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The Arab American News: New York activists take on Israeli settlement builder

New York activists take on Israeli settlement builder

By Will Youmans
The Arab American News
Saturday, 01.19.2008, 02:49am


A network of pro-Palestinian organizations in New York is working hard to expose Israeli businessman Lev Leviev’s sponsorship of Israeli settlement construction. The groups have engaged in creative protests and organized boycotts and pressured those linked with Leviev. Their boycott campaign is gaining strong momentum.

Leviev is a real estate magnate and diamond dealer. He is building strategic settlements in the occupied West Bank. These settlements violate international law, including U.N. resolutions and the Geneva Conventions.

Many are joining the movement against Leviev because his real estate projects in New York expel local, low-income residents from their communities, violate laws, and exploit underpaid laborers.

Leviev, who is one of Israel’s wealthiest businessmen, is building the Mattityahu East settlement on the lands of the village of Bil’in, and the Zufim settlement on the lands of the village of Jayyous. He is also involved in construction on the West Bank settlements of Har Homa and Maale Adumim around Jerusalem. The settlements are designed to divide the northern West Bank from the southern West Bank, and encircle and disconnect Jerusalem.

Notably, the people of Bil’in, Jayyous and the surrounding areas are mounting intense nonviolent protest campaigns against the settlement construction. Last Friday, villagers of Bil’in were joined by around 70 Israeli, international, and other Palestinian human rights activists in a protest against the Apartheid Wall.

The demonstration began as a march towards the gate in the Wall, where soldiers were standing with guns drawn. At the front of the march was the banner, “Leviev turns these rocks of apartheid into diamonds.” The soldiers opened fire with rubber-coated bullets and shot tear gas at the unarmed protestors, injuring several of the protestors badly.

These encroachments come at a time when Palestinian statehood is being held out as a possibility. Leviev’s activities undermine these prospects.

Leviev’s diamond trade topped Israel’s 30 Leading Exporters list in 2007, with net exports of $522 million. He deals in diamonds mined in Africa, has them polished in Israel, and uses the profits to help finance the illegal settlement construction.

Leviev’s diamonds are cleared through the Kimberley process, in which NGOs and the United Nations certify diamonds as “conflict-free.” However, New York activists allege his company benefits the repressive Angolan government and has been tied with the military junta in Burma. Funding clear violations of international law in Israel and Palestine is enough for them to protest.

When Leviev opened a jewelry store on Madison Avenue in New York, activists mobilized. They protested during a cocktail party in November, chanting “you’re glitz, you’re glam, you’re building on Palestinian land,” and, “occupation is a drag, just say no to your gift bag.” They wrote and performed political Christmas carols, and have held five protests in front of the store.

The Jewish Voice for Peace group called out movie star Susan Sarandon after she crossed its picket line to attend the cocktail party. The group asked her to “publicly sever ties” with the jeweler. Sarandon, a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, denies being connected with Leviev.

Recently, media reports surfaced claiming that Leviev was a financial supporter of Oxfam, a major “group of non-governmental organizations from three continents working worldwide to fight poverty and injustice.” It was claimed on the website of a Jewish community group group Leviev heads.

The coalition group Adalah-NY heard from Oxfam that “Leviev has not been a donor to Oxfam.” Oxfam explained that it does not “knowingly accept funds from any business involved in any illegal activity, or operating in any illegally occupied territory, including settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Adalah-NY spokesperson Ethan Heitner commented, “We are unable to explain why articles praising Leviev and touting his charitable contributions, including an article on the news site of an organization he heads, claimed a link with Oxfam which Oxfam has now verified doesn’t exist. We are gratified that Oxfam has reiterated its longstanding opposition to Israeli settlement construction and refusal to accept donations from businesses like Leviev’s that are involved in violations of international law.”

Adalah-NY is a leading force behind the boycott campaign. Adalah-NY is joined by the U.S. organization Jewish Voice for Peace, Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace, and leading Palestinian civil society organizations.

The group formed as a response to the escalation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip at the end of June, 2006.

For more information on Adalah-NY visit www.mideastjustice.org.