Irish activists urge divestment at CRH annual meeting

Adri Nieuwhof and John Dorman, The Electronic Intifada, 12 May 2010

Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) activists are pressuring the Ireland-based international building materials group CRH to divest from its Israeli subsidiary Mashav. Last week, IPSC members attended the annual CRH general shareholders meeting as activist shareholders. Their aim was to discuss the involvement of CRH subsidiary Mashav in illegal construction activities in the occupied West Bank. The four IPSC shareholders dominated the hour-long question and answer session and received support from actual CRH shareholders for the company to divest from Israel.

According to the website, CRH holds 25 percent of the shares of Mashav Initiating and Development. Mashav is the sole owner of Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises, which manufactures and sells more than 85 percent of all cement in Israel. Nesher cement bags have been photographed at construction sites in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and at worksites for the Jerusalem light rail project being built on occupied Palestinian land. The light rail connects Israel’s settlements with the city center of West Jerusalem.

Activists informed the media of the plans to target CRH’s shareholders meeting and in response the company employed a busload of security personnel who were deployed inside and outside the venue. Meanwhile, activists focused on convincing CRH shareholders to divest from Mashav. Shareholders were welcomed by a group of concerned citizens and activists from various solidarity, human rights and political groups who handed out fact sheets on CRH. There was also a replica of Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, and banners stating “Stop Israel’s theft of Palestinian land” and “CRH builds Israeli apartheid — Let’s stop CRH profiting from human rights abuses.”

Four IPSC shareholding activists made their presence known at the annual general meeting. CRH chairman Kieran McGowan received IPSC’s 16-page report entitled “Alternative CRH Annual Report 2009” modeled on the company’s real annual report. The “alternative” report provided details on CRH, Mashav and their activities in the West Bank. The report was also distributed to shareholders after the meeting (the PDF file is available for download).

During the hour-long question and answer session, the activist shareholders asked CRH why the company is so shy about revealing the details of the profits they are deriving from Nesher’s illegal activities in the West Bank. In addition, they questioned what funds the company set aside to compensate Palestinians affected by such activities and what had been set aside to defend the company against legal actions due to its complicity in breaches of international law. Chairman McGowan refused to provide direct answers and stated that CRH was a minority shareholder and had no involvement with the day-to-day operations of their subsidiaries. He also stated that CRH was obliged by law not to discriminate against any customer. The activist shareholders reminded CRH of their significant share in Mashav, as they hold two out of nine board positions and could have significant leverage over the activities of their subsidiary.

Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, the weekly demonstration on 30 April focused on CRH’s role in the construction of Israel’s wall which effectively annexes to Israel’s settlements the agricultural land of villages like Bilin. Carrying placards calling on CRH to divest from Mashav, villagers marched to the site where resident and grassroots leader Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed by the Israeli military last year. While filming the 30 April demonstration, Irish national Tommy Donnellan was injured and detained by Israeli soldiers. He was released after two hours.

Back at the shareholders meeting IPSC chair David Landy read a statement by Iyad Burnat, the coordinator of the Bilin Popular Committee, subject to an Israeli-imposed travel ban. Burnat’s statement read: “You are complicit in the murder and killing of my friend Bassem, and all the other nonviolent activists that have been killed and injured for resisting this horrendous wall, this crime against humanity. CRH, you are directly complicit, and therefore I, as a Palestinian, am asking the Irish people to join the [IPSC], and get involved in the divestment campaign against CRH. This complicity must end.”

Activists in Ireland pledge to up the pressure on CRH to divest from Mashav. IPSC is planning a broad public awareness campaign targeting institutional investors such as financial institutions, churches and trade unions. This includes the Irish National Pension Reserve Fund, which, like CRH, will be under increasing pressure to explain and justify its continued profit from Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.

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

John Dorman is Divestment Officer of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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