19 February 2004 Edition

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The wall that CRH built

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

It is the business of a cement company to build walls. That we know. But what company would want to be involved in the building of a wall which has been dubbed the 'Apartheid Wall', by not only human rights organisations, but leaders of virtually every country in the world?

The answer is Irish company Cement Roadstone Holdings.

You might have imagined that CRH would be keeping a low profile these last few years, after an unfavourable stint in the news circa the Ansbacher affair.

Pretty much at the centre of the whole debacle, the company's chairman, Des Traynor, allegedly ran the entire tax-free scandal through CRH headquarters. While several board members eventually faced private tax liabilities, the company itself escaped any reprimand.

CRH hadn't been making the news too much lately, until now that is. Because CRH, is now directly involved in the construction of the Israeli Wall around the West Bank, a violation of human rights that has caused outrage across the world.

The company is connected to the wall through its 50% ownership of Israeli company Mashav, which is the owner of Nesher cement — the business providing most of the cement for the wall.

Another brick in the wall

The Israeli wall, when completed, will run for 150 kilometres along the West Bank and will consist of concrete for the most part, joined by fences, wire and trenches. It will stand 10 metres high and has already swallowed 8,900 acres of Palestinian land. When finished, the project will have cost $1.4 billion.

Israel claims that the barrier is being built for security reasons. The wall will separate Palestinians from their families, their land, water supplies, medical care, schools and most other things necessary for everyday life. In building it, the Israeli government is violating articles 53 and 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, John Dugard, believes that the aim of the Israeli government is to incorporate 200,000 of the 400,000 Israeli settlers in Palestine, on their side of the wall.

In a report commissioned by the UN, Dugard concluded

"The evidence strongly suggests that Israel is determined to create facts on the ground amounting to de facto annexation. Annexation of this kind, known as conquest in international law, is prohibited by the Charter of the United Nations and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He adds: "The construction of the wall within the West Bank and the continued expansion of settlements, raise serious doubts about the good faith of Israel's justifications in the name of security."

The report, based on a visit by the South African expert to the region last June, is due to be formally presented to the 2004 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in March. The Israeli Government does not recognizs the UN expert's mandate and has refused to cooperate with Dugard.

Opposition noise

Condemnation of the wall has gotten louder in the last few months. South African President Thabo Mbeki said in a message read to an audience marking the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people: "It has nothing to do with security or protection. It should be identified for what it is, an apartheid wall and it should be dismantled like apartheid had to be."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has called it a racist structure meant to prevent a future Palestinian state. He also said that Palestine is still committed to a two-state solution, but that if Israel chooses to impose a unilateral territorial settlement, the Palestinians could demand a "one-state" solution — an Arab-majority state on both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"This wall will not bring peace or security for the Israelis," he said recently in the shadow of the concrete barrier, complete with watchtowers.

"If the Israeli side wants to build peace, they will find the Palestinian side ready to build peace as well, on the basis of two countries — a country for the Israelis and a country for the Palestinians."

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has warned that the wall will mean the end of the US backed 'Road Map', which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State next to Israel by 2005.

"Time is running out for a two-state solution," Arafat is quoted as saying from his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, where Israeli forces have penned him in over the past two years.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported on 28 November that building the barrier is causing serious harm to Palestinians.

Even the US has voiced opposition to the barrier, although it has refused to support any of the UN's resolutions on the matter, calling them 'one-sided'.

The Dublin Government has co-sponsored a UN resolution and said that it opposes the wall.

It seems that the only people who think that the wall is a good idea are the Israelis and those who run CRH.

'Enriching local communities'

When you click onto CRH's website, little arrows direct you to 'The CRH way'. Several pointers tell you "CRH companies conduct business with integrity as socially and environmentally responsible neighbours", "Our companies contribute to the enrichment of the local communities in which they operate" and "There is a clear code of conduct for the Board and all its managers".

Surprised? I was. Why is a company, which claims to contribute to the enrichment of local communities in which they operate, building a wall that is dividing a community in half and breaking every set-down law for human rights on the planet?

Intrigued, I decided to ring up CRH, to ask them if they had any ethical forethought to their investments. Their press officer confirmed that they owned half of Mashav, which linked them to Nesher, but on the question of the wall the company had "absolutely no comment, whatsoever".

Does CRH realise that it is putting profit over the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians?

CRH either doesn't want to, or perhaps can't, defend its investment in the Israeli wall. By being associated with it, it is bringing shame on the people of Ireland, who for the most part, have no idea of the company's international interests.

Its actions have managed to create a complete cross-party consensus in the Seanad, which debated the issue last week and jointly called for CRH to rethink its investment.

The call however, will probably fall on deaf ears. It seems that CRH is happy to put profit above people.


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