By David Cronin
On a recent visit to Ramallah, I heard a fascinating tale about two entrepreneurial brothers and how they are trying to evade prosecution for aiding Israeli apartheid.
Doron Livnat is the director of Riwal, a Dutch company that supplied cranes used in building the 650-kilometre wall that snakes through the West Bank. In October last year, Riwal’s headquarters in Dordrect, The Netherlands, were raided by the country’s national crime squad, investigating a complaint into the firm’s activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The probe has led to a hasty corporate makeover, with Riwal changing the name of its Israeli subsidiary to Rom. Rik Maaskant, a spokesman for Riwal, told me there is “no relationship whatsoever” between the two firms now. Yet there are several coincidences indicating that his assurance should be treated skeptically:
1. Under a 2003 international crimes law, any Dutch citizen can be prosecuted for violating human rights anywhere in the world. Doron Livnat has dual Dutch and Israeli nationality. Should we be surprised, then, that his brother Adi, who does not have Dutch citizenship, has been placed in charge of Rom?
2. Both firms continue to have an almost identical logo: it is oval-shaped with the name of the firm marked in yellow against a dark blue background. The only discernible difference between the logos of each firm is that the name Riwal is featured in one and Rom in the other.
3. Riwal has a reputation for being economical with the truth. It even supplied false information to a government minister in the past.
The involvement of Riwal in the wall’s construction first came to light in 2006 when a Dutch TV documentary was broadcast, showing that its cranes were being used in Hizma, a village on the wall’s route. After Bert Koenders, a member of parliament with the Dutch Labor party, protested at Riwal’s activities, the then foreign minister Ben Bot said he did not have “any indication” that the Dordrecht-based company was assisting the project. Bot stated that the cranes in question were owned by a firm called Lima. It soon transpired, however, that Bot had been misled by Riwal’s management. Although he described Lima as Israeli, it was in fact Dutch-owned and had been authorised to use the brand name Riwal.
By all accounts, Bot was furious at being deceived. Despite making his displeasure known in Dordrecht, Riwal cranes remained a visible fixture at various spots along the wall. In the summer of 2007, for example, Riwal-branded machinery was found next to the village of Al-Khader, near Bethlehem.
The case against Riwal was brought by Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, which had gathered photographic evidence of how cranes and other equipment supplied by the company were used in the construction of the wall. According to Al Haq, the building of the wall may have involved the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Both offenses are covered by the Dutch international crimes act.
“The building of the wall potentially entails committing the crime of apartheid,” said Salma Karmy, a representative of Al Haq. “It results in the commission of inhuman acts in the context of a regime aimed at the domination of one racial group over another. We’re saying that the Dutch company Riwal was an accessory to this and other crimes. The crimes were primarily committed by the Israeli government but Riwal helped knowingly.”
It will be interesting to see how the case progresses, not least because there could be repercussions for the overall Dutch relationship with Israel. While the judicial system in the Netherlands is nominally impervious to political meddling, the relatively new Dutch government would doubtlessly prefer that the investigation is dropped. Uri Rosenthal, the foreign minister, is regarded by Israel as one of its most reliable supporters in Europe. At the beginning of March, he upbraided the United Nations Human Rights Council for approving too many resolutions critical of Israel.
Doron Livnat, meanwhile, is a prominent figure in two of the key groups belonging to the pro-Israel lobby in the Netherlands. He is a board member for the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) and president of a team advising Collective Action Israel (known by its Dutch acronym CIA).
Based in The Hague, CIDI has consistently campaigned in favour of the apartheid wall, ignoring how it was declared illegal by the International Criminal Court in 2004. An article on the CIDI website claims that the wall has “saved countless lives from terrorist attacks”. Amsterdam-based CIA collects funds for the training of Israeli soldiers, particularly on the use of advanced technology. In February, it hosted a tour of the Netherlands for Tsahal, a band of musicians serving in the Israeli army.
Riwal, as it happens, enjoys name recognition well beyond the construction industry. Thanks to a sponsorship deal, its logo is emblazoned on jerseys worn by FC Dordrecht, a soccer team playing in the Dutch First Division. Time will tell if the Livnats’ support for Israeli apartheid proves to be an own-goal.
David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press (www.plutobooks.com)