Monday, January 11, 2016

After CRH, it's now time to look at G4S

In this globalised world, we are all interconnected.

When NUI Galway students voted to become the first in Ireland to adopt boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel as official Students’ Union policy, the international campaign against them was incredible.

For weeks leading up to the vote, posters popped up all over campus encouraging the students not to adopt the boycott as official SU policy.

One memorable poster told the students they should boycott Facebook if they intended to boycott Israel, because the founder of the social media site, Mark Zuckerberg, happens to be Jewish. 

The implication was that a boycott of Israel was an action against all Jews, rather than a response to the colonisation and occupation of Palestine, plus the illegal ‘settlements’ which have ruled out any possibility of a ‘two state’ solution.

The implication was crystal clear. Those who had any concerns about Israeli policies were branded as “anti-Semitic” and the Israeli Embassy in Dublin waged a propaganda campaign against the SU.

Despite the scare tactics, an overwhelming majority of students voted to adopt BDS as official SU policy in 2014.

The vote generated headlines across the world. It has prompted other third level institutions across Ireland, including the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), to adopt the same policy in response to the illegal occupation.

Galway protester Tommy Donnellan in the West Bank
I reported on the outcome of the vote for the local ‘paper, The Sentinel, and was then subjected to a barrage of abuse from throughout the globe. It had been quite a nasty campaign relating to an emotive issue, with abuse coming from both sides.

As they celebrated the election victory, the students vowed to remove global security giant G4S from the Galway campus.

G4S have been providing equipment and services to Israeli prisons, in which political prisoners including children are held without trial and subjected to torture, for years.

Every night after dark, security men from G4S patrol the NUI Galway campus. It didn't take the students long to realise that there was a connection between the vans driving around the University grounds and the people who are helping to run Israeli state prisons which are full of political prisoners from Palestine.

The day after the vote, a G4S van was parked outside my office. The company has a presence in 120 countries and I suddenly began to notice G4S vans all around Galway city centre, outside banks and other businesses.

Most people in Galway, and other Irish cities and towns, probably have no awareness of the vast reach of this security giant.

By helping the Israeli State to run five prisons and “interrogation centres”, G4S helps Israel to use torture and mass incarceration of more than 6,000 Palestinians. The British-Danish company promotes and prolongs an occupation which is illegal under international law.

Day by day, this firm facilitates racist policies against people who have been living under occupation since 1967.

G4S provide services and equipment to the checkpoints which see Palestinians being subjected to daily humiliations at the ‘Apartheid Wall’, which has cut many West Bank villagers off from their own land. 

This week, a prominent Irish firm, CRH, divested from Israel after coming under sustained pressure from activists opposed to the occupation of Palestine.

For over a decade, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) had urged CRH to cease operating in Israel. CRH held 25 per cent of the shares in Mashav, the owner of the top cement manufacturer in Israel.

It is believed that cement owned by the firm was used to build the ‘Apartheid Wall', which was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice over a decade ago.

Cement owned by the firm has been used to build illegal Israeli settlements on occupied West Bank land, further reducing any hopes of a long-term peaceful solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

Over the years, CRH had learned that it doesn’t pay to do business with the Apartheid State. According to the IPSC, CRH's divestment is better late than never.

Two years ago, when I reported that the NUI Galway students wanted G4S to be removed from campus as a response to the company’s activities in Israel and Palestine, I received a torrent of abuse.

Protesting against G4S human rights abuses
People said that G4S staff in Galway were “only doing their jobs”. They said it was unfair to call for a boycott of the company in Galway.

But, like CRH, they can’t have it both ways. They can’t drive around a university campus in Ireland at night while facilitating human rights abuses in Israel.

If a company with a significant presence in Ireland is facilitating the imprisonment of children without trial, people have a right to know.

It’s time to look at G4S.

If they continue to trample on the human rights of children and teenagers across Palestine, Galway students have a right to insist that the University authorities remove them from their campus.

There are plenty of other security firms around with a far less murky record when it comes to human rights.