The wrong message to Israel
Britain seems reluctant to take a firm stand against the illegal colonisation activities by Jewish settlers
When Britain's prime minister, Gordon Brown, visited Ramallah in mid-July, he told the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas: "We want to see a freeze on settlements. Settlement expansion has made peace harder to achieve. It erodes trust, it heightens Palestinian suffering, it makes the compromises Israel needs to make for peace more difficult."
In that case, the decision by the British government to rent space for our new embassy in Tel Aviv from the Africa-Israel Investments company chaired by businessman Lev Leviev sends precisely the wrong message.
Leviev, a Russian-Israeli real estate and diamond billionaire who recently became a UK resident, is also a major settlement builder. Danya Cebus, a subsidiary of Leviev's Africa-Israel group, has built homes in three West Bank settlements - Mattityahu East, Har Homa, and Ma'ale Adumim.
Additionally, Leviev is a major donor to the Land Redemption Fund (LRF), which is affiliated with the radical fundamentalist Gush Emunim settler movement. The LRF uses highly questionable methods to secure Palestinian land for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in clear violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva convention.
The settlement of Mattityahu East along with Israel's wall, which was built mostly inside the occupied West Bank to grab land for settlements, seizes 50% of the village of Bil'in's land, including olive groves that its residents have relied on for centuries. Leviev's Zufim settlement, again along with Israel's Wall, seizes as much as two-thirds of the village of Jayyous' agricultural land and six wells, effectively annexing one of the West Bank's most fertile agricultural zones. Since 2002, residents of Bil'in and Jayyous have held more than 250 nonviolent protests, with the support of Israeli and international activists, in an effort to save their lands.
The Israeli army meets the protesters with clubs, teargas, bullets, curfews, arrests and stink sprays.
The settlements where Leviev's companies have recently built homes trap Palestinians in disconnected enclaves, destroying the possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state. The settlements of Ma'ale Adumim and Har Homa constitute part of an outer ring of settlements that cut off East Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank, and separate its north from its south.
Israel's facts on the ground, created by companies like Leviev's, make the two-state solution impossible, resulting in a de facto one-state solution, in which half the population lives under apartheid-like conditions – contradicting Israel's proclaimed democracy. Having raised this issue in petitions and pressure on Israel's architects and construction industry, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine has protested at Leviev's Bond Street jewelry boutique, in conjunction with Adalah-NY, which has also carried out a series of protests at Leviev's Madison Avenue store in New York. These actions respond to a call for a boycott of Leviev's companies issued by the villages of Jayyous and Bil'in - a call that has also been taken up by US and Israel-based peace groups and the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, which represents 171 Palestinian civil society organisations.
Yet the British government seems to be immune to taking positive action. In late June, after three Israeli settler leaders were invited to the Tel Aviv home of the UK ambassador, Tom Phillips, for the Queen's birthday, Crispin Blunt MP sent a blistering protest letter to Foreign Office minister Kim Howells. "Entertaining the pioneers of this colonisation movement has certainly given the strong impression that Britain tacitly endorses it or no longer objects to it," demonstrating a "weakening in the government's long-held position that settlements were illegal and an obstacle to peace".
Blunt demanded that British taxpayers' money should not be "spent entertaining those who violate the Fourth Geneva Conventions and whose very presence has been an obstacle to a vital and much needed peace deal in the Middle East". Kim Howells responded that the settlers' presence "was not helpful" and that they would not receive such invitations again.
Rewarding Leviev with the contract for our new embassy shows that Her Majesty's government is not serious about stopping Israeli settlements. Rather than mouthing admirable but empty platitudes about freezing settlements, for the sake of all Israelis and Palestinians, let us apply serious sanctions to stop Israel expanding illegal settlements and the Wall, and take our business elsewhere.
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