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Belgian campaign forces financial group to cancel settlement loans

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Belgian campaign forces financial group to cancel settlement loans
Worldwide Activism, Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, June 16th, 2009

Above: Expansion is ongoing in the Gilo settlement, just north of Bethlehem.

The Belgian-French financial group Dexia has announced it will no longer finance settlements in the West Bank through its Israeli branch, Dexia Israel. This is the result of a months-long campaign in Belgium, supported by non-governmental organizations, political parties, local authorities, trade unions and other organizations. Dexia’s management has stated that financing settlements is indeed against the bank’s code of ethics.

In October 2008, several Belgian solidarity groups discovered that Dexia Israel was granting loans to settlements in the Palestinian territories. The director of Dexia Israel, David Kapah, confirmed that the bank had indeed granted credits to seven settlements and three regional authorities in the West Bank between 2003 and 2007.

This "smoking gun" evidence entailed the start of a fast-growing campaign in Belgium. United under the slogan "Israel colonizes, Dexia finances," the campaign achieved its first successes. In the following months, petitions were being launched, MPs were questioned and local actions were started up. Significant was the support of local Belgian authorities such as municipalities and provinces, as they hold a vast amount of shares in Dexia Group.

Today, the action platform consists of 61 Belgian organizations and has gathered more than 4,000 signatures and got 29 local authorities to sign a resolution demanding that Dexia break off its relations with the settlements and immediately stop financing the occupation.

For several months the Belgian government and Dexia management didn’t respond to the demands of the action platform. However, as the campaign started to receive more media coverage and the pressure started to rise, something changed. On 13 May, campaign activists were able to voice demands at the annual shareholders meeting of Dexia Group in Brussels.

In response, Jean-Luc Dehaene, chairman of the board of Dexia and former Belgian prime minister, declared that no new loans will be granted to the settlements. He added that the credits and loans to the settlements that were granted before are in runoff and will no longer be prolonged; neither will they be replaced by similar loans.

However, Dehaene emphasized that the Bank would still grant loans to settlements in Jerusalem, as "Dexia Group feels that Jerusalem is not contested territory."Given Dexia's position, the BDS campaign will continue. According to Mario Franssen, spokesperson of the action platform, the campaign will continue until Dexia has officially declared — and provided the proof for — a full stop of settlement funding, including the disputed loans to Jerusalem. Franssen explains that the action platform is not yet satisfied, but these concessions from Dexia are a good start. "We are still demanding a full and immediate stop of all connections between Dexia and the colonies. Dexia is guilty of financing the occupation, and this has to end," Franssen added.