6 May 2009
The West Bank Palestinian villages of Bil’in and Jayyous and 11 national and international networks from Europe, Palestine, Israel and the US have sent letters calling on Norway to comply with its ethical guidelines and divest from its pension fund holdings in the company Africa-Israel, owned by the controversial diamond magnate Lev Leviev. The villages of Bil’in and Jayyous cited the devastating impacts of the construction of Israeli settlements by Africa-Israel and another Leviev-owned company, Leader Management and Development, on their villages’ agricultural land.
The letters to Norwegian officials follow controversy in Norway over pension investments in Africa-Israel and other Israeli companies involved in human rights abuses, statements by Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen supporting a review of pension fund investments, and an April 28 article in the UK’s Guardian by Abe Hayeem of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine urging the governments of Norway and Dubai to “emulate the example set by the UK and sever their relationships with Leviev’s companies.” In March, the UK announced that it would not rent its new embassy in Tel Aviv from Leviev due to concerns over settlement construction. UNICEF and Oxfam have also publicly renounced all connections with Leviev.
A May 4 letter to Norwegian officials signed by Jayyous’ Municipality, Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Committee, and Land Defence Committee noted that, “Leviev is the co-owner of Leader Management and Development, the company that is building the Israeli settlement of Zufim on our village’s land… Today, many families from our village live in poverty because they can no longer reach their farmland due to Israel’s construction of a wall on our land, a wall intended to annex Jayyous’ land for the expansion of Zufim settlement.” The letter closed by noting, “In Jayyous, we are engaged in a struggle for justice, for our freedom – indeed, for our very lives. We call on the government and people of Norway to divest from Leviev’s companies and stand with us in our struggle to save our land, our communities and the dreams of our children.”
In an April 21 letter, Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements expressed “great dismay” “that Norway, a strong supporter of human rights and peace in the Middle East, has invested its citizens’ pensions in a company, Lev Leviev’s Africa-Israel, that is building Israeli settlements on our village’s land, and is destroying our olive groves and any hope for justice and peace in Palestine.” Bil’in highlighted its long “nonviolent campaign to prevent the seizure of 57.5% of our village’s land for the construction of the settlement of Mattityahu East,” “more than 250 creative protests over the last four years,” the April 17th killing by Israeli soldiers of Bil’in nonviolent protester Bassem Abu Rahma, the injuring of 1300 civilian protesters, and the arrest of 60 more. The letter summarized, “We are sure that the people of Norway do not want to support the seizure of our farmland, and violence against our community.”
In a May 5th letter, Adalah-NY, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, Association France-Palestine Solidarite, Norway’s Electricians and IT workers Union, European Coordinating Committee of NGOs on the Question of Palestine, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Against the Occupation-NYC, Norwegian Association for NGOs for Palestine, Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to Norwegian officials supporting Bil’in and Jayyous. The organizations asserted that investing in Africa-Israel “violates government guidelines which require the exclusion of ‘companies from the investment universe where there is considered to be an unacceptable risk of contributing to… serious violations of individuals’ rights in situations of war or conflict’ and ‘other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.’” They also noted evidence of Africa-Israel’s settlement construction in Maale Adumim and Har Homa, the sale by Africa-Israel subsidiary Anglo-Saxon Real Estate of Israeli settlements homes, Leviev’s donations to the settlement organization the Land Redemption Fund, and Leviev’s companies’ involvement in serious human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond industry.