Land Grabs and Lawsuits

Accused of war crimes for their involvement with Israeli settlement expansion, two Quebec-registered companies are being sued in Canada by the occupied West Bank Palestinian village of Bi'lin.

Toronto lawyer Mark Arnold filed a claim in Quebec Superior Court on behalf of the village against Green Park and Green Mount International three weeks ago. The case is part of a combined Palestinian, Canadian and Israeli effort to halt expansion of the Modi'in Illit settlement.

The sister construction companies are being charged with violating both Canadian and international law, while also acting as agents of the Israeli state due to their construction of residences in Mattityahu East, a hilltop adjacent Modi'in Illit's main settlement block. Calling the case unprecedented, Arnold cites the Fourth Geneva Convention and Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

"They are Canadian companies and subject to Canadian and international law," he says, contending Green Park International and Green Mount International are aiding the transfer of settlers to an occupied territory, resulting in a war crime and violating both these acts and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Although officially based in Montreal, there is little information about the two companies, which also have offices in Panama City. Their Montreal office is a commercial photo studio and Arnold believes their official director is only a name on paper.

Tracing Ownership

Quebec government records say Green Park and Green Mount are controlled by Lexinter Management, whose majority shareholder, F.T.S. Worldwide Corp, is a Panama-based company historically involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo's diamond trade.

However, according to a spokesperson from Green Park and Green Mount's business partners Danya Cebus construction company, the two companies are owned by wealthy American businessman Shaya Boymelgreen. Danya Cebus received a subcontract for the Mattityahu East project in 2004 and the spokesperson says the two companies are part of Boymelgreen's business conglomerate.

"Green Park and Green Mount -- as part of the Boymelgreen group -- subcontracted to Danya Cebus, with the [Israeli] government's approval in awarding contracts," says a Danya Cebus spokesperson. "Boymelgreen was the group that won the contract and Danya Cebus is acting as the subcontractor."

A subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments LTD, Danya Cebus is owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. Leviev's relationship with UNICEF was severed in June over the involvement of Danya Cebus in West Bank settlement construction.

The village is seeking a permanent injunction against Green Park and Green Mount construction at Modi'in Illit and $2-million in punitive damages. Bi'lin is also demanding that the company restore the land to its pre-construction state while also footing the bill for it.

"We want to show that people who come and profit from Palestinian suffering will lose," says village council secretary Mohammed Khatib. He adds that Bi'lin is fighting to retrieve its land, not win monetary settlement for it.

Khatib says Modi'in Illit sits on lands belonging to Bi'lin, and Mattityahu East -- sitting atop land confiscated by Israel's Separation Wall -- is the closest part of the settlement to the village residences. The villagers have been waging both a popular and legal struggle against the wall and expanding settlement for three years, winning an Israeli High Court decision in November 2007 ordering the Wall's rerouting.

Nonetheless, it has yet to be moved and an Israeli military alternate route proposed on July 10 has been roundly rejected by the village. The newly proposed route will maintain most of the confiscated farmland, including Mattityahu East.

The Politics of Confiscation

Khatib contends that legally targeting the companies in Canada is essential because the issues are being ignored by the Israeli courts. "The legal system in Israel is not giving us the minimum of our right," he says. "The settlement and the wall will turn Bi'lin into an enclave surrounded on three sides by the wall and settlement."

The Israeli lawyer representing Bi'lin, Michael Sfard, sees the Canadian case as an important warning sign to the building sector about the consequences for involvement in Israeli settlement construction. "The impact is huge," he says. "Foreign and Israeli corporations abroad should beware and think twice about embarking on settlement projects."

Sfard argues that this claim was not originally taken to the Israeli courts because the Israeli courts have a precedent for referring to land confiscations for settlement expansion as a political issue and refusing to deal with them. If the case is successful for Bi'lin, Sfard intends to bring the ruling to the Israeli courts, asking the Israeli judiciary to enforce the Canadian court's ruling against Green Park and Green Mount.

Neither Green Park, Green Mount nor Boymelgreen responded to requests for comment.

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