Palestinian Rights Groups Cheer Berkeley’s Decision to Divest from Private Prisons
Friends of Sabeel – North America, FOSNA Voice, July 22, 2016
To see if your city invests or has a contract with G4S, or to launch a campaign, contact Rochelle@fosna.org.
Berkeley, CA, July 19, 2016 — The City of Berkeley will divest from corporations that operate private prisons and will push Wells Fargo and other firms to follow suit, according to a resolution passed unanimously by the City Council Tuesday night.
Enlace, an alliance of low-wage worker centers, unions, and community organizations, and the Afrikan Black Coalition, representing black students in the University of California and California State University systems, brought the issue to Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission in June. The commission found that “private prisons have been linked to numerous cases of violence including sexual abuse, beatings, turning a blind eye to gang violence among inmates, denial of food and medical attention, and atrocious conditions,” and urged the council to divest from corporations including GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and G4S.
Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) encouraged the inclusion of G4S in the list of companies complicit in the unjust prison system for its role in California prisons and in Israeli prisons and interrogation facilities that incarcerate and torture Palestinian political prisoners, including children. G4S is a target of the international Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
G4S’s participation in human rights abuses has been the subject of scrutiny by city governments, most recently in Denver, where a $2.5 million municipal contract with G4S was not renewed earlier this month. The decision was made after public testimony by Palestinian human rights activists asking the board not to renew the contract with the notorious firm.
Municipal boycott and divestment campaigns are gaining momentum as part of the broader trend of institutions dropping or prohibiting contracts with G4S to end complicity in human rights abuses. Many churches and public institutions have long acknowledged BDS as a powerful nonviolent tool to stand with the oppressed. Calls for divestment gained increasing momentum after African American leaders issued a statement targeting G4S, which read, in part:
As the BDS movement grows, we offer G4S, the world’s largest private security company, as a target for further joint struggle. G4S harms thousands of Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israel and hundreds of Black and brown youth held in its privatized juvenile prisons in the US. The corporation profits from incarceration and deportation from the US and Palestine, to the UK, South Africa, and Australia. We reject notions of “security” that make any of our groups unsafe and insist no one is free until all of us are.
Rochelle Gause, national organizer for Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), a Christian ecumenical organization which seeks justice and peace in the Holy Land through nonviolence and education, encouraged campaigns in other cities and communities. “This is a straightforward process that any town can pursue with a strong coalition of concerned community members,” she said. “The great thing about a municipal boycott is that you can prevent contracts before they even start.”
“The Christian voice for Palestine is becoming amplified in joint struggle against oppression,” she added. “We stand with the oppressed against the unjust prison system, and believe that the call for BDS is a call we are all obliged to respond to at the local level.”
In 2005, 171 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. In response, a global movement against Israeli apartheid has rapidly emerged. BDS is becoming a mainstream nonviolent movement worldwide.
In May 2014, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation withdrew its $170 million stake in G4S, after an international campaign. In June 2014 the US United Methodist Church’s pension board divested all G4S shares from its $20 billion investment fund, announcing that its decision was based on G4S’s role in Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinian people. After FOSNA’s discovery of G4S contracts with various United Nations branches in Amman, Jordan, and pressure from local organizers, the local UNHCR office dropped its contract in December 2015, and the local UNICEF office followed suit in March 2016.
The company has lost millions of dollars in contracts following BDS campaigns worldwide, and G4S recently announced plans to exit the Israeli market in the next 12 to 24 months. Given G4S’s history of false promises, Palestinian rights activists have pledged to keep the pressure on G4S to ensure the company follows through and ends all contracts that support Israel’s military occupation.
Cathy Orozco, a commissioner on Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, expressed support for the city’s policy: “With this resolution, the City of Berkeley is standing up for our community members. Black and brown peoples, immigrants, Palestinians, and other oppressed peoples deserve city governments that stand up for their rights and fight against corporations that profit from their suffering.”