In March 2022, British bulldozer company JCB announced that it was suspending its business in Russia. It said that it had “paused all operations, including the export of machines and spare parts” to the country.
Now, you might think that JCB deserves congratulations for taking a stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, JCB’s boycott of Russia only highlights the company’s racist hypocrisy even whilst it shows this apparent empathy.
You see, for many years, campaigners have been asking JCB to do exactly the same thing for the people of Palestine, and stop supplying Israel with JCB bulldozers.
Every year, Israeli occupation forces demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes and workplaces in the West Bank. On a daily basis, families have to gather up all of their life’s belongings and then watch as their house is torn apart by bulldozers. Children are left homeless and traumatised, having witnessed the Israeli forces’ brutality at such a vulnerable age.
The demolition of Palestinian property is illegal under international law. But Israel’s ally governments around the world sit back and, for the most part, say nothing. The Israeli state assumes that it is untouchable in its quest to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of Palestinian people. And so it brazenly continues to bulldoze home after home, year after year.
Of course, in order to bulldoze homes, Israel needs bulldozers. One of its main suppliers is JCB. Of the major international companies supplying bulldozer or crane equipment to the Israeli occupation effort, JCB rates as one of the most complicit in Israeli war crimes.
For the past four years, my research cooperative – Shoal Collective – has been gathering photographic evidence of every West Bank demolition in which JCB machines have been involved. Our latest statistics show that JCB backhoe loaders destroyed at least 214 structures, including 87 homes, in the West Bank in 2021. This is higher than the figure from the previous year.
In 2021, demolitions using JCB machines directly affected 2,333 Palestinian people, and made at least 330 people homeless. JCB bulldozers tore down the homes of at least 170 children. The machines displaced more people, and made more children homeless, than in 2020.
On top of this, JCB machines destroyed almost 4,000 trees in the West Bank in 2021.
In Palestine, even the dead aren’t safe from displacement. While doing our research, we found video and photographic evidence of JCB machines exhuming graves at the al-Yusufiya cemetery in Jerusalem. In late 2021, Israeli authorities, with help from Israeli forces, dug up Palestinian graves to make way for a biblically themed national park.
At the time, footage of Palestinian mother Ola Nababta circulated on social media – she was crying as soldiers tore her from her son’s grave. A JCB backhoe loader dug up the cemetery behind her. We found evidence of JCB machines digging up the cemetery on 5 September and 26 October 2021.
Now, imagine the worldwide outrage if journalists had filmed Russian forces using JCB machines to dig up Ukrainian graves. The whole world would have demanded that the British company was held accountable. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, Palestinian lives are not deemed worthy of empathy.
If we take a quick look at who owns JCB, it’s unsurprising that its business decisions stink of hypocrisy. JCB is a private UK company. Its owners are the affluent Bamford family, who feature on the Sunday Times Rich List with a net worth of £4.32bn. The Bamfords have donated millions to the Conservatives. Anthony Bamford is a Conservative life peer and sits under his title in the House of Lords.
It is in keeping with their affluent Tory friends that the Bamfords cry their crocodile tears for the white people of Ukraine while trampling over the lives of brown Palestinians.
Moreover, it shows an arrogance on JCB’s part that despite international criticism, it continues to supply equipment to Israel. On 12 November 2021, the National Contact Point (NCP), a UK government body, found that JCB was in breach of its human rights responsibilities. The ruling followed a case that Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights brought to the NCP.
On top of this, in November 2021, Amnesty International published a report giving examples of JCB demolitions in Palestine. The NGO stated that:
JCB’s sole agent in Israel has contracts for the maintenance of JCB’s equipment with Israel’s Ministry of Defence, including for the type of bulldozer known to have been used in the extensive and ongoing demolition of Palestinian properties and the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land which are illegal under international law.
Amnesty was finally stating what Palestinian activists and international grassroots campaigners have been arguing for years. However, even a report from the world’s most renowned human rights NGO seems to have made no difference to JCB’s stance.
So, it’s down to all of us to hold JCB to account. It must answer for every child that its bulldozers make homeless and for every village whose water supply its machines destroy. Our empathy needs to extend to everyone facing the brunt of western imperialism, not just those that our government deems worthy.
Tags Israel Occupation Palestine UK West Bank