From 29 May 29 to 1 June 2016, more than 50 New Zealand business people, led by Spark CEO Simon Moutter, were guests at a trade mission in Israel, organised by the Israel Trade Commission and Trans-Tasman Business Circle. Described as the ‘innovation mission’, the purpose was to encourage collaboration between the governments of Israel and New Zealand and their respective business interests. Sir Peter Gluckman, the NZ Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, also took part. The delegation spent a day at the Beer-sheva CyberSpark cyber-security centre in the northern Negev, southern Israel, which is also home to most of the Zionist state’s Bedouin Palestinian Arab citizens.
The persecution of Al-Araqib
There are 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, which the Israeli Government refuses to ‘recognise‘, deprives of basic services like electricity and water, and periodically destroys. One such village, al-Araqib, has been razed to the ground by the Israeli Army over 100 times. The Zionist Jewish National Fund, wants to bury it forever under a forest and the Zionist regime is trying to force the villagers to give up and move into what what amount to ghettos. After the Israeli Army bulldozes their homes, the people sleep wherever they can, in the open, under trees and under the sky. A mother of nine, Haqima Abumadegham al-Turi, told the world “we have no water, no beds, no kitchen, no bathroom. We have nothing but we are staying.”
Ecosystem or eco-system?
Israel’s Chief Scientist, Avi Hasson, says that public/private partnerships have been central to Israel’s economic success, describing the process as a “three-legged table making the eco-system – multinationals, start-ups and large, established Israeli companies. You can’t be successful in this world unless you collaborate.” What most of us would understand by the term ‘ecosystem’ is far removed from Avi Hasson’s “eco-system”. His vision appears to encompass only “multinationals, start-ups and large, established Israeli companies” – no people, no humanity. He says, “You can’t be successful in this world unless you collaborate”. Well it wouldn’t seem to Israel’s Bedouin community, or to the Palestinian people as a whole, suffering under almost a half-century of brutal foreign military Occupation, that Israel does much in the way of collaborating with them.
Israel-NZ trade conference
On 11 November, Auckland hosted an Israel-NZ trade conference: “Israel: The Start-Up Nation Summit”. In an article in the New Zealand Herald, Fiona Rotherham wrote that with “scant natural resources, a tiny local market, and a highly-developed sense of existential threat that feeds its stance in the Middle East, Israel decided in the early 1990s to develop a hi-tech sector. Unsurprisingly, much of its innovation originates from the Israeli Defence Forces”. Rotherham did not mention the massive subsidy paid by the American tax-payer to fund Israeli militarism but when she informs us that, “More than 300 multi-nationals have set up R&D centres in Israel, which spawns 1000 start-ups annually compared to 600 in Silicon Valley, the world’s leading innovation hub”, we are actually getting a glimpse of just how much of an advantage US taxpayer-assistance is to both the military and the corporate sectors in Israel.
Paul Stocks, the Deputy Chief Executive of the Labour, Science and Enterprise group at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, has extensive experience with government, including management roles at Treasury, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Education, Market Interventions, Tax Policy, Finance and Health. Fiona Rotherham tells us that he was particularly impressed by Israeli commercialism which he felt benefitted from “. . . the unique circumstances of Israel, including the compulsory military service . . .” She also noted in her article that “when flying out of Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, travellers pass profiles on the walls of Israel’s successful entrepreneurs and their technology.” She contrasted that with Auckland Airport “where shots of scenery, sheep, and birdlife adorn the walls” and asks whether we have “the collective will – the Israeli “chutzpah” – to also become New Zealand – Innovation Nation”. Back, then, to the choice between ecosystem and eco-system. Quite how the glorifying of entrepreneurs, as opposed to the celebration of nature, could renovate our economy remains to be explained. Innovation comes from the inventiveness and the talent that is released through freely-available education.
The “chutzpah” that ignores poverty
The most undeservedly pampered and rewarded economy in the world has a failing that Paul Stocks and his business associates would rather be kept under wraps because it illustrates clearly the divide between two very different types of economics. One is the economy of greed, developed exclusively for ‘stakeholder’ profit. The other is developed and managed to care for the whole of society. Earlier this year, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz asked the question “Why Is Israel the Second Poorest Nation in the OECD?” Why indeed, considering how protected and subsidised Israel has become. According to the Jerusalem Post, an earlier report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, entitled “Society at a Glance 2014”, noted that “9.3% of people in Israel reported they could not afford to buy enough food. . .The richest 10% in OECD countries earn, on average, 9.5 times that of the poorest 10%. In Israel, the richest 10% earn nearly 14 times that of the poorest 10%.” Israeli Knesset member, Zehava Galon, described the report as: “. . . a failing grade for Netanyahu and Lapid, and illustrates how the policies of the Israeli government are detached and designed to serve the tycoons and the wealthy. All the big plans of the government to reduce poverty and gaps in Israeli society have brought about only one outcome, the downgrading of tens of thousands of families below the poverty line and the crushing of the Israeli middle class.”
Gender pay gap
While the OECD average pay gap between men and women stands at 15% in favour of men, New Zealand is the most equal OECD nation with a 6% pay gap. In Israel, the pay gap is 22%. Hardly an example New Zealand would wish to follow!
Economic benefits to Israel of weaponry and population control
Fiona Rotherham’s observation that much of Israel’s hi-tech sector originates from “the Israeli Defence Forces” is an understatement. In 2013, a documentary called The Lab turned the spotlight on Israel’s arms industry. It showed how captive Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are being subjected to military experiments that not only keep them subjugated but also enrich Israeli arms dealers, entrepreneurs and former generals. While Israel is ranked as one of the world’s largest arms exporters its military enjoy massive US taxpayer contributions. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a former Israeli Defence Minister, attributes Israel’s burgeoning arms sales to the fact that “people like to buy things that have been tested.” This thriving export industry is based upon armaments and techniques of coercion that are refined and tested upon real communities and showcased to the world as such. Israel can demonstrate that it has the techniques and proven ability to control the lives of subject people, down to the finest detail. Dictators and would-be neocon dictators have fallen in love with the endless possibilities that Israel is placing before them. Do we really want New Zealand to be associated with an economy based on such ‘values’?
The United Nations Human Rights Council found that Israel may have committed war crimes during its 2014 blitz on Gaza in which nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians, over a third of them children, were slaughtered. Unicef reported that well over 1,000 children sustained permanent disabilities, and more than 1,500 children were orphaned. Big business complicity in Israeli militarism is highly profitable. For example, in 2011 Hewlett-Packard (HP), won Israel’s largest ever tender, worth an estimated $140 million to implement and manage the entire server farm (a system of connected computers) of the Israeli Ministry of Defence and Israeli Army. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has stated that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is illegal, that “International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and it is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on civilians.” Israel restricts Gaza fisherfolk access to a desperately-needed food source, frequently opening fire on, hijacking and even sinking Palestinian fishing boats. The Israeli Army opens fire on Gaza farms almost daily and frequently makes incursions to bulldoze crops.
Stolen land and economic plunder
Palestinians in the West Bank suffer continual violence and harassment from both Occupation settlers and Army. It should not be forgotten that Israel also controls all border terminals in the West Bank, causing a devastating decline in Palestinian imports and exports, as well as depriving the Palestinian people of control over their own natural resources. Israel has deliberately chosen to impose its illegal settlements in the most desirable and fertile areas of the Occupied West Bank. Its destructive military ‘exercises’ in the Jordan Valley are a brutal mockery carried out in what was once known as the fruit basket of Palestine. Israel’s annexation Wall is carefully aligned to facilitate further construction and expansion of Occupation settlements while, at the same time, depriving the Palestinian people of access to what is left of their orchards and farmland. In addition, settler fanatics regularly uproot Palestinian fruit trees and set fire to orchards and farmland. Occupation settlers are also responsible for flooding Palestinian farmland with sewage and spraying crops with toxic chemicals.
The human perspective
Beit Jala olives are the source of the finest olive oil, and that from the Bethlehem municipality’s Cremisan Valley is considered the best. Sadly, this year’s harvest will probably be their last because what Israel calls its ‘separation wall’ is about to annex the Valley. What the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, calls an “indispensable source of income” is going to be taken from the Cremisan Valley for Israel’s advantage. The economic and cultural damage of this is devastating for the people. Sheren Khalel spoke to some of them. A local farmer, Ricardo Jaweejat, described his feelings: “My great-great-great-grandfather harvested this land, and every grandfather after that until my father and I, I just can’t imagine that this is it; we will lose this land for good”.
In July, the Israeli Government approved 770 new settler units to be built across from the Valley, on land taken from the nearby Palestinian village of al-Walaja. International law and most governments acknowledge that the settlements are illegal but nothing is done to discourage Israel from stealing ever more land. The new units will enlarge Israel’s Gilo settlement and it will go on growing until it takes up all the land from there to another Israeli settlement, Har Gilo. Ilyas Jacshan, the manager of Beit Jala’s olive press co-operative, says: “It’s not a normal grove these people in Cremisan are losing; it’s some of the most sought-out oil in Palestine, and from what we hear, Israel will cut down all those trees once the wall goes up.” The loss of business for the press is heartbreaking.
Massive rewards for Israel as donor aid declines for Palestine
In September, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on the damage caused to the Palestinian economy by the Israeli Occupation noted Israel imposed “restrictions on the movement of people and goods; systematic erosion and destruction of the productive base; losses of land, water and other natural resources” as well as deliberate isolation of the Palestinian market from international markets. The report stated that “In 2015, Israel withheld Palestinian fiscal revenue for four months, donor aid declined and Israeli settlements continued to expand into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, while poverty and unemployment remained high.” Further reasons for under-development of the Palestinian economy were the Gaza blockade, expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and annexation of Palestinian land. The UN report also noted that Israeli restrictions contribute to economic strangulation. In an article by Zena Tahhan, Ikrema Rayyan, the director of a non-profit organisation which aims to generate jobs and sustain the town of Beit Doqu’s local economy through farming and food manufacturing, says, “although our products are all natural, the Israeli closures and restrictions on the Palestinian economy have brought our businesses down”. The UN report describes Palestinian trade with Israel as “asymmetric trade dependence”.
Boycott and accountability
While the Israeli Army invades Palestinian homes night after night, even in UN refugee camps, and repeatedly destroys Bedouin villages, the business community treats Israel with admiration. What sort of ‘democracy’ destroys people’s rooftop water storage tanks, demolishes homes and bulldozes crops? Israel demands respect and expects constant reward from a world community that it relies on to turn a blind eye to its selfish inhumanities. As a member of the United Nations, Israel is obliged, under Article 5 of the UN Charter, “to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.” The more success Israel has in generating business collaboration with the rest of the world, the more it hopes to project an image of blameless legitimacy.
Established in 2005, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is a growing and highly effective global movement calling for economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel until it complies with international law and stops denying Palestinian human rights. Business leaders and governments should follow its example. Not to do so would amount to complicity.