In Norway Divestment Flap, Leviev Company Admits Gilo Construction, but Denies Gilo Is Israeli Settlement


September 26, 2013 - Lev Leviev’s company Africa Israel has admitted to ongoing construction in Gilo, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, but simultaneously denied that Gilo is a settlement in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Africa Israel’s statement to the UK’s Business & Human Rights Resource Centre came in response to an outcry over Norway’s Ministry of Finance’s August decision to rescind a 2010 ban on investment of the Norwegian Government’s Pension Fund Global in Africa Israel and its construction subsidiary Danya Cebus. Norway had put in place the ban on investment in 2010 due to the two companies’ construction of Israeli settlements in violation of international law.

On September 4th, Adalah-NY and three leading Palestinian civil society groups wrote to The Pension Fund Global’s Council on Ethics calling on them to swiftly reinstate the ban on the companies due to their ongoing settlement construction in Gilo. The Council on Ethics responded that they are “looking into” the matter. Norway’s Ministry of Finance announced the end of the ban on investment after Africa Israel told the Council on Ethics in April 2013 that they were not building any Israeli settlements. Africa Israel, owned by Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev, has a long history of settlement construction.

On September 9th, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre published a statement from Africa Israel in which the company admitted that they were building in Gilo, but then added, "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 broad definition to be erroneous."

Allison Brown from Adalah-NY explained, “Africa Israel’s false claim that Gilo is not an Israeli settlement and that East Jerusalem is not Israeli-occupied territory demonstrates the Israeli strategy of attempting to deny Palestinian rights and trump international law by creating facts on the ground. Gilo was built on land confiscated from the Palestinian communities of Beit Jala, Sharafat and Beit Safafa.” Gilo is located east of the Green Line, in territory that Israel occupied in 1967. The UN documents that Israel created the settlement of Gilo in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory in 1968. The Council on Ethics noted in its 2010 decision regarding Africa Israel that, “The areas of the West Bank where Israeli settlements are built are either under Israeli military control or annexed by Israel (East Jerusalem). It is not disputed that Israel is responsible for the maintenance of the provisions of the IV Geneva Convention in these areas."

Hannah Mermelstein from Adalah-NY added, “Africa Israel’s deceptive statements to Norway’s Council on Ethics provide yet another example of Israeli companies’ efforts to hide their profiteering from abuses of Palestinian rights. This case demonstrates why Norway’s Council on Ethics, and other groups seeking information on Israeli companies, need to consult with Palestinian and international civil society organizations and the Israeli organization Who Profits as an integral part of their due diligence.”

The September 4 letter from Adalah-NY, The Palestinian BDS National Committee, The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, and The Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign to the Council on Ethics for Norway’s Pension Fund Global explained, “Without quick corrective public action there is a significant danger that other actors may follow Norway’s well-publicized example and clear these companies for reinvestment, also based on false information.” The letter included links to photos, video and other documentation by Who Profits -- a project of the Israeli civil society group Coalition of Women for Peace -- showing Africa Israel and Danya Cebus’ current construction in Gilo.