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Israeli Checkpoint at Rio de Janeiro Weapons Fair
by Soraya Misleh/ BDS Brasil
Passport! asserted the Israeli security guard in English, as he approached BDS Brasil demonstrators (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) at the LAAD Fair (Latin American Aerospace and Defense), which took place April 9 – 12 at the RioCentro Convention Center, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The surreal scene unfolded when the tiny group of activists entered the fair’s area containing the large majority of the Israeli arms industry exhibitors. Armed with nothing but Boycott Israeli Apartheid t-shirts and keffiyehs (Palestinian scarves), they entered the exhibition area following a demonstration outside the fair’s entrance, during which a large Palestinian flag was held up along with signs which said: “Israeli Arms Embargo Now!” and “President Dilma, Stop Buying Israeli Weapons!” This first slogan highlights the central demand put forth by the Brazilian BDS campaign, a campaign led by the Frente em Defesa do Povo Palestino-SP (Front in Defense of the Palestinian People – São Paulo), which includes dozens of organizations from Brazilian civil society. The second denounces the heavy increase in military contracts and agreements between Israel and the Brazilian government, solidifying Brazil’s shameful position among the five largest importers of arms from the apartheid regime. This particular banner is signed by the São José dos Campos Steelworkers Union and the Brazilian labor federation, CSP-Conlutas. These two organizations joined the demonstration in front of RioCentro, which also included representatives from Anel (National Free Students Assembly), Mopat (Palestinian Movement for All), Ciranda Internacional da Communicação Independente (Ciranda International for Independent/Shared Information) and PSTU (Unified Socialist Workers Party).
The need for breaking these military contracts and agreements is urgent, as was made apparent at this year’s LAAD Fair. The more than 30 Israeli companies present at RioCentro were granted privileged contact with Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer and the Secretary of Defense Celso Amorim, who represented President Dilma Rousseff at the event’s opening ceremony. Exhibtors’ sights were set on acquisition of security contracts for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, both of which are set to occur in Brazil.
Following the initial passport interaction inside the fair, the activists were surrounded by Israeli security guards, serving as an example of how Israel places itself above international laws. This also offers a tiny glimpse of what life must be like for Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid. Aside from requesting passports from Brazilian citizens in their own country, an act which was duly contested (one of the demonstrators expressed that the guards were attempting to simulate a checkpoint: a security post employed in the Occupied Territories to restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement), the security agents then proceeded to follow the activists as they walked throughout the fair. There were dozens of them. The activists verbally protested this discriminatory act, at the same time denouncing the occupation of Palestinan land. For those who have been to Palestine, it was as though the Israeli guards had reproduced, inside of Brazil, their system of segregating and expelling the “unwanted”. It was as though, with the blessing of the Brazilian state and federal governments, they had staged an occupation of the LAAD event area and were completely ignoring Brazilian citizens’ democratic right to free expression and assembly.
Weapons of apartheid on display
Despite attempts to embarrass and intimidate the “unwanted” visitors in the internal area of the fair, the activists were still able to have a look at the merchandise on display: Israeli military technologies tested out on Palestinians. Such is the case with the Israeli-made VANTS (unmanned aerial vehicles/ drones) which were recently used in attacks on Gaza, in Occupied Palestine. The Brazilian state and federal government’s complicity with apartheid was confirmed, in its hosting and promoting of companies who ensure the very existence of such a regime. Even the Israeli Secretary of Defense had his own booth. The activists were prevented from entering it.
An exhibit which drew particular attention was that of IAI (Israeli Aerospace Industries), projecting a futuristic presentation of its technologies on a giant screen. IAI, according to reports from Palestinian organizations, produces equipment for the Israeli occupation forces, the Apartheid Wall and the illegal settlements. Within Brazil, its subsidiary, Bedek, together with the Brazilian conglomerate Grupo Synergy, formed a joint-venture called “EAE Soluções Aeroespacias (EAE Aerospace Solutions). Supplying the Brazilian Armed Forces, this joint venture utilizes TAP M&E Brasil’s production and maintenance centers in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre (city in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul).
Also present was Rafael Defence, which proclaims on its website a “special” relationship with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), developing personalized products for the occupying army, and with Netcom Malam Team International, Israel’s largest information technology group. Netcom Malam is also involved in a series of joint projects with the IDF.
Another exhibitor was IMI (Israel Military Industries), which has the Brazilian Army in its client portfolio. IMI also has a commercial partnership with Taurus, headquartered in Porto Alegre. This entity is licensed to manufacture the Tavor Israeli rifle.
The LAAD Fair was sponsored by Embraer (Brazilian Aviation Manufacturer), a company closely linked to the Israeli arms industry. It maintains contracts with the Israeli company, Elbit Systems, another exhibitor at the fair, which acts in the area of military technology, manufacturing the aforementioned VANTS which were employed in recent attacks on Gaza. Elbit is also one of the 12 companies involved in the construction of the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank in Occupied Palestine. In October of 2012, during a UN General Assembly, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, Richard Falk, called for the boycotting of Elbit Systems. Present in Brazil for the last 15 years, Elbit operates through its subsidiaries AEL, Periscópio Equipamentos Optrônicos S/A (Periscope Optronic Equipment S/A) and Ares Aerospace. Through Ares Aerospace, Elbit recently acquired two new million-dollar contracts with the Brazilian Army. The government of Rio Grande do Sul is planning to expand Elbit’s presence in Brazil, encouraging the denationalization of industry. Brazil’s complicity further increases with an aerospace outpost project housed within Elbit subsidiary, AEL, in Porto Alegre. With this project, the southern state capital could become Israel’s most important foreign military research outpost. Such a project, financed with public money, also provides benefits for business transactions. These transactions are intrinsically linked to Israel’s crimes and violations of human rights.
The BDS Brasil campaign has sent a letter to the Brazilian federal and state governments, denouncing this complicity and repudiating Israel’s presence at the LAAD Fair. Signed by more than 30 civil society organizations, the document highlights the direct relationship between the importation of these military technologies and the repression of poor black youth in regions of Brazil where said technologies are being purchased. The case of Rio de Janeiro is exemplary. The Israeli company, Global Shield, won a bid to provide the Military Police, through a million-dollar contract, with eight new armored vehicles, (referred to as caveirões in Portuguese), which are used in occupations of the favelas (slums).
The experience of demonstrating within the LAAD Fair allowed activists to see these tools of repression up close. The strength of the global BDS campaign to change the state of affairs was evident. The presence of demonstrators visibly bothered the Israeli exhibitors. This attests to the correctness of a military embargo as the central focus for this initiative. We must continue to call attention to the Brazilian government’s complicity with apartheid and, contrary to LAAD objectives, insist on the breaking of all military contracts and agreements with Israel.
*translated from the original Portuguese text by Ryan Green