British firm under fire over bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes

Sale may have been in breach of OECD guidelines, UK government body says; the company, JCB, can challenge ruling or enter into mediation with rights activists

Israel demolishes a house built without a permit in Yatta, in the West Bank on August 11, 2020 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israel demolishes a house built without a permit in Yatta, in the West Bank on August 11, 2020 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The sale of British heavy machinery that was used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian structures in the West Bank may have been in breach of OECD guidelines, a UK government body said Monday.

A complaint had been lodged against the company, JCB, by the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights organization in December 2019, using a UK government complaints system that was created to allow individuals and groups to challenge multinationals seen not to be keeping to the standards set by the OECD, The Guardian reported.

According to those guidelines, multinationals must “seek ways to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their business operations, products or services by a business relationship, even if they do not contribute to those impacts.”

Israel says the demolitions target illegally built units and the homes of suspected terrorists as well as structures used to attack Israeli forces.

An April 2019 UN study said that building permits for Palestinians in the West Bank are “virtually impossible” to obtain and the result is a chronic housing shortage.

A bulldozer demolishes a Palestinian house built without permission in East Jerusalem, February 13, 2012 (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The National Contact Point, part of the British Foreign Office, announced on Monday that it believed JCB must account for the case, adding that the claims were “material and substantiated.”

The heavy machinery company had rebutted the claim, saying that not only was it not responsible for the way the equipment was used after its sale, but that it had also been used for positive purposes such as the building of hospitals, roads and schools. There were no further details given on the location of those infrastructure projects.

According to The Guardian, JCB said it sold the equipment to Comasco, a third-party distributor in Israel, and has no responsibility over what was later done with the machinery.

JCB, which has donated millions of pounds to the Conservative Party and is chaired by Tory peer Anthony Bamford, can challenge the ruling or enter into a mediation process with Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights.

“JCB’s apparent failure to address the material and prolific use of its products in demolition and displacement incidents that cruelly impacts Palestinian families, and also its use in settlement-related construction which creates pervasive human rights violations, must cease immediately,” Tareq Shrourou, director of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, told The Guardian.

“We look forward to constructively engaging with JCB and expect it will do the right thing by complying with its human rights responsibilities,” Shrourou said.

Illustrative – Israeli border police officers guard as bulldozers removes trees near the entrance to the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank on February 21, 2018 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

JCB is not the only heavy machinery firm to face questions over the use of its equipment by Israel.

Earlier this year, more than 60 Democrats in the US House of Representatives pushed the Trump administration to pressure Israel over its use of American-made equipment to demolish Palestinian homes. It’s not clear whether Israel currently uses US equipment in the home demolitions but in the past it has used Caterpillar land moving equipment, making the company a prominent target for the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement.

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