AXA must stop its investments in the Israeli settlements

For Palestinians, it’s vital that governments and companies that support Israel’s settlements, theft of our land and attacks on us end their complicity. On April 24th  AXA will hold its Annual General Assembly meeting in Paris. If I could attend, I would ask AXA a very simple question: Does AXA consider Palestinians human beings? asks Manal Tamimi, Palestinian activist and human rights defender.  

U.S. President Donald Trump recently recognised Israel's sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights that it seized in 1967 and annexed in 1981, violating international law. This is a similar move to when he declared Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017, ignoring in that case Palestinians’ rights. Trump is supporting Israel’s colonial plan: to control all Palestinian land, with no Palestinians on it.

Many Palestinians and international observers fear that Israel has been given a green light by the US to claim sovereignty over the West Bank – a step Netanyahu committed to throughout the electoral campaign. An emboldened Israel will make our already difficult lives even harder.

As a human rights defender living in Nabi Saleh, a Palestinian village surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements, my family and I struggle every day against ongoing violence by Israeli settlers and soldiers. The residents of Nabi Saleh, including my family and I, have been holding regular protests against Israel’s seizure of our land for the last decade.

The Nakba, the colonial catastrophe from 1947 – 49 during which Zionist militias and the Israeli army destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages and expelled over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their lands and homes, is ongoing. My village’s experiences are a perfect example of that.

In 1976, settlers built Halamish, one of the West Bank’s oldest settlements, on land stolen from Nabi Saleh. Even though settlements are illegal under international law, and considered a war crime, they are fully protected by Israel’s military. Due to settlements, we in Nabi Saleh only have access to less than a third of our land.

Israel’s war crimes continue with impunity due to support from governments like the US, but also with support from complicit international companies which profit from violating our rights. Different reports prove that AXA, the French giant, is involved in the investment of tens of millions of dollars in five top Israeli banks that directly finance the settlements, and in the Israeli arms producer Elbit Systems, whose security systems protect the Apartheid Wall, which steals more of our land for settlements. Halamish and all the over 200 other illegal Israeli settlements could not exist without these international investments and financial support.

Following a campaign by human rights advocates, AXA has just divested some of its holdings in Elbit Systems. However, AXA has maintained other investments in Elbit Systems via an affiliated company, and kept all its investments in the five Israeli banks. By holding these investments, AXA complements the Trump administration’s support for Israel, contributing to an illegal situation, and legitimizing these settlements and Israeli’s control of the West Bank.

I have many horror stories about living one kilometer from an Israeli settlement: I have been shot by a live bullet by a sniper, soldiers have broken three of my husband’s cameras, and family members have been killed.

One of Israel’s most common tactics is collective-punishment, also illegal under international law. Our children are punished because we try to remain on our land. My sons have been attacked, shot at and arrested. My 23-year-old son has just been released after spending nine months in Israeli jail. He lost his sight for two months after being shot with a tear gas canister. My middle son was shot, when he was only twelve, with a tear gas canister which caused internal damage to his liver and kidney, and later shot in the leg with live ammunition. The bullet is still in his leg, since it was too dangerous to remove it. He has now been in prison for 14 months for protesting against the seizure of our land. My youngest son who is 12 years old now was kidnapped last year from our backyard by four soldiers and interrogated and he is now not allowed to visit his brother in jail.

The pain and the fear I experienced when my two sons were arrested is way beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I couldn’t eat or sleep for days, and I would lay awake every night in their beds. Even though every Palestinian mother knows that there’s a great chance their children will be arrested – no mother is ever prepared to have their children taken away from them.

For Palestinians, it’s vital that governments and companies that support Israel’s settlements, theft of our land and attacks on us end their complicity. On April 24th  AXA will hold its Annual General Assembly meeting in Paris. If I could attend, I would ask AXA a very simple question: Does AXA consider Palestinians human beings? Israeli Apartheid targets Palestinians because we are Palestinians. If AXA truly believes in equality and freedom as it claims to, then it should immediately stop financing Israeli banks that fund Israel’s settlement and Elbit systems, which protects Israel’s apartheid wall. By maintaining these investments AXA is supporting the oppression of Palestinians, and its profits are built on Palestinian suffering and pain

With the Trump administration granting Israel free rein, European governments and companies must shoulder their responsibilities and support Palestinian rights, not help to deny them, but that is precisely what AXA is doing.

Manal Tamimi, Palestinian activist and human rights defender

 

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