Dutch won't charge company in Israeli barrier case

Dutch prosecutors decline to prosecute company for renting equipment used on Irsaeli barrier

Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- In a blow to pro-Palestinian activists, Dutch authorities said Tuesday they will not prosecute a company on war crimes charges for renting out equipment to construct Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

Dutch human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who filed in 2010 on behalf of the Palestinian group al-Haq, said she was disappointed by the decision. Still, she said the three-year investigation should serve as a warning to companies involved in Israeli construction work in occupied territories.

Zegveld was trying to get the Dutch to prosecute Lima Holding B.V., known in the Netherlands as Riwal, for complicity in war crimes for providing cranes and aerial platforms to builders. The move was the latest in a series of actions aimed at pressuring companies not to get involved in Israel's construction of the barrier and settlements in occupied territories.

Pension funds in Norway and Sweden have divested themselves of holdings in some firms involved in such building work. Last year Norway's government pension fund said it had gotten rid of roughly $1.3 million in stock in the Israeli construction company Shikun & Binui Ltd. because of its involvement in building settlements.

European activists have stepped up pressure on companies by exposing their West Bank ties and picketing stores that sell goods produced in Israeli settlements. Musicians including Elvis Costello and the Pixies also have cancelled concerts in Israel.

British physicist Stephen Hawking last week dropped plans to attend a major international conference in Israel in June, citing his belief that he should respect a Palestinian call to boycott contacts with Israeli academics

Israel and Jewish groups have begun to push back, accusing the boycott advocates of trying to delegitimize the Jewish state.

The National Prosecutions Office said in a statement that investigations revealed Lima rented cranes and aerial platforms for construction work in the occupied territories, but said further complex investigations would be necessary to establish whether that amounted to complicity in war crimes. Prosecutors decided against pursuing such an investigation after Lima took "far-reaching steps to halt its activities in Israel and the occupied territories."

The general director of al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, said he was disappointed by the decision.

"The illegal construction by Riwal of the Wall and Ariel West settlement contributed to the fragmentation of Palestinian communities and led to the loss of privately-owned agricultural lands and olive groves upon which local Palestinians depend for income," he said. "Today's decision provides nothing in the way of restitution for these victims."

No one was available for comment at Riwal's Dutch offices.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said the Dutch decision not to prosecute Lima was not surprising, saying that Israel devotes great effort to ensure its actions comply with international law.

"There is nothing illegal in Israel's behavior," he said.

Israel began building the barrier in 2002 in response to a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinian attackers who entered the country from the West Bank. It says the barrier is a security measure and roughly two-thirds of the 700 kilometer (450-mile) structure has been built.

But Palestinians say the barrier has given Israel a pretext to seize their land, since the sprawling structure frequently juts into the West Bank. When complete, the barrier is expected to place nearly 10 percent of the West Bank on the Israeli side, according to the United Nations.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state.

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Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this story.

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