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For Immediate Release: April 18th, 2014

Rights Activists Deliver Petition Demanding Gates Foundation Divest $170m from Corporation Complicit in Torture in Israeli Prisons

Contact Ramah Kudaimi at membership@endtheoccupation.org or 202-332-0994. 

April 18, Washington, DC- The philanthropic body run by the world’s richest person, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, faces accusations that the charity is complicit in the torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, including child prisoners.

Protests were held on April 17, which marks Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, at the London, Johannesburg, and Seattle offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to protest its $170 million investment in G4S, a British private security company that helps Israel run prisons where Palestinian political prisoners are held without trial and subject to torture.

A petition signed by more than 11,500 people was delivered to Jeremy Hillman, Director of External Communications, at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle by about a dozen members of the Northwest Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Coalition.

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a local organization, and we want them to reflect local values.  We want them to support human rights and stop supporting apartheid and the system of profitable prisons," said Sallie Shawl, co-founder of Jewish Voice for Peace Tacoma chapter, a member group of the Northwest BDS Coalition.

In Washington, DC, Gates Foundation staff turned away a delegation from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the US Palestinian Community Network, and CODEPINK: Women for Peace attempting to deliver the same petition. 

"The Gates Foundation should be ashamed of profiting from a company complicit in Israel's grave mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners. Bill and Melinda cannot claim to be trying to give every person the chance to live a healthy, productive life, while investing in torture and mass incarceration," said Ramah Kudaimi, Membership and Outreach Coordinator at the US Campaign. 

In an open letter released earlier this month, Palestinian organizations called on the foundation to abide by its own investment policy, which states: "When instructing the investment managers, Bill and Melinda also consider other issues beyond corporate profits, including the values that drive the foundation's work. They have defined areas in which the endowment will not invest, such as companies whose profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that they find egregious." 

Mthunzi Mbuli, a campaigner with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in South Africa, said: "As South Africans, we painfully identify with the plight of the Palestinians in general and Palestinian prisoners in particular. When we see the Israeli imprisonment of our Palestinian comrades, we are reminded of how our mothers and fathers were imprisoned during apartheid. We hope the Gates Foundation does the right thing by divesting from G4S just as how several international companies and organizations during apartheid did the right thing by divesting from companies complicit in apartheid South Africa.”

In 2012, on the eve of a mass hunger strike by more than 2,000 Palestinian political prisoners, Palestinian human rights organizations called for campaigns targeting G4S worldwide. More than 5,000 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli jails, including 183 children and 175 held under administrative orders, detention without charges or trial, used to hold people for indefinite periods, based on secret information.

Universities, banks, charities and trade unions across the world have terminated contracts with G4S over its role in Israel’s prison system, costing the company millions of pounds. Just last month, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) chose not to award G4S a $133 million contract following a campaign supported by notable figures including film directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh and novelist Ahdaf Soueif.

But G4S has refused to sever ties with the Israeli prisons authority.

“Today in Palestine, thousands are taking action in support of the Palestinian prisoners. We call on the Gates Foundation to stand with the prisoners and their families and stop their investments in G4S. Development and aid foundations should not be complicit in war crimes,” said Randa Wahbe at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. 

The Gates Foundation was under fire last week for its investment in another prison operator. Immigrant-rights advocates are demanding the foundation divest from the GEO Group, which runs detention centers across the country and has faced accusations of prisoner abuse, medical neglect, rampant violence, and civil rights violations. 

Video of Seattle petition delivery here.