Great Skepticism Required Regarding Africa Israel Statement on Israeli Settlement Construction

October 27, 2014 – The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported today (article in English) that representatives from Africa Israel (AI) and its construction subsidiary Danya Cebus, targets of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, say they will stop building Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. Yedioth Ahronoth reported that protests against settlement construction beyond the Green Line were among the main reasons for AI’s decision. The Israeli newspaper cited Africa Israel’s past construction the settlements of Har Homa, Gilo, Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, and Mattityahu East. However, Adalah-NY believes that this announcement - undoubtedly the result of seven years of pressure generated by Adalah-NY and allied groups worldwide and a sign of the growing strength of the BDS movement - should be greeted with vigilance because Africa Israel has in the past made similar statements that proved to be untrue.

In fact, according to the Israeli watchdog group Who Profits, “In October 2010, in an official letter to Who Profits, Africa-Israel stated: ‘Neither the company nor any of its subsidiaries and/or other companies controlled by the company are presently involved in or has any plans for future involvement in development, construction or building of real estate in settlements in the West Bank.’ However, the company soon after received a 78 million shekel contract to construct the C-Jerusalem project in the settlement neighborhood of Gilo in East Jerusalem.”

Africa Israel evidently made similar false claims to the Norwegian government in 2013. Norway had excluded Africa Israel and Danya Cebus from its Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) from August 2010 to August 2013 due to their settlement construction. In November 2013, Norway’s Council on Ethics explained that when Norway’s “Council on Ethics was in contact with the company in the spring of 2013, AI made it clear that neither the company nor any of its subsidiaries were involved in or had plans to construct settlements in the West Bank. The Council on Ethics proceeded on this basis, and recommended in April of this year that the companies should no longer be excluded from the GPFG.” However, after Who Profits, Palestinian organizations, Adalah-NY, independent researchers and Norwegian organizations provided proof to the Norwegian government that, contrary to Africa Israel’s misleading statement, Africa Israel was building homes in the settlement of Gilo, the Norwegian government then reversed its decision and, on January 30, 2014, reinstated Norway’s ban on investment in Africa Israel and Danya Cebus.

When the UK-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre first raised the issue of Africa Israel’s settlement construction in Gilo directly with Africa Israel in September 2013, Africa Israel responded that, “we were surprised to learn that one can consider – Gilo Neighborhood, which is one of the well-established neighborhoods located in the heart of Jerusalem to be ‘a settlement in the occupied West Bank’ and find such a broad definition to be erroneous.”

Given Africa Israel’s pattern of falsely representing its settlement construction to the public, and even to the Norwegian government, and AI’s disagreement with international law and the international community over the very definition of a settlement, Adalah-NY believes that careful monitoring and review of Africa Israel’s work over a substantial period of time is required before AI’s statements today are accepted as accurate. Additionally, according to Who Profits, Africa Israel “owns 26% of Alon Group, which has a monopoly over gas supply to the Gaza Strip, and controls the Blue Square retail chain, which has branches and offices in multiple settlements throughout the Occupied Territories.”

Finally, Africa Israel’s chairman and controlling shareholder Lev Leviev also is co-owner of a separate settlement company, Leader Management and Development. Leader owns and operates the Israeli settlement of Zufim, which has been built upon the expropriated, fertile agricultural land of the Palestinian village of Jayyous, as well as the land of neighboring Palestinian villages (more information on Leviev, Leader and Zufim).

Adalah-NY initiated a campaign to boycott Africa Israel and other Leviev companies in November 2007 due to their settlement construction. Leviev companies have also been involved in human rights abuses and unethical business practices in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia.