Alain Gresh | Le Monde
27 May 2009
With the exception of Egypt, all Arab states officially boycott Israel, blacklist Israeli companies and ban imports of Israeli products. The same countries frequently lead the voices calling for sanctions against Israel. But sometimes life gets in the way.
Just a few weeks after the world financial crisis broke, a super-luxury hotel, the Atlantis, opened its doors in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The French chatter website LePost.fr of 21 November 2008 trumpeted the headline: “2000 stars at the inauguration of Dubai’s Atlantis Hotel”. It wrote:
“Dubai, Dubai, Dubai! Arab princes, flying carpets, oil, dollars… and the Atlantis Hotel! An extraordinary palace, which cost more than $1.9bn to create, celebrated its opening yesterday in high style.
“This little junket cost a trifling $38m! That’s what it took to tell the entire world about the arrival of a luxury hotel which sees itself as the planet’s most incredible palace, with its giant in-house aquarium…
“The Atlantis is at the heart of Dubai’s Palm Island, an artificial island built in the shape of a palm tree. The world’s greatest architects and designers worked on the Pharaonic project.”
Like the hotel itself, the event bore all the hallmarks of mad money climaxing a spendthrift era. You need only to walk down its vast corridors, as I did earlier this month, to realise just how foolish an exercise this is, what bad taste it represents, and of course that it’s very empty. The expected tourists vanished with the crisis.
The corridors bulge with luxury boutiques, the sort of shops which sell priceless clothes and diamond jewels. One of them is called Levant. Its display cases promote Leviev diamonds, as shown in this photograph.
But just who is Leviev? Abe Hayeem, who is from Bombay, of Iraqi Jewish origin, knows. He wrote an article headlined “Boycott this Israeli settlement builder” in The Guardian of 28 April 2009. Hayeem points out that the British Foreign Office decided to cancel its rental contract for the British Embassy in Tel Aviv because the building was owned by Leviev.
Far from only selling diamonds, Leviev is busy inside the occupied territories, principally constructing a road which links the illegal settler colony of Zufim, which he owns, to Israel – part of the ongoing process of confiscating Palestinian land. His company is also active in Bil’in where, on 17 April, the Israeli army killed a peaceful protestor, Bassem Abu Rahmeh, 29. This same company now has two boutique outlets in Dubai.
Their presence in the UAE has raised eyebrows. On 30 April 2008 an article by Abbas al-Lawati in Gulf News, the English-language daily, headed “Israeli jeweller has no trade licence to open shop in Dubai”, quoted a top official denying that the UAE had ever granted Leviev a licence and saying that if an application came it would be rejected.
Gulf News followed up the story on several occasions, including one report of demos against Leviev, “Call to boycott Israeli jeweller” on 14 December 2008, also by al-Lawati.
During the Dubai Arab Media Forum meeting I attended in May I raised the issue with journalists from various Arabic-language dailies. They told me they were not allowed to reply to such questions.
At a time when Israel violates with impunity all the UN Security Council resolutions, a growing movement calls for sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment (withdrawing overseas investment from Israel and the occupied territories). It’s similar to the French campaign against Alstom and Veolia for their role in a tram project in occupied Jerusalem “Tramway à Jérusalem, mensonge à Paris”, 24 October 2007. It’s astounding, in the circumstances, that Arab countries collaborate with the very same companies which operate in the occupied territories.
France’s trade minister Christine Lagarde visited Saudi Arabia in mid-May principally to promote the bid by Alstom and the SNCF for a TGV-type fast rail link between Mecca and Media. One must hope that the Saudi authorities make it a condition of any agreement that Alstom backs out of the Jerusalem tram project.