occupation. Agrexco is the largest exporter of produce from Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Much of the most fertile land of the West Bank including the Jordan Valley has been used – illegally – for Israeli settlement. Produce from this area, incorrectly labelled ‘Made in Israel’, is sold in UK shops often under the brand name ‘Carmel’.


The term ‘Disinvestment’ will remind people of the Anti-Apartheid campaign. Jeff Halper a Jewish professor and founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions argues that Israeli policy backed up by ‘facts on the ground’ are leading inevitably to a new Apartheid regime where the West Bank is carved up into small impoverished Bantustans as result of the Wall, Israeli settlements, annexation of the Jordan Valley, and settler-only highways. The aim, many believe, is to ensure that no viable Palestinian state is possible.


Why Should This Conflict Matter To Us?


Jeff Halper highlights this question. His answer: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more than merely a local war between two peoples. Seldom has a conflict lasted as long – a century since the Zionist movement began acquiring land in Palestine; eighty years of actual conflict; almost sixty years of Israeli independence and Palestinian ‘catastrophe’; forty years of occupation – and seldom has a conflict had such a destabilizing effect on the international system. For the entire Muslim world the conflict represents ‘the clash of civilisations’ from a Muslim perspective: it is Western neo-colonialism, American Empire and the humiliation of Arabs and Islam in a microcosm. It is inconceivable that any meaningful accommodation between the West and Islam can proceed without this conflict being resolved.


For anyone concerned with building a world based on inclusion, equality, human rights, international law, justice, peace and development, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must arouse great trepidation. For here, the forces of power, militarism, realpolitik and domination are asserting their right to determine the ‘World Order’. If on the southern border of Europe, in the light of day, an Occupation actually wins and an entire people, the Palestinian people, is literally imprisoned behind 26 foot high concrete walls, if a new apartheid regime is imposed in the Holy land of all places, then what hope is there for the oppressed and downtrodden in other parts of the world less noticed by the media? . . . . . . . We all have a stake in defeating occupation and ensuring a just peace based on human rights and international law. Lose here and the prospects for a better world are dimmed significantly.”


War on Want have produced an excellent report called ‘Profiting from the Occupation’ which can be obtained free from their office T 020 7549 0555 and          E  and there is more information on their website or contact Mary T 020 8892 3271 and E for an action sheet.


This is quite a one sided account. I apologise for any inaccuracies. It would be interesting to have other views.



Mary Holmes

July 2006