Campaigners have attacked the British construction equipment company JCB after Israelis used its bulldozers to destroy the only children’s playground in the Palestinian town of Silwan, which borders Jerusalem’s old city.
The move is seen as the first step in plans to knock down the homes of over 1,000 people to make way for a theme park, in the largest mass demolition since 1967, the year Israel took control over east Jerusalem.
The anti-poverty charity War on Want called on JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford to investigate the use of JCB machines in human rights violations and halt sales of equipment to Israel.
War on Want contrasts the use of JCB machines to clear the playground with Bamford’s claim to "want a better future for our children, where hard work and dedication are given their just reward", and his company’s funding of charities supporting vulnerable children.
Jawad Siyam, director of the Madaa Children’s Creative Center in Silwan, which owned the playground and demolished buildings, said: "This was the only place in the area to meet, to sit together. It was the only place for children in Silwan. The children in the neighbourhood were very upset to see their treasured place destroyed. "
In a letter to Bamford, War on Want demands that JCB seeks undertakings from Israeli customers that its bulldozers will not be used in further house demolitions, which have been ruled illegal under international law.
Greg Muttitt, campaigns and policy director at War on Want, said: "It is unacceptable that a British company like JCB should profit from human rights violations. Unless the firm takes immediate action to scrutinise Israel’s use of its equipment, JCB will appear complicit in the attacks on children and communities."
The planned home demolitions are prohibited by the UN’s fourth Geneva convention. Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, has called Israel’s actions in east Jerusalem and surrounding areas such as Silwan as a "devastating policy designed to achieve the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians".
British foreign minister Alistair Burt has condemned the planned demolitions in Silwan as "another provocative and deeply counter-productive step" by the Israeli authorities but has done nothing to back up the criticism. In fact, Britain continues to give Israel preferential treatment in trade and diplomatic relations. War on Want says this sends a message to the Israeli government that it can go on demolishing Palestinian homes without consequence.
The latest Electoral Commission figures show Anthony Bamford donating £200,000 among the Conservative party’s big financial supporters. In addition, JCB sponsors the JCB Academy in Rocester, Staffordshire.
War on Want is also urging people in the UK to call on their MPs to demand the Foreign Office applies pressure for Israel to halt demolitions.