Notes from a presentation by BDS Wellington members Nadia and Ali at the G4S campaign launch in Wellington.
One of the reasons that Israel has been able to continue its colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine is that corporations are profiting from it. The aim of divestment is to ensure that colluding with Israel is no longer profitable.
The New Zealand Superannuation Fund has money invested in a number of companies that directly benefit from Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. These include Caterpillar, who manufacture equipment used to demolish Palestinian homes and build the separation wall, Delek, who supply petrol to the Israeli military, banks like Bank Hapoalim and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, which finance construction of settlements, and companies like Bezeq and Teva Pharmaceuticals, which exploit Palestinians as a captive market.
We should lobby Super Fund to divest from all of these companies, but at the moment Aotearoa BDS Network is specifically focusing on G4S—a company that’s being targeted around the world for their heinous record of profiting from human rights violations.
What is G4S?
G4S is a Danish-British security company. It was formed in 2004 when the Danish Group4Falck merged with the British Securicor to become Group4Securicor or G4S.
- G4S operate in over 120 countries with revenue of over US$1 billion
- Major shareholders: Skagen Stichting Administratiekantoor (Jørgen Philip-Sørensen) (12.19%), BlackRock (6.49%), Legal and General Group (3.68%)
- Provide military, security and surveillance training and services
- Clients include local and national governments and private businesses
- G4S holds 90% of shares of its Israeli subsidiary G4S Israel
Why are Palestinian activists targeting G4S?
There is, of course, something inherently detestable about corporations whose profits are synonymous with the kind of ‘security’ and ‘surveillance’ which only serve the interests of those who gain economically and politically from violent repression, prison privatisation, imperialist wars and the criminalisation of indigenous, refugee and ghettoised communities. However, what role does G4S play in the occupation, colonisation and apartheid practices of Israel in Palestine? We will look at the role G4S plays in:
- Prisons, administrative detention & torture
- Transfer of West Bank prisoners to Israel
- Child prisoners
- Checkpoints & separation wall
- Businesses in settlements
- Detention of asylum seekers
Before I talk about what G4S are doing, I want to briefly contextualise the issue of Palestinian political prisoners in general, especially as understanding the gravity of what G4S do relies on some knowledge of the Israeli (mis)justice system. Pretty much all of this content is taken verbatim from Samidoun, which is the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
First of all, who are the Palestinian political prisoners?
There are roughly 5000 Palestinian political prisoners right now, although some pre-Oslo agreement prisoners were recently released in a negotiated deal, others have been arrested since.
It is worth mentioning that I personally believe nearly all prisoners are ‘political’ as the conditions of colonisation, dispossession and apartheid laws and practices do lead to the kind of paralysis of choice & desperation that might for example, lead to someone stealing a car. Limited choice and economic desperation are of course created through ‘political’ circumstances.
- Total number 5007.
- Palestinians, living under occupation and oppression for nearly 65 years, have been targeted for mass imprisonment and detention by the Israeli occupation.
- Every Palestinian family has been touched by political imprisonment—a father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, cousin, uncle, aunt. Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians from those areas have been held as political prisoners—one out of every four Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.
- Forty percent of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza have spent some time in occupation jails.
- Palestinian political prisoners are men and women, elderly and children. There are 180 child prisoners, including 31 under the age of 16.
- Child prisoners have been subject to torture, solitary confinement, and other harsh and inhumane conditions, alongside their adult fellow prisoners.
- Palestinian political prisoners are political leaders. 15 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine general secretary Ahmad Sa’adat and Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, are held in Israeli prisons. Ameer Makhoul, one of the Palestinian prisoners who is also a citizen of Israel, was general director of Ittijah—The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and the Chairman of the Public Committee for the Defense of Political Freedom.
- Writers, scholars, students and artists are also Palestinian political prisoners, including Palestinian scholar Dr. Ahmed Qatamesh, who has now been held without trial or charge for nearly a year and Ayman Nasser, a researcher with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Dirar Abu Sisi, currently in isolation, is an electrical engineer, responsible for Gaza’s power plants, who was abducted from a train in the Ukraine.
- Many Palestinian prisoners have engaged in hunger strikes over the past year, demanding freedom and justice. They continue to put their bodies, health, and lives on the line daily in direct confrontation with an occupation from behind bars.
No charge? No Trial? No Justice: Administrative Detention
- Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret evidence without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. It is renewable indefinitely for repeated periods of up to six months. Palestinians held under administrative detention are not charged with any crime, nor are they even brought to trial before the Israeli occupation’s rigged military courts.
- Palestinians have been subjected to administrative detention since the beginning of the Israeli occupation and before that time, under the British Mandate.
- 137 Palestinians are currently held under administrative detention, including 9 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Kangaroo Courts: The military ‘justice’ system.
- Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank face a military justice system that is entirely separate from that for Jewish Israelis, including settlers, who are instead part of the Israeli civil justice system; this military justice system for Palestinian political prisoners includes systematic and arbitrary detention without charge, the acceptance of torture, an almost complete lack of due process, vague charges, very low standards of evidence including the use of secret evidence, and widely disparate and harsher sentencing than the civil justice system. Palestinian defendants facing trial in 2010 were found guilty in 99.74 percent of cases. Proceedings are conducted in Hebrew, which few Palestinians speak.
- The Israeli military retains the right to declare any Palestinian organisation ‘illegal’ and thus prosecute membership or association with that organisation.
- Most Palestinian political parties, as well as countless labour unions, student groups, women’s organizations fall squarely into the category of ‘illegal organizations’ and a large number of Palestinian political prisoners who have been ‘charged and tried’, are serving sentences for ‘membership in an illegal organisation,’ ‘support for a hostile organization’ and similar charges.
Torture Abuse and Solitary Confinement
- Palestinians may be detained for up to twelve days without being informed of the reason for their arrests or being brought before a judge. During this period of detention, Palestinians may be interrogated constantly; following this period, prisoners may be brought before a military judge and charged, sent to administrative detention or released.
- A Palestinian detainee may go through 180 days of initial interrogation; for the first 60 of those days, he or she may not be seen by a lawyer.
- The use of so-called ‘moderate physical pressure’ in Israeli interrogations is accepted, legal and common. Legalised torture in Israeli jails includes the use of shortshackling, ‘stress positions’—painful positions in which a person is shackled for periods of time, beatings and squeezing of handcuffs, as well as sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes for extended periods of time, the use of noise and loud sounds, humiliation and threats, and many other documented tactics of abuse.
- The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society has estimated that 90% of Palestinian detainees were tortured in Israeli custody, and confessions and other information extracted through torture may be used in military courts, ‘security trials’ and as part of secret evidence dossiers.
- Isolation and solitary confinement are frequently used against Palestinian political prisoners, including hunger strikers, political leaders, and other influential prisoners. Addameer reports that Palestinian prisoners are held in both solitary confinement and isolation. Solitary confinement and isolation have been deemed to be forms of torture by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
- Detainees and prisoners held in solitary confinement are completely cut off from the world 24 hours a day. They are held in an empty cell containing only a mattress and a blanket. Prisoners held in isolation are held in a cell alone or with one other prisoner for 23 hours a day. They are allowed to leave their cell for a daily one hour solitary walk; on the way to their walk, the prisoners’ hands and feet are typically shackled.
- Isolation cells in the various Israeli prisons are similar in size—typically from 1.5 by 2 meters to 3 by 3.5 meters.
How does G4S play a part in this?
- World’s largest international security corporation.
- In 2007, G4S signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority to provide security systems and other services for major Israeli prisons.
Today, on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, we the undersigned Palestinian civil society and human rights organisations salute all Palestinian political prisoners, especially those engaging in brave civil disobedience through ongoing hunger strikes in protest to the ongoing violations of human rights and international law. Emphasizing imprisonment as a critical component of Israel’s system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid practiced against the Palestinian people, we call for intensifying the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to target corporations profiting directly from the Israeli prison system. In particular, we call for action to be taken to hold to account G4S, the world’s largest international security corporation, which helps to maintain and profit from Israel’s prison system , for its complicity with Israeli violations of international law.
Ofer prison in West Bank
- Part of Ofer Compound, which includes army camp, military court & prison
- Military court & prison are specifically for prosecuting & incarcerating West Bank Palestinians
- West Bank Palestinians prosecuted under military law, whereas Israeli citizens in West Bank prosecuted under civilian law
- Provided perimeter defence system
- Installed central command room
Prisons in Israel
- Ketziot Prison, Megiddo Prison & Damon Prison
- These hold Palestinian ‘security prisoners’ i.e. political prisoners from West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel
- 4th Geneva Convention prohibits transferring prisoners from occupied territory to occupying country
- Families in West Bank & Gaza Strip need special permits to visit
- Prisons also hold administrative detainees—detained indefinitely without charge or trial
- Ketziot Prison also used to detain asylum seekers from Africa
- Provided central command room in Megiddo Prison.
- Provided security systems for Damon Prison.
- Installed entire security system in Ketziot Prison.
Kishon and Jerusalem facilities (AKA al-Jalameh and Russian Compound)
- Numerous reports of prisoners being tortured
- Prisoners are beaten
- Shackled in uncomfortable positions for days
- Deprived of sleep
- Exposed to extreme temperatures
- Denied access to medical care
- Prisoners’ family members are threatened
- Provided security systems for both facilities
- No decrease in incidents of torture since G4S system were installed
- Interrogated without lawyer or guardian.
- Interrogations are not recorded.
- Children physically assaulted.
- Coerced into confessing or signing statements they don’t understand.
- Children held in solitary confinement for days or weeks.
- Lights left on in cells 24 hours a day.
- This takes place in Ofer, Megiddo and Kishon facilities.
G4S provided equipment to Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank and the Gaza border.
- Qalandia, Beit Lehem and Irtah checkpoints are part of the Separation Wall in the West Bank
- The Wall was found to be illegal by the international Court of Justice
- The Wall divides Palestinian territory, isolates communities and annexes Palestinian land.
- Erez checkpoint is part of Israel’s blockade of Gaza Strip
- Palestinians in Gaza are denied freedom of movement, access to medical care and education
- Israel stops import of food, fuel, and building supplies to Gaza
- Israel stops exports from Gaza, crippling local economy
- Supplied full body scanners, luggage scanners & associated maintenance services to Qalandia, Beit Lehem and Irtah checkpoints.
- Supplied full body scanners to Erez Checkpoint.
G4S also provide services to the Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank—a form of racial segregation.
- Jewish-only settlements in West Bank are illegal under international law
- In 2002 Group4Falck announced they would pull out of settlements
- G4S Israel subsidiaries provide security personnel & equipment to private businesses in settlements
G4S provided equipment to the Israeli police department in the West Bank.
- The Judea and Samaria Police Department in the West Bank normalises the occupation & institutionalises separate legal systems for Palestinians & Israelis.
- Most crimes committed against Palestinians remain unsolved.
- G4S provided security equipment to the Judea and Samaria Police Department headquarters in the E-1 area.
For a company like G4S, human rights abuses are bread and butter. G4S have a record of profiting from oppression all over the world.
At the moment Mangaung Correctional Centre in South Africa—the world’s second largest private prison, run by G4S—is being investigated over allegations of abuse. This includes injecting prisoners with anti-psychotic drugs and subjecting them to electric shocks.
In the UK, G4S was contracted to provide private escorts to carry out forcible deportations. They lost the contract in 2010 after a man named Jimmy Mubenga died while being deported from the UK by G4S personnel. G4S security guards held his arms and pushed his head down in his seat. He was pleading for help and shouting that he was ‘going to die’ for over half an hour before he went quiet. He was later announced dead at the hospital.
G4S also runs six private prisons in the UK where it exploits prisoners’ labour. 400 G4S prisoners are made to work 40 hours a week for as little as £2 a day.
In Australia G4S run detention centres for asylum seekers and the processing centre on Manus Island. Earlier this year a former employee at the Manus Island centre spoke out about the repeated instances of rape and sexual abuse between asylum seekers, which staff knew about but did nothing to stop.
G4S is part of the global security-industrial-complex. Security and military technologies are one of Israel’s biggest exports—they accounted for US$7 billion in revenue in 2012. Israeli security and military companies use Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as test subjects for new military technologies: equipment, software and tactics.
For instance Israeli surveillance firm Verint Systems is contracted by the Indian government to intercept emails and other electronic communications. They do similar work for the Mexican government. Meanwhile Israeli academics have been instrumental in developing new tactics for urban warfare—which are tested on Palestinian civilian populations.
This has global implications, as we see Israel’s tactics of surveillance and control exported to the rest of the world. When I read about Canadian police tear gassing and shooting at Mi’kmaq protesters who were defending their land from fracking, my first thought was that Israel’s tactics of colonisation had been exported to Canada—tear gas and rubber bullets are exactly how Israel deals with Palestinian protesters trying to protect their land.
There is a danger that the level of state repression we see in Palestine today is the shape of things to come. To quote journalist Jonathan Cook, ‘who else among us faces a Palestinian future?’
In the last few years we’ve seen some encouraging victories in the struggle to hold G4S accountable by affecting their profits.
- In September Norwegian trade union Industri Energy terminated their contract with G4S as ‘an act of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people’.
- In May this year Oberlin College in Ohio passed a resolution to divest from G4S, alongside six other companies complicit in Israeli human rights violations.
- Last year Merkur Bank in Denmark, as well as Danish charities Danish Church Aid, Amnesty International Denmark, and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims ended contracts with the company because of its ties to Israeli human rights abuses.
- In April last year the European Union decided not to renew its contract with G4S for Security at the European Parliament in Brussels.
- Just this week Belsen University in Norway decided not to award a security contract to G4S (although G4S presented the lowest tender) because they were concerned doing business with the company would harm the university’s reputation.
In response to global grassroots actions targeting G4S, in 2011 the company hired international law expert Professor Hjalte Rasmussen to write a report, in which he concluded that G4S’s activities in Palestine do not break international law. Professor Rasmussen’s conclusion is based on inaccurate information. For example he argues that G4S does not discriminate between Israeli and Palestinian clients. Actually G4S provides security personnel to businesses in West Bank settlements, which Palestinians cannot access. Rasmussen also argues that prisoners at Ofer prison are regular prisoners sentenced in the Israeli court system—he fails to acknowledge that these prisoners are sentenced under a different legal system than Israeli civilians. He also doesn’t mention G4S’s involvement in prisons within Israel, which West Bank Palestinians are transferred into in violation of international law.
Another argument often used in support of G4S is that it is a global company and cannot be held liable for what its Israeli division does. However, at a recent court hearing in the UK:
[G4S director of PR and Media Relations] Mynott also confirmed that the Crawley office, at the time of the demonstration on 2nd July 2012, housed the finance, communications and treasury department of the company and was the ‘heartbeat of the organisation’ with, he said, overall responsibility for the work of all G4S’ subsidiaries: ‘The Crawley office runs the group and the regional offices report to us’. When questioned about G4S’ contracts with the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) Mynott said that these contracts were between the IPS and G4S’ Israeli company’ but conceded that the Group Headquarters in Crawley had overall responsibility.
At their shareholders meeting earlier this year, G4S announced that they would cease to provide services to prisons and checkpoints in the West Bank by 2015. This is a step forward and shows that global pressure is having an effect. But it’s not enough: G4S will continue to provide services to prisons within Israel, including facilities where prisoners are tortured. They did not mention the Judea and Samaria Police Department HQ or private businesses in settlements. Now is the time to step up pressure on the company until they cut all business ties with the Israeli state and settlements.
What are G4S doing in NZ?
G4S is a global company—and that includes New Zealand.
- In June this year Super Fund had $542,755 invested in G4S PLC (UK).
- In 2007 Corrections awarded G4S a 5-year contract (worth £3 million) to provide electronic monitoring services as part of the home detention programme. The contract was renewed last year. It’s unlikely that Corrections will terminate the contract before it expires, but we need to be ready to lobby against renewing it when it does come up.
- G4S sub-contract staffing to ICON security group, which is currently in the process of merging with Global Security.
What can you do about it?
We need a broad grassroots movement to stop G4S and Israeli colonisation of Palestine. Here are some suggestions of how you can be part of it:
- Educate yourself on Palestine and on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement
- Join a Palestine Solidarity Group, or start one in your area
- Sign our petition asking Super Fund to divest from G4S
- Ask your union, hapū, iwi, club, congregation, political party or community group to pass a resolution endorsing BDS and sign our letter asking Super Fund to divest from G4S
- Write to Super Fund and ask them to divest from G4S
- If you’re on Twitter, you can tweet to Super Fund at @NZSuperFund
- Organise a talk about Palestine and BDS for your friends, family, workmates or members of your organisations (we can come run a workshop, or give you the resources to run one yourself)