Amira Hass | Ha’aretz
9 September 2009
The question is not why Norway divested from the defense electronics giant Elbit Systems, but why only now, and why only from that company? The country that gave the name of its capital city to what the world thought of as a peace process is still invested in companies involved in construction and development in the West Bank settlements – the principal factor in destroying any chance for peace (at least any peace other than the belligerent demand that the Palestinians say “thank you” for what Israel is willing to give them).
From the outset, instead of rebuking the Norwegian ambassador, the Foreign Ministry and Defense Minister Ehud Barak should have actually praised the citizens of Norway. Through their government pension fund, which invests oil revenues in 8,000 companies around the world for the sake of Norway’s future generations, those citizens continue to be active partners in Israeli construction in the West Bank.
Africa Israel (if its shares have not already been sold for purely economic reasons), Israeli banks that give mortgages to settlers, a Mexican company that has plants in the settlements and is a partner in mining in occupied territory, Israeli firms whose plants are in the occupied West Bank – these are just some of the over 40 Israeli and international companies that are involved in solidifying Israel’s occupation, and in which Norway invests, according to data from the “Who Profits” project, run by the Coalition of Women for Peace.
The Norwegian Finance Ministry’s Council on Ethics, which recommended that the pension fund pull its investment from Elbit, also explained why it would divest from that company but not, say, from the U.S. company Caterpillar. Elbit, it said, developed equipment used specifically in the construction of the separation barrier, while the equipment sold by Caterpillar to the Israel Defense Forces has legitimate uses as well, and the company should not be held responsible for it being employed in another, possibly illegal, way (namely, the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes).
The council extended this conclusion to other companies involved in building the separation barrier that also benefited from Norwegian investment. In this way it corresponds indirectly with left-wing Norwegian activists, and with Palestinian and Israeli anti-occupation activists, providing a basis for their suspicions that the fund’s ethics guidelines have been violated. Those guidelines forbid investment in companies that “contribute to serious or systematic human-rights violations,” and are in blatant contradiction to the will or pretense of moving Israel and the Palestinians toward a just agreement.
And still, it seems that the Foreign Ministry and Barak know full well why they were so quick to issue a rebuke, and are once again trying to sow fear, forcing Norway to lower the bar it has set for itself and other countries, and blocking in advance the logical path the recommendations have paved. This is the first time a nation has adopted – actively and not just with words – the opinion of the International Court of Justice in the Hague about the separation barrier, 87 percent of which is built on occupied land, in contravention of international law.
If building the barrier is in itself illegal, it follows that so are the settlements, roads and factories serving the occupation. The Norwegian foreign minister also noted that the ICJ had ruled that it is the obligation of countries signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention to prevent that charter’s violation.
It is said that members of the ethics council are not influenced by social or political pressure. But the very creation of the council in 2004 stemmed from public pressure and struggle. We can only hope that forces within the Norwegian public continue to tell their government (even if it is replaced this month by a right-wing administration) that it is obligated not to drag them into being an accomplice.