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Dexia Israel stops financing Israeli settlements - Martijn Lauwens

June 10, 2009 6:59 P.M. (Updated: July 30, 2009 5:29 P.M.)
The Belgian-French financial group Dexia announced it will no longer finance Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories through its Israeli branch, Dexia Israel.

The announcement was the culmination of a months-long campaign in Belgium, supported by NGO's, political parties, local authorities, trade unions and other organizations to halt the financing of settlements being constructed in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

In the announcement Dexia's management stated that financing Israeli settlements is against the bank's code of ethics and it will stop giving loans for settlement construction for this reason.

In 2001 the Dexia Group bought the Israeli bank Otzar Hashilton Hamekomi and renamed it Dexia Public Finance Israel. Just like other Dexia subsidiaries, Dexia Israel was specialized in financing municipalities and other local authorities. In the Israeli context this meant financing the building of settlements in Palestinian areas.

Not until 2008 did a few Belgian solidarity groups discover that Dexia Israel was not only financing regular Israeli municipalities but also granting loans to illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories. In a Knesset document, the director of Dexia Israel, David Kapah, confirmed that the bank granted credits to seven settlements and three regional authorities in the occupied West Bank between 2003 and 2007. The evidence launched a massive campaign in Belgium called "Israel Colonizes, Dexia Finances."

In the following months petitions were launched, MP's questioned and local actions started up. The support of local Belgian authorities including municipalities that held large investments in Dexia threw the campaign into the public sphere. As of spring 2009, the campaign included 61 Belgian organizations, and petitions carry over 4,000 signatures as well as the support of 29 local municipalities and ministries to demand a halt to settlement financing.

Dexia: 'Guilty, but we won't do it again'

For several months the Belgian government and Dexia management ignored the campaign, but increased media coverage made the tactic unsustainable.

On 13 May 2009 activists from the campaign sat at the annual shareholders meeting of Dexia Group in Brussels and voiced their concerns. Chairman of the board of Dexia and former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene confirmed the accusations of the activists, but stressed that since September 2008 there had been no additional financing of the colonies. Dehaene declared that no new loans would be granted to the settlements, and noted that outstanding credits and loans would not be extended.

"In the past," Dehaene said at the meeting, "Dexia Israel granted 5 million Euros of loans to the settlements, this was only 1% of the total budget of Dexia Israel." He added, however, that "the loans to the Jerusalem municipality are not included in this amount, as Dexia Group feels that Jerusalem is not contested territory."

The international community disagrees, however, and annexed East Jerusalem is maintained as an occupied area belonging to the West Bank. After the 1967 annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 252 stating the "[UN Security Council] Considers that all legislative measures by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status."

In 1980 Israel declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, including East Jerusalem. The same year the UN Security Council adopted resolution 476 wherein the Security Council "Reconfirms that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

Dexia's financial support to the municipality of Jerusalem therefore supported the colonization of Palestinian East Jerusalem. To these accusations Dehaene also stated that the activities of Dexia Israel no longer belong to the core-business of Dexia Group. He noted that shareholders should not be surprised if Dexia sells its Israel branch.

While the campaign sees the announcement as a victory, its spokesperson Mario Franssen, said activists would continue to voice concerns until Dexia has officially declared - and provided the proof of- a full stop of settlement funding, including the disputed loans to Jerusalem.

"We are still demanding a full and immediate stop of all connections between Dexia and the colonies," Franssen said, "Dexia is guilty of financing the occupation, and this has to end."

*** Martijn Lauwens is a Belgian activist and freelance journalist

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