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Why the UofT Should Divest from Violations of International Law

This article is a result of the collective efforts of Students Against Israeli Apartheid at the University of Toronto and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union Ad Hoc Committee on BDS.

At the 2012 University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Annual General Meeting, members voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion to call on the UofT to divest from companies benefitting from violations of international law and human rights abuses in occupied Palestine.

The motion states:

Be it resolved that the Graduate Students Union endorse Palestinian civil society’s 2005 call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions by calling on the University of Toronto to refrain from investing in all companies complicit in violations of international law. This includes any company that: profits from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, directly benefits from the construction of the Wall and Israeli settlements, is economically active in settlements, and profits from the collective punishment of Palestinians. This would include the companies BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Hewlett Packard.

This motion came to the UTGSU six years after the call for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) came from Palestinian civil society. The request in that call was for the international community to engage with BDS tactics until Israel complies with International Law and universal principles of Human Rights. More than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Diaspora signed on to the initial call, which took its inspiration from the struggle of South Africans and the role the international community played in boycotting and divesting from South African apartheid throughout the 1970s and 80s.

All people and organizations—including the University of Toronto—are bound by the principles of international law. This article demonstrates the ways in which Northrop Grumman, Hewlett Packard and Lockheed Martin, all companies that are part of UofT’s investments, are complicit in violations of international law.

Israel’s Human Rights Abuses and Violations of International Law

Israeli Settlements At the end of 2012, Jewish Israeli colonists lived in 121 Israeli-government officially recognized colonies in the West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. As of July 2012, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry, 350,150 Jewish settlers live in officially recognized settlements in the West Bank, 300,000 in East Jerusalem, and 20,000 in the Golan Heights. The settlements, in combination with the dozens of Israeli-only bypass roads that link them, as well as the military zones that surround them, have effectively annexed over 40 percent of West Bank land. Many settlements are built on prime agricultural land confiscated from Palestinians, or on land that sits above key water resources such as the Western Aquifer basin. They have also severely and disproportionately strained those resources: Israeli settlers consume 350 litres of water per person a day, while Palestinians consume just 76 litres per day. The World Health Organization defines 100 litres per person as the minimum amount necessary for basic human health. Israel uses 83 percent of Palestinian water in the West Bank, leaving only 17 percent for Palestinians, who make up the majority of the occupied territory.

These colonies clearly violate two articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention; namely: Article 49 which states: “…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in territory it occupies” and

Article 147 which defines acts that are considered to be “grave breaches” of international law. These include the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Additionally, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 446, 452, 465, and 471 all condemn Israel’s settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), including East Jerusalem. They confirm that the settlements have no legal validity and constitute a serious impediment to achieving a just and lasting peace. They also affirm that settlement construction is indeed a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and they call upon Israel, as the Occupying Power, to comply with the Convention by refraining from changing the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territories by transferring parts of its population into the Territories.

Home Demolitions and Other Collective Punishment According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, the Israeli government has destroyed 27,000 Palestinian homes and other structures (livestock pens and fences, crucial for livelihood) have been demolished in the Occupied Territories including East Jerusalem. Vast areas of cultivated land, hundreds of factories and other commercial properties, roads and public buildings have also been destroyed.

In addition to the homes Israel has destroyed, thousands of Palestinian homes have been ruined or significantly damaged by Israeli bombing or shelling. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that during Israel’s Operation ‘Cast Lead’ assault on Gaza from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. “3,540 homes were destroyed in the course of hostilities, 2,870 homes were severely damaged and 52,900 homes sustained minor damage. Some 2,618 homes destroyed or damaged beyond repair during ‘Cast Lead’ await rebuilding, primarily due to the blockade and restrictions on the entry of construction materials through the Kerem Shalom crossing.”

Israel’s policies of home demolitions and other collective punishment again violate articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention; namely: Article 33, which stipulates: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited…Reprisals against [the] protected and their property are prohibited.

Israel’s Separation Wall, Checkpoints and Other Movement Restrictions The Separation Wall is a complex aggregation of fences, concrete, barbed wire, sensors, electronic devices, roads and towers extending over 720 kilometres long (five times the length of the Berlin Wall), 8 meters high and 60 meters wide. The Wall isolates dozens of Palestinian towns and villages from their farmland, encircles some of them completely with an entrance supervised by the Israeli military, and it severely hinders the movement of Palestinian civilians making education, medical treatment, trade and daily life very difficult, and often impossible. It annexes sixty per cent of the West Bank, sixty per cent of its water resources, and leaves the forty per cent of the remaining land dissected and broken into cantons.

Checkpoints and other obstacles to free movement restrict many of the main routes in the occupied West Bank, making travel to school, work, places of trade, or medical care extremely difficult, time-consuming, humiliating, and dangerous for Palestinians.

In June 2010, there were 505 closure obstacles throughout the West Bank. The obstacles include earth mounds, road gates, checkpoints, terminals, road barriers, roadblocks, partial checkpoints, trenches, and “flying” (surprise) checkpoints. The 65 permanent checkpoints “form the most severe restriction on movement of Palestinians, who are subjected to checks that often cause prolonged delays. At some checkpoints, soldiers bar all Palestinians from crossing except for those who have special permits.”

The barriers have severely damaged the Palestinian economy, especially farming, tourism, and access to jobs. They also greatly impede Palestinians’ ability to obtain proper medical treatment in several ways. For instance, Palestinians, including pregnant women, must get permits (which are valid only for a few days) to get to hospitals in East Jerusalem. In emergencies, this is often impossible. The Palestinian Red Cross recorded 440 delays and denials of ambulances in 2009 alone.

The 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the construction of the Wall in the OPT confirmed that the Wall and its associated regime is contrary to international law. The ICJ ruled that Israel should immediately terminate its construction of the Wall, dismantle those parts that have already been built, and make reparations for all damages caused by its construction.

The ICJ specifically ruled that:

[a]ll States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. The Court further finds that it is for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, in the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination is brought to an end. In addition, all State parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are under an obligation, while respecting the Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.

Moreover, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Israel violates basic human rights by impeding liberty of movement and the inherent right to work, education, and adequate standard of living.

Wanton Killing, Detention and Inhumane Treatment of Civilians Since September 29, 2000, at least 6,862 Palestinians have been killed due to Israeli-government violence. Although some Palestinians have died during armed confrontation, many of the killings by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were unlawful, and 1,523 victims have been children. Meanwhile, 54,761 Palestinians have been injured since 29 September 2000.

Currently 5023 prisoners are held in Israeli jails. According to the Adameer prisoner support organization, Israel has detained 800,000 Palestinians since 1967 representing twenty percent of the Occupied Territories and forty per cent of the total male population.

Palestinian prisoners are routinely ill-treated. Palestinians are housed in four interrogation centers, and three detention centers located in Israel proper, a violation of international law which stipulates that prisoners should be held in close connection. Palestinian prisoners can be interrogated for ninety days and can be denied visits from a lawyer for sixty days. Israeli treatment of prisoners includes physical and psychological torture including isolation and solitary confinement, tying prisoners in stress positions, sleep and sensory deprivation, and making threats against the lives of family members. Since September 29, 2000, 73 Palestinian detainees have died in custody due to torture. Moreover, in the same period, approximately 8,000 children have been detained. Other breaches of international law consist of the use of Palestinians as “human shields” during IDF military operations.

The Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip which took place between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009 was also the scene of wanton killing and other inhumane treatment of civilians. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) fact-finding mission to Gaza issued a report (which has come to be known as the “Goldstone Report”) on 15 September 2009 concluding that the IDF had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. While the report condemned violations by both sides, it differentiated between the moral and legal severity of the violations of the Israeli forces compared to that of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.

The report maintained that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians and disputed Israel’s claim that the Gaza war had been conducted as a response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, stating that the war was targeted against the “people of Gaza as a whole”. It further stated that the assault on Gaza was designed to “humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” The report noted direct attacks on civilians, including some in which the IDF targeted civilians waving white flags. The report also concluded that Israel had committed a war crime for the “wanton” destruction of food production and water and sewage facilities.

The report of the United Nations fact-finding investigation surrounding the events in Gaza also concluded that the blockade of Gaza since 2007 has constituted a violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power. The naval and land blockade Israel imposes on Gaza has been condemned by United Nations envoy Desmond Tutu, United Nations Human Rights Council Head Navi Pillay, the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as other human rights experts. The torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of civilians detained are so severe as to be considered “grave breaches” of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are thus legally pursuable as war crimes. Article 14 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, for example, states: “Grave breaches…against persons or property protected by the present Convention [are]: willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment…unlawful deportation or transfer of unlawful confinement of a protected person.

How the UofT is Invested in these Violations

The University of Toronto currently invests in three of the four companies listed in the UTGSU divestment motion. They are: Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Hewlett Packard.

Northrop Grumman is one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world, employing 120,000 people in 25 countries. The net sales of this US corporation, based out of Los Angeles, California, were $24.6 billion in the 2013 fiscal year.

Northrop Grumman provides technology used by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians, including technology that was used in Israel’s 2008/09 “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip, where, as discussed above, international agencies have concluded war crimes and possible crimes against humanity were carried out.

Northrop Grumman produces the fuselage, wings, tail, engine cowlings, canopies and avionics containers, as well as the optional Longbow mast-mounted 360o radar for the Apache AH64D Longbow Helicopter. Amnesty International has described the Apache AH64 Helicopters as a piece of “key equipment used by the IDF [Israeli military] in the Gaza bombing campaign.”

Northrop Grumman also produces the Longbow Hellfire 2 missiles, in a joint venture with Lockheed Martin. The wide use of Hellfire 2 missiles by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead has been clearly documented.

Northrop Grumman is also the sole provider of radars for the F-16 combat aircraft. The Israeli Air Forces (IAF) has the largest fleet of F-16’s outside of the US. According to Amnesty International, Israel’s F-16 combat aircraft played a central role in the killing of Palestinian civilians in Operation Cast Lead and the wholesale destruction of Palestinian civilian and economic infrastructure. However, this is not the first time F-16s have been implicated in Israeli violations of international law in the OPT. For instance, on 20 May 2007, an Israeli F-16 jet plane fired a missile towards a family gathered in Gaza City, killing eight people—none of them combatants.

Hewlett Packard (HP) is among the world’s largest information technology (IT) companies, with revenues amounting to over $112 billion for the 2013 fiscal year. Commonly known for its personal computing devices, printers, and digital cameras, HP is involved in a wide range of services including the design, implementation, and maintenance of IT infrastructure. HP operates in more than 170 countries, both under the HP label and through its various subsidiaries.

HP and its subsidiaries are involved in several aspects of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. HP’s most egregious practices include: providing the technology for the IDF checkpoint system, outsourcing IT systems to Israel’s Settlements; managing the Israeli Navy’s IT infrastructure, which enables them to continue the blockade of Gaza, and supplying the IDF with personal computers, servers, and virtualization systems.

Lockheed Martin currently stands as the world’s number one military contractor and the largest arms exporter, receiving 84 percent of its revenue from the US government and the Pentagon. For both the US and other governments, Lockheed Martin has produced combat ships, fighter jets, missiles, nuclear weapons and military electronics.

Lockheed Martin is the largest overseas supplier for the Israeli armaments industry. One of its contracts with Israel includes manufacturing F-16 fighter aircrafts for the Israeli Defense Forces, estimated $1.8 billion in value. This is an ongoing contract with the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Defense Industries, and is financed in part through U.S military aid to Israel.

Prior to the recent assault on Gaza and the boarding of aid ships en route to Gaza, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had already condemned the IDF’s use of American built military weapons, stating that hundreds of Palestinian civilians had been killed or injured in Israeli attacks, citing tanks deployed in refugee camps and explosives dropped on heavily populated areas. Following Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09, the use of F-16 fighter jets and Hellfire missiles was well documented as contributing to the more than 1,000 confirmed Palestinian civilian deaths.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have labeled such actions violations of human rights and insisted that they constitute war crimes, according to international law.

In March 2010, amid criticisms of Israel’s continued housing construction in the occupied territories, the United States and Lockheed Martin signed a new agreement to provide Israel with several new Super Hercules tactical transport aircrafts. In a $2.7 billion deal, Israel has recently purchased 20 new F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin for delivery between 2015 and 2017.

Concluding Remarks

The Nuremberg Principles I and II emphasize that individuals and organizations are responsible for complying with the principles of international law. Furthermore, Principle VII states that “complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity. . . is a crime under international law.”

Since the University of Toronto has a responsibility to comply with the principles of international law, it has a legal obligation not to invest in companies or organizations that may be complicit in the commission of these crimes. Indeed, the current investments held in the three companies listed here strongly suggest that UofT is in violation of the Nuremberg Principles, thus rendering it potentially complicit in crimes under international law.

How to Get Involved

If you would like to get involved the campaign to call for the University of Toronto to divest, or are interested to learn more, please contact Susanne Waldorf, Civics and Environment Commissioner at the UofT Graduate Students’ Union at

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