The promised land

Julkaistu SixDegrees -lehdessä 22.5.2013

Familiar to many here in Finland, the companies SodaStream and Ahava are utlising Israeli settlements to manufacture their goods.

After capturing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the War of 1967, Israel quickly started establishing settlements in the newly conquered territory. Israel has created 124 settlements that have been recognised by the Israeli Ministry of Interior and are subsidised by the state of Israel. On top of that, roughly 100 outposts, or settlements that have not been officially recognised, have been created, also with the assistance of government ministries.

The Israeli decision makers have taken on and pursued the settlement project with the full understanding that it is a grave breach of international law. Whereas the notion of the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war is a tenet of international law, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, furthermore, states that:

“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

The Israeli settlement project in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) being a textbook example of the very policy that was specifically criminalised by the Fourth Geneva Convention, all the relevant international bodies have strongly condemned the Israeli decision to launch and later expand the Jewish settlements. The United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly of the United Nations and the European Union have all harshly denounced the Israeli settlements. Rendering the most authoritative legal opinion of any international body, the International Court of Justice, which is the highest judicial body in the world, has been equally unequivocal in its condemnation of the Israeli settlements, asserting, that:

“The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”

As an infringement of international humanitarian law, which applies in the context of an armed conflict, the Israeli settlement project is defined as a war crime.

Corporate complicity – the cases of SodaStream and Ahava

SodaStream International Ltd. (SodaStream) is the leading manufacturer of home carbonation systems in the world. In Finland, the company’s market share of home carbonation devices is over 90 per cent.

In 1996, SodaStream erected its main production facility in Mishor Adumim, which is one of Israel’s 17 industrial parks in the OPT. Mishor Adumim is located in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Israel’s annexation of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc is the single biggest land expropriation in the history of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The industrial parks are designed to support and develop the settlement infrastructure. Mishor Adumim was founded in 1974 to serve both Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem, which Israel illegally annexed in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war.

Since the beginning of the occupation, the Israeli government has encouraged the Israeli private sector to transfer its activities to one of the settlement parks inside the OPT. Israeli companies in the industrial parks are given economic benefits, such as cheap land leases, tax relieves and lax enforcement of labour and environmental laws.

Israeli authorities have granted Ahava exclusive license to make full use of, and benefit from, Palestinians’ vast natural resources resources.

In 2000, SodaStream’s founder Peter Wiseburgh stated that, “the Jerusalem Economic Corporation offered to give me the site for free for the first six months, and then for 44,000 shekels rent per month and also offered 100,000 dollars in cash for the cost of renovating the place. I rented 13,000 square meters, and it was a good deal. Not a political act.”

Lately, to deflect the mounting international criticism of the company’s involvement in Israel’s settlement enterprise, SodaStream has made the claim that the devices sold in Western Europe are not manufactured in the OPT.

In April 2013, SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum told the Israeli newspaper Globes that, “The products we manufacture at the Alon Tavor plant are sold in countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, and France – because of the sensitivity in these countries to Israeli products manufactured beyond the Green Line.”

SodaStream’s annual report to the American Stock Exchange refutes Birnbaum’s assertion. According to the 2012 report the plants located inside Israel proper, namely in Alon Tavor and Ashkelon are used for “plastic injection, painting, carbonation parts assembly, printing and assembly [and] manufacturing the flavours”, whereas the Mishor Adumim factory is used for “metals, bottle blowing, machining, assembly, cylinder manufacturing, CO2 refills and cylinder retesting”.

The scope of these manufacturing functions reveals that all SodaStream’s products are still made wholly or partially in Mishor Adumim.

Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. (Ahava) is an Israeli cosmetic company located in Mitzpe Shalem, which is an Israeli settlement on the western shore of the Dead Sea in the OPT. Ahava offers a wide array of products, the selling point of which is the mud mined from the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea.

Instead of extracting the minerals from the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, the company has decided, with an exclusive license granted by the Israeli authorities, to locate the company’s excavating activities in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli authorities have forbidden the Palestinians from making use of their own vast natural resources in the West Bank portion of the Dead Sea and simultaneously granted Ahava, an Israeli company, an exclusive license to illegally make full use of, and benefit from, the very same resources. In other words, in the course of its almost half a century-long military occupation of the Palestinian territories, Israel has created a situation in which it both dispossesses the Palestinians of their natural wealth of the Dead Sea while illegally appropriating the same resources for monetary gain for a private Israeli company.

The business model of Ahava embodies a long-standing policy of the state of Israel to deprive the Palestinians of a peremptory norm of international law, the right to self-determination. Also, the policies of both the Israeli authorities and Ahava infringe the right of the Palestinians to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth.

In conclusion, both SodaStream and Ahava are complicit in the Israeli settlement project in the occupied Palestinian territories that is in violation of the Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This constitutes complicity in the Israeli settlements as a war crime. Also, through extracting natural resources from a territory that is under military occupation,

Ahava is complicit in pillaging natural resources in violation of both Article 33(2) of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 47 of the Hague Regulations. This constitutes complicity in the war crime of pillage.

Ahava offers a wide array of products, the selling point of which is the mud mined from the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea.

EU’s disagreeable policy on settlements

The EU-Israel Association Agreement, which governs all trade relations between the EU and Israel states that:

“Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.”

The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner with an annual bilateral trade of 30 billion euros. The enormous volume of the trade gives the EU leverage to exert pressure on both the Israeli government and private sector to respect international law and abide by the principles set out in the human rights clause of the Association Agreement.

Instead of using its economic leverage and honouring its legal commitments in order to persuade Israel to end its illegal occupation, the EU has sustained and indirectly legitimised the occupation by giving, in most cases, the Israeli settlement products preferential treatment under the Association Agreement and allowing European companies to invest in the settlements.

It is time for the EU to abide by its own human rights clause – which is solemnly presented as the basis for its relations with third countries, including Israel – and discontinue its indirect support for the longest illegal military occupation in the post-WWII era by immediately freezing the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Johannes Hautaviita and Bruno Jäntti

The writers are investigative journalists, board members of ICAHD Finland (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) and authors of a report on the Israeli settlements, SodaStream and Ahava, to be published in June 2013.


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