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The Palestine Solidarity Campaign are lobbying East Sussex County Council on Tuesday 7 December

ESCC lobbied about their investment in ‘war crimes’

In advance of the full council meeting on Tuesday 7 December, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) will be lobbied by not one, but two divestment campaigns. ‘Divest East Sussex’ have been holding monthly protests highlighting the Council’s investments in fossil fuels to support their pension scheme. Next Tuesday, the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) will also be outside County Hall to ask ESCC to divest from what they say are war crimes. PSC’s Laurie Holden tells us more about the campaign.

Pensioners who have been paying into the East Sussex Pension Fund all their lives have been shocked to find out that their money has been invested in companies that supply Israel’s war machine. These are the military forces that regularly bomb the civilian population of Gaza, targeting schools, houses, mosques, even UN buildings. How can it be that while someone is paying into a pension scheme they are at the same time also contributing to this deadly industry?

The local Palestine Solidarity Campaign and its supporters have been lobbying the Pension Fund since last Summer to divest from companies that are complicit in Israel’s breaches of international law. Someone who had been paying into this pension scheme all her life wrote to the council: “As a 72 year old resident in Robertsbridge I am appalled to discover that the East Sussex Pension Fund (of which I am a recipient) has a huge amount of money invested in companies which are known to be connected with the ongoing, unjust actions of successive Israeli Governments upon the Palestinian people’s basic human rights…It is completely unacceptable and against basic principles for my County Council to invest this way and I implore you to take action asap to divest from them.”

Since the campaign has been running, the Pension Fund’s exposure to companies complicit in Israel’s breaches of international law has decreased, but it still stands in excess of £71m. Most of these companies directly supply the Israeli military. These include Raytheon (with £1,117,000 invested) which produces the bunker buster bombs that have been used by Israel to target civilian homes in Gaza. Then there’s Lockheed Martin (£3,268,000) which provides Israel with F-16 fighter jets. £555,000 is invested in Northrop Grumman which supplies the Israeli Air Force with the Longbow missile delivery system for its Apache helicopters and with laser weapon delivery systems for its fighter jets. In addition, the fund includes 5 companies that are on the list drawn up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of companies that are involved in the illegal settlement industry.

Why Israel?

Some people might ask why we’re targeting Israel. There can’t be any country that matches Israel’s 73-year list of violations of international law. This includes the refusal to allow dispossessed Palestinian refugees to return to the land from which they, or their family members, were expelled, in violation of UN Resolution 194; the illegal military occupation and settlement of Palestinian land in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as affirmed by the UN Security Council – and by the UK government; the 14-year land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, deemed a flagrant violation of international human rights and humanitarian law by UN experts.

Nowhere else is there a situation where a subjugated people have called for boycotts against their occupiers. But Palestinians have made such a call: in 2005, 173 Palestinian organisations called for people throughout the world “to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

The link with apartheid South Africa is very real – as shown by recent pronouncements. Earlier this year the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem declared Israel to be an apartheid state. This was followed in April by a 213-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report states that the actions carried out by Israel “are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

The words ‘apartheid’ and ‘persecution’ are not used lightly. HRW explains the significance of these words as used in international law. It states: “The crime of persecution traces back to the 1945 International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. The tribunal’s charter recognizes “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds” as crimes against humanity.” HRW stated: “Crimes against humanity stand among the most odious crimes in international law.”

The Pension Fund has £4.244bn of funds under management, with more than 78,000 members presently employed by or retired from local councils, academy schools, colleges, housing associations, leisure centres and the list of employers includes the University of Brighton and the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. We hope to build a campaign that will draw on the growing concerns that members of the public have when it comes to having their money invested.

The divestment campaign has so far consisted of letters written to local councillors and to members of the Pension Committee; also more than 60 questions have been sent to the full council. The next step in the campaign is a rally outside the East Sussex Council offices at December’s Full Council meeting.

PSC will be lobbying ESCC councillors on Tuesday 7 December starting at 9.20 am outside County Hall, St Anne’s Crescent, Lewes BN7 1UE. There is more information at the local PSC website and on the Facebook event page.

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Posted 18:18 Wednesday, Dec 1, 2021 In: Campaigns

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