Is the Gates Foundation Investing in the Abuse of Palestinian Prisoners?

More than 100 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons launched a mass hunger strike last week against Israel's policy of administrative detention, a draconian practice whereby Palestinians are detained on "secret evidence" and without being charged.

According to Randa Kamel, an advocacy officer for Addameer, a group that monitors Israel's arrests and imprisonment of Palestinians, many of these hunger strikers are being held in prisons using surveillance and security equipment provided by the controversial British security firm G4S.

Earlier this month, Palestinian human rights organizations launched a campaign calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to divest from G4S, which they say is "at the heart of [Israel's prison] system, installing and running security systems at Israeli jails."

Across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, G4S also provides security services at many Israeli military checkpoints that control Palestinian movement.

The petition is being spearheaded by Addameer and the Palestine Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee. It was also endorsed by an additional 121 Palestinian and international organizations.

The Gates Foundation is a global development organization that works in the areas of global health, global development, and betterment in the United States.

Despite its public record as a force for global betterment, the Gates Foundation solicited widespread criticism when it purchased $172 million in G4S shares.

"The Gates Foundation's continued investment in G4S means they are investing in, and reinforcing, the values of a military occupation, mass imprisonment and criminalization of basic human rights," Addameer's Randa Kamel said in an interview.

Difficult Conditions

Addameer estimates that 5,224 Palestinians were in Israeli lockup as of March 1. Of that total, 210 were children and 183 were administrative detainees.

Israel regularly justifies its arrests and imprisonment of Palestinians by pointing to security considerations.

Yet Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups regularly accuse Israel's prison authorities of widespread violations against prisoners, including children.

After spending more than a decade in Israeli prison, Sabih Borhan was released during the first phase of a controversial prisoner release agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that began in August 2013.

Borhan, who was arrested in 2001 and sentenced to five life terms for the killing of Palestinian collaborators, explained the difficult conditions Palestinian political prisoners face in Israeli lockup.

"Prisoners are constantly engaged in struggles for their basic rights, like food, telephone access, and visits," Borhan said in an interview shortly after being released.

Sitting with family and friends in the front yard of his home in a Jenin-area village in the northern West Bank, Borhan accused Israeli Prison Services (IPS) of regularly denying Palestinian prisoners adequate health care.

"The general health situation in jail is horrible," he said. "Hundreds of prisoners need serious medical treatment, but access is limited. Sometimes people are denied [by IPS] that treatment."

Borhan also alluded to the case of Maysara Abu Hamdieh, a 64-year-old prisoner who was reportedly being treated with nothing more than painkillers when he died of cancer in April 2013.

Double Standard

With an endowment of $38.3 billion, the Gates Foundation aims to "help every person get the chance to live a healthy, productive life."

On top of that, Bill Gates, who is one of the wealthiest persons in the world, is worth an estimated $76 billion.

The charity's humanitarian work has been widely praised, and former staffer Sylvia Mathews Burwell recently went on to work as the Health and Human Services Secretary for the Obama administration.

The Gates Foundation has put special focus on the plight of children in developing countries. In his 2014 annual letter for the charity, Bill Gates wrote:

We all have the chance to create a world where extreme poverty is the exception rather than the rule, and where all children have the same chance to thrive, no matter where they're born.

Although neither the foundation nor G4S replied to numerous requests for comment on this blog post, the Gates Foundation did reply to the criticism in the International Business Times, saying that investments are a "separate entity from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its investment strategies are set by its trustees."

Yet human rights groups and activists insist the G4S investment suggests a double standard for Palestinian children.

"The Gates Foundation has granted billions of dollars in organizations that seek to improve the lives of children, such as immunization programs, strengthening education systems, and the health of newborns," Addameer's Kamel further explained. "However, through its investment in G4S, the Gates Foundation is denying Palestinian children their right to a healthy and productive life, a stated value of the humanitarian organization."

According to the Palestinian human rights group Defense for Children International - Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine), more than 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israeli forces since 2000.

Around 75 percent of these children experience violence during arrest, detention or transfer, according to DCI-Palestine's statistics.

Noting that dozens of groups have already divested from G4S and other businesses accused of profiting off Israel's occupation, Kamel concluded:

This is an opportunity for the Gates Foundation to stand on the right side of history against human rights abuses and divest from G4S, or to risk losing moral credibility by ignoring the roar for freedom, justice and rights for Palestinians.