PSC wins court victory to divest pension funds from Israel’s military occupation!

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Boycott Israel banner on a demonstration in London

‘TODAY is a great victory from which we will draw strength for the battles ahead,’ chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign Kamel Hawwash said yesterday, responding to a landmark Supreme Court ruling against the UK government.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) won a landmark legal victory against the British government on Wednesday, as the Supreme Court ruled local pension schemes could divest from companies complicit in Israel’s military occupation.
Kamel Hawwash said: ‘This historic victory represents a major win not just for the campaign for Palestinian rights, but for the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and justice.’
‘At a time when Israel is continuing to ramp up its oppression of the Palestinian people and its illegal acts … the government should be acting to uphold international law and defend human rights, not attacking peaceful campaigns which seek to do precisely that,’ he added.
The outcome is seen by pro-Palestinian activists as a major boost in efforts to counter the British government’s apparent attempts to criminalise support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In court, the PSC was challenging 2016 UK government guidance prohibiting public pension funds from pursuing policies deemed contrary to British foreign or defence policy. That meant funds were unable to divest from or boycott companies that are complicit in Israel’s occupation and illegal settlement development in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights, or the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.
BDS is a highly sensitive topic for the Israeli government, which has close ties to its British Conservative counterpart.
The Supreme Court decision additionally grants the right of opting out from investments in the UK’s defence industry.
Since 2017, the PSC has been taking on the government in court with the support of the Quakers, the Campaign Against Arms Trade, and War on Want.
It won in the High Court and then lost in the Court of Appeal – this week winning a final verdict at the Supreme Court. The PSC challenged that the 2016 guidance imposed a ban on ‘ethical pensions divestment’, which is unlawful.
The Supreme Court verdict grants Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) funds the right to decide how and where money will be invested including divesting from companies complicit in Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
The pension scheme is one of the largest in the UK. In March 2019, it served 5.9 million public-sector employees in England and Wales, and had a huge market value of funds, estimated at £287.2bn.
The scheme, in which employees pay monthly up to their retirement, is administered across 99 regional pension funds in the country.
PSC’s solicitor, Jamie Potter, said: ‘LGPS members now have the freedom to pursue their own principles in respect of the role of the arms trade and foreign countries in violation of human rights around the world, when determining how their pension monies are invested.’
In December, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson planned to introduce a new piece of legislation making it illegal for UK public bodies to work with those involved in the BDS campaign.
Johnson has long been a fierce opponent of BDS, telling the BBC in 2015 that he could ‘not think of anything more foolish’ than boycotting Israel.
The BDS movement responds to Palestinian calls to divest and boycott Israel in an attempt to pressure the state to end its 53-year military occupation and safeguard the rights of Palestinians.
The PSC said in a statement: ‘For some years, Israel and its allies have been engaged in a battle to delegitimise activism for Palestinian rights … The UK government’s attempts to introduce these regulations must be understood within that context.’
Since 2017, PSC has been fighting the UK Government in the courts, protecting the right to undertake BDS campaigns in the UK.
The campaign said: ‘With support via submissions from the Quakers, Campaign Against Arms Trade and War on Want and with a huge body of small donations from thousands of members and supporters to fund the legal challenge, we have managed to defeat regulations that would have stopped Local Government Pension Schemes from divesting from companies complicit in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, and additionally from divesting from the UK defence industry.
‘The Supreme Court has ruled in our favour and the regulations the government introduced in 2016 are now finally and definitively declared illegal and thrown out.
‘The UK government’s attempts to introduce these regulations must be understood within that context. The government announced in the Queen’s Speech its intention to bring in further anti-BDS legislation. Our victory in the Supreme Court today should act as a shot across their bows.’
PSC said it was ‘building a campaign alongside a broad range of allies who are concerned about attempts to bring in laws that seek to prohibit public bodies from making their own decisions about not investing in companies that are complicit in violations of international law – whether in relation to Palestine or elsewhere.’
For years, Israel and its allies have been working to delegitimise activism for Palestinian rights and criminalise action in support of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

  • Palestinian-British filmmaker Farah Nabulsi announced on Thursday that her film, The Present, has qualified for the Oscars after winning the Jury Award for Best Live Action Short at the 44th Cleveland International Film Festival.

The film is about Yusef who on his wedding anniversary sets out in the West Bank with his young daughter to buy his wife a gift. Between soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, the search for a present becomes an ordeal.
‘We won! The Present (my film about human dignity & freedom of movement in Palestine) just qualified for the Oscars after winning the Jury Award for Best Live Action Short at the 44th Cleveland International Film Festival (online this year due to Covid-19). Thrilled,’ Nabulsi tweeted.
In addition to being a filmmaker, Nabulsi, born and raised in London of Palestinian parents, is also a human rights advocate. She is the founder of a not-for-profit media production company, Native Liberty Productions, and the founder of www.oceansofinjustice.com.

  • Israeli soldiers shot and detained a Palestinian near the separation barrier in the north of the West Bank in addition to detaining ten others in raids at their homes, said the Palestinian Prisoner Society (PPS) on Thursday.

It said the soldiers shot and injured Adnan Maali from the northern West Bank city of Jenin and detained him while near the separation barrier in Tulkarm.
Another person was detained from Bartaa, near Jenin.
Soldiers also detained three other young Palestinians ranging in age between 18 and 21 years from Shweikeh neighbourhood in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarm, and later released the 18-year-old.
In the south of the West Bank, soldiers detained a 34-year-old resident of Bethlehem.
Two others were detained, said the PPS, one in Ramallah and the second in Jericho.
Israeli forces also detained late on Wednesday night three young Palestinians from the Old City of Jerusalem after severely beating them.

  • The Israeli army demolished a Palestinian car wash near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem on Thursday morning while it was still under construction, according to a local official.

Iyad Abu Sarra, from al-Khader municipality, said the army demolished the car wash a local resident was building south of the town under the pretext of construction without permit.
The army and settlers have been targeting the area where the car wash was being built, passing out demolition or stop work orders against homes and structures.

  • Palestine confirmed on Wednesday evening six new coronavirus cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the occupied territories to 507.

Speaking in the daily evening briefing in Ramallah, Health Minister Mai al-Kaileh announced that a Palestinian tested positive for Covid-19 after coming in contact with his brother, who works as a nurse, in al-Ubeidiya town, east of Bethlehem city.
As for the other five cases, she identified two of them as residents of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shufat, another as a resident of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Issawiya, another as a resident of Beit Safafa and another as a resident of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Tur.
Almost 64 per cent of cases reside in Jerusalem governorate.
Meanwhile, Turkey is shipping 14 tonnes of aid to the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel has purchased a similar batch of medical supplies
Turkey is sending medical aid to Palestine in the fight against coronavirus, which will include masks, hazmat suits, testing kits and other material, a senior Turkish official said on Thursday.
Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said the medical equipment would be shipped on Thursday evening to be distributed to the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.
‘Turkey is a foul-weather friend. Our principle: Let not humanity die so humans won’t die,’ Kalin said in a tweet.
A 14-tonne shipment, containing 40,000 testing kits, 100,000 N95 masks, 40,000 hazmat suits, 100,000 gloves, 20,000 protective overalls, 2,000kg of disinfectant and four PCR testing devices will be equally divided between Gaza and the West Bank’s Ramallah, which are ruled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) respectively.
Turkey will also send a medical cargo containing similar types of equipment to Israel on Friday, which were purchased by two local hospitals, two Turkish officials told Middle East Eye.
One official said it took more than 20 days to supply the goods destined for Israel because of the bureaucratic process.