Palestinian report scathing of South Africa’s relations with Israel

Safiyyah Surtee, [Afro-Middle East Centre] – A report published last month by the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, and endorsed by the Palestinian BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee, is scathing of South African business – including South African parastatals – for their relations with Israel.

Entitled “Democratic South Africa’s Complicity in Israel’s Occupation, Colonialism and Apartheid’, the 58 page report details South Africa’s economic ties with Israel, and the political and related social consequences thereof. It analyses a number of South African companies’ involvement or contribution to Israel’s occupation industry, and reviews government initiatives which aim to promote trade relations with Israel.

Paul Buford, from BDS was involved in researching and writing the report. He told AMEC that, ” we chose to look closer at South Africa after the dockworkers action in response to Gaza. While dockworkers showed that some sectors are really serious about BDS, we were still coming across contracts between Israeli firms and the South African government…after we started working, it became clear that there were a considerable number of Israeli companies actively profiting from or involved with the apartheid system in the West Bank and Gaza involved either directly with the South African government or operating in the country.

Analysing the involvement of South African public enterprises in Israel’s occupation, the report says that only two public enterprises – South African Airlines and the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) – are not implicated in Israeli violations of human rights and international law.

Eskom has ties with at least two Israeli companies, Israel Electric Company (IEC) and ALSTO, which directly support Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid. The IEC worked with Eskom to build new power plants in South Africa, according to South Africa’s former ambassador to Israel, Major General Fumanekile Gqiba, in a lecture to the Israeli Knesset. The IEC is 99 percent state-owned, has supported illegal Israeli settlements and actively assists in the creation of new settlements, connecting them to the power grid. Eskom is also listed at the only sector of opportunity for Israeli investors on the website of the South African Embassy in Israel.

The report names Telkom as having ties, going back to 1999, with Amdocs, one of Israel’s largest and most important software companies. The firm is heavily funded by the Israeli government, with connections to the Israeli defence and intelligence establishments. Last year, Telkom announced plans to outsource the running of its networks and information technology processes to external parties. The process was halted when Solidarity and the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) complained about it and threatened to strike. Controversy raged when insiders claimed that Amdocs, along with two other companies, would win tenders due to corrupt processes. Amdocs had bid to control all Telkom’s billing. The CWU demanded an investigation, claiming to have evidence that officials altered documents to influence the results.

There is considerable controversy surrounding Amdocs and its ties to Israeli state and intelligence apparatuses. The report alleges that Amdocs was and is possibly using its billing records as an intelligence-gathering exercise. In 1999, the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) issued a warning that records of U.S. government telephone calls were ending up in foreign, particularly Israeli, hands. Since the 1990s, U.S. federal agents have reported systemic communications security breaches at the Department of Justice, FBI, DEA, the State Department, and the White House. Several of the alleged breaches, they claim, can be traced to two hi-tech communications companies, one of them being Amdocs. Amdocs has, thus, been the target of several investigations into whether individuals within the company shared U.S. government data with organized crime groups and Israeli intelligence. These controversies add credence to the report’s conclusion that economic dealings with Israel poses a threat to South African national security.

Other South African public enterprises that the report links to Israel are SAFCOL, TRANSNET, Alexkor and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

SAFCOL has reportedly sold assets to the Siyaqhubeka Consortium, which is comprised of Mondi Limited. Mondi is a global player in paper production and has an Israeli subsidiary, Mondi Hadera, which actively supports Israeli colonialism and apartheid and is directly involved in violations of international law, including operating illegal landfills in the West Bank.

Transnet, South Africa’s custodian of port and rail infrastructure, is affiliated to the Israeli companies NICE and Orsus. NICE is a large Israeli firm engaged in wiretapping and surveillance
systems for private and government clients, with several contracts in South Africa through Transnet. Orsus was contracted by Transnet to connect three nerve centre in Johannesburg, Richard’s Bay and Cape Town. Their surveillance technology is an example of the type of high-tech “security systems’ that are regularly deployed against, and often tested on, Palestinians under occupation.

The core business of Alexkor, a state-owned company, is diamond mining. Its primary source of revenue is income generated from the sale of rough, gem quality diamonds. A significant part of the rough diamonds sold on the South African Diamond Exchange end up in Israel, the world’s largest importer of rough diamonds. The South African diamond production market is deeply involved with Israeli companies, many of them with long records of human rights violations in Palestine or in other parts of Africa. These companies include Lev Leviev, reportedly involved in violations of international law.

The diamond trade is of great importance to the Israeli economy, and the report claims that South African sanctions on the export of diamonds to Israel could hugely impact on Israeli political decision-making, hopefully translating into greater compliance with international law and respect for human rights.

The report also details activities of nine private South African companies which assist Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid, by involvement in the construction and maintenance of Israel’s apartheid wall and checkpoints, and in the construction of settlements.

One such company is Cape Gate Limited, which manufactures steel and wire products. Cape Gate owns Israeli company Yehuda Welded Mesh, which, among other support of the occupation, built the fence around Gaza, the Apartheid Wall around Jerusalem, and assists in the building of houses in settlements.

Baran Group Limited is a global provider of engineering, technology and construction services. It became a subcontractor for GE Water and Process Technologies, a unit of General Electric Company, which was contracted to design and construct a reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant in South Africa. Baran was involved with the Israeli military in building an advanced dry storage base for the Israeli army. Baran may also be contributing to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, the report says. The company has been involved in two projects with cellular phone companies, one of which serves the military.

The report claims that economic dealings with Israel involve or condones human rights infringements, and leads to the “Bantustanization of Palestine’. The report draws on South Africa’s history of anti-Apartheid struggle as a “clear example that concrete pressure, not “constructive engagement” will bring about a peaceful and sustainable settlement based on international law and the inalienable rights of the indigenous people of Palestine.’

South Africa’s economic relations with Israel, the report concludes, assist Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid, infringe on Palestinian rights, put South African national security at risk, and contradicts South Africa’s constitution and foreign policy, international law and the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

The allegation that such associations puts South African national security at risk is particularly noteworthy. It is based on the premise that Israeli companies involved in South Africa include those that have been repeatedly investigated by foreign agencies, with information gathered through their operations in South Africa being part of the investigation.

Released around the same time as the Stop The Wall report, a study by The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) accuses Israel of practising occupation, colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The study argues that the “three pillars of apartheid in South Africa’ are all practised by Israel. (The first pillar was to demarcate the South African population into racial groups, and to accord superior rights, privileges and services to the white racial group. The second was to segregate the population into different geographic areas, allocated by law to different racial groups, and restrict passage by members of any group into areas allocated to other groups. The third pillar was draconian security laws and policies, “employed to suppress any opposition to the regime and to reinforce the system of racial domination, by providing for administrative detention, torture, censorship, banning, and assassination.’

The Stop the Wall report lists recommendations for South Africa, calling on this country to join the growing movement for BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel, including a full ban on all Israeli products, investments and services, cancellation of existing contracts between Israeli firms and the South African public sector, and an end to governmental trade-promoting activities. At international level, the report advocates the promotion of and support for international calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, enforcement of the 2004 Declaration on Palestine which was drafted at the Sixteenth Ministerial Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Durban, regarding the construction of the Apartheid Wall. The Conference also called for a ban on products and services from the settlements. The report recommends the promotion of the global movement for BDS until Israel fully complies with its obligations under international law.

South African Foreign Affairs sources suggest that the South African government has become “nervous’ about the report, preferring to ignore it publicly, while attempting to deal with the veiled accusation that South Africa collaborates with Israel in violations of international law.

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