Irish construction giant digs deeper in occupation

Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 18 August 2009

A recent acquisition by the Israeli subsidiary of brick and mortar giant Irish CRH has placed the European conglomerate under increased pressure from Palestine solidarity activists.í‚ Irish CRH, formerly known as Cement Roadstone Holding, owns 25 percent of the Mashav Group, an Israeli construction firm.í‚ Mashav recently announced that it will acquire Hanson Israel, a subsidiary of Germany’s HeidelbergCement. With the acquisition of Hanson Israel, CRH is further entrenched in violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Last month, The Electronic Intifada reported that German HeidelbergCement, one of the world’s largest construction companies, became the target of legal action in Israel because its subsidiary, Hanson Israel, was involved in illegal mining activities in the occupied West Bank.

Hanson Israel is the second-largest building materials company in Israel. It manufactures ready-made cement, aggregates and asphalt for Israel’s construction industry. In addition, the company operates a quarry in the occupied West Bank. In March, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din filed a petition with the Israeli high court demanding a halt to illegal mining activity in West Bank quarries, including Hanson Israel’s Nahal Raba quarry. The attorneys representing Yesh Din called upon the court to put an end to this “clearly illegal activity” and the court decided to freeze the expansion of quarries for six months. Hanson Israel also owns two concrete plants in the settlements of Modiin Illit and Atarot, and an asphalt plant south of the Elqana settlement, all illegally built on occupied Palestinian land.

According to a 29 July 2009 report in the Israeli business magazine Globes, HeidelbergCement tried to distance itself from the actions of its subsidiary by selling it to the Mashav Group. The website of Who Profits from the Occupation?, an Israeli group that monitors corporations’ involvement in Israel’s occupation, states that 85 percent of all cement in Israel is sold by Nesher Cement, a Mashav subsidiary. As a result, Irish CRH is currently complicit in the violation of international law through illegal mining activities in the OPT as well as the construction of Israel’s wall in the West Bank, checkpoints and settlements.í‚ í‚

Over the past six years, CRH has been a target of international calls for divestment from companies facilitating and benefiting from Israel’s policies and actions. Most recently, in June 2009, volunteers with “Project Clean Hands,” an ad hoc coalition of Irish non-governmental organizations pressuring CRH, investigated the use of Nesher Cement products in Israel’s building of settlements and the wall in the OPT. Project Clean Hands documented Nesher products being used in the construction of housing, schools, synagogues and infrastructure in the occupied West Bank, including the light rail project illegally being built and operated in East Jerusalem.

These findings build on previous reports by Amnesty International and the US-based United Methodist Church. In 2003, Amnesty International Ireland publicly stated that “CRH, through its subsidiaries Mashav and Nesher Cement, is likely to be providing the raw material” for Israel’s wall being built on occupied West Bank land.

The United Methodist Church called for the divestment from companies that are significantly supporting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2005. Two years later, at its New England Annual Conference, the body specifically urged its members, churches and investment managers to divest from CRH.

Increasingly, companies are coming under pressure to comply with norms of corporate responsibility, including respect for human rights. Palestine solidarity activists are calling on corporations to cease their involvement in Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law. Indeed, fear of bad publicity may be the reason behind HeidelbergCement selling off Hanson Israel to the Mashav Group. The deal is still awaiting the approval of the Israel AntiTrust Authority, the Israeli government’s enforcement agency.

Should Mashav’s acquisition of Hanson Israel be approved, CHR will come under greater scrutiny and pressure to live up to its stated principles of corporate responsibility. Through Mashav’s activities, activists contend, CHR is not only violating these principles but is profiting from the Israeli occupation.

The pressure on CRH to divest from Mashav has increased over the past few years. In 2005, activists in Ireland called on Irish pension funds to divest from CRH, until the company provides an absolute guarantee to cease involvement in the supply of materials used in illegal Israeli construction projects in the West Bank. The same year, the biennial Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference passed a resolution that called for boycott and divestment from Israel and companies such as CRH that are building Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank. Recently, the Irish Free Palestine Campaign, the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Irish Anti-War Movement and the political party Sinn Fein demanded the company end all of its activities that facilitate the Israeli occupation. They loudly voiced their concerns for hours in front of CRH’s head office in Dublin on 7 August 2009.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.

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