Only several weeks before the 2012 Olympic games are set to take place in London, the activity of the Israeli subsidiary of the British-based global security giant G4S - the main body charged with securing the events - is coming under increasing scrutiny.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a protest outside the Annual General Meeting of G4S shareholders at the London Stock Exchange on Thursday and on Friday morning. The company, supplier of security services to settlements and Israeli military installations in the West Bank, was highlighted in a front-page feature in The Independent newspaper.
The BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement has been targeting G4S for a while now, calling attention to the fact that its Israeli subsidiary, Hashmira, the largest security company in Israel, is involved in a large number of projects across the Green Line.
Hashmira provides security systems for military and police installations in the West Bank, as well as security services and guards for businesses and private homes in a number of settlements. G4S responded by saying that it has examined its West Bank operations with the help of legal experts and found that they do not violate international law.
So far, the BDS movement's activity has not caused any financial damage to the company that had won large contracts to supply services for the Olympic Games, the British Foreign Office and the British embassy and employees in Afghanistan. Now, with the mainstream media beginning to pay attention and after a prominent Labour peer, Lord Hollick, set to ask the government in Parliament next week whether it has examined G4S' record in the West Bank before awarding it contracts - this may change.
Over the last few months, Israel's foreign ministry has voiced concern that the BDS campaign - which until recently did not seem to be attracting support outside relatively small circles of activists - is now gaining traction and respect. Among recent BDS successes are the Danish and South African governments' decision to label goods originating in the West Bank and the decision of the Co-Op supermarket chain in Britain to cancel contracts with Israeli agricultural export companies, such as Agrexco, which also sell produce from the settlements.
The Israeli government regards any boycott of the settlements as a boycott of Israel itself.
Israeli diplomats are concerned that the Danish decision may herald further measures by the European Union to enforce previous decisions to label all goods originating in the West Bank settlements.
In 2009, the British government under Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought to monitor Israeli exports in order to ensure that settlement products would not benefit from the preferential duty rates that Israeli exports enjoy under its agreement with the EU. These efforts were not followed up and so far the current British government had taken new steps, despite its periodic condemnations of Israel's settlement construction - including one on Friday, issues by Foreign Secretary William Hague.
In response to the Israeli government decision to build 850 new homes in the West Bank, Hague said that "the British Government, and our EU partners, have made it consistently clear that settlement construction is illegal under international law, (is) an obstacle to peace and should stop immediately."
In response, the Israeli Embassy in London said: "It is astonishing to learn that assisting in stopping suicide bombers and protecting people in coffee shops or children on buses is a stain on the record of a commercial company. We can only wonder what ideology lies behind the demonstrators' revulsion at the fact that so many Israeli lives have been saved." The response added that "maybe the experience in stopping Palestinian terrorists is what makes this company the most suitable for providing security at the Olympics."
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