Israeli firm supplies SAPS with cannons

Israeli water cannons bearing the SAPS logo on Beit Alfa’s website
Israeli water cannons bearing the SAPS logo on Beit Alfa’s website

The water cannons used by police to control #FeesMustFall and other protests are made by an Israeli company that provides vehicles for use in occupied Palestinian territories and which also supplied riot control vehicles to the apartheid government.

The water cannons made by Beit Alfa Technologies, which is owned by Kibbutz Beit Alfa, are also used to spray a foul-smelling liquid called Skunk, which smells of faeces.

The 10 water cannons were procured on a quotation basis from a preferred supplier by the SA Police Service (SAPS) in 2007, shortly before Jackie Selebi was suspended as national police commissioner.

City Press was first tipped off to the Israeli origin of the water cannons in September by a police source.

In response to a query sent to suspended police spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, General Gary Kruser, the divisional commissioner of supply chain management, indicated the “vehicles were procured from a company, Alternative Rural Energy, based in Dundee [in KwaZulu-Natal] and the vehicles were imported by this company from Israel”.

But no record of Alternative Rural Energy could be found. It is not listed in the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission’s database and internet searches were fruitless.

Given the SA government’s position on this, the fact that we’re importing this kind of stuff is completely unacceptable

However, City Press was able to trace the vehicles to Israeli manufacturer Beit Alfa Technologies, which has also posted photographs of the South African police water cannons on its website.

The designation of the models with which the police supplied City Press match those in Beit Alfa’s catalogue.

In an April 2014 report by the Who Profits Research Center, an NGO dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of Israeli and international companies in the control of Palestinian territory, Beit Alfa Technology is cited as the company that produces the trucks used to spray Skunk.

The reports note that “even if these weapons fall within the ‘less lethal’ category (when compared with live ammunition, for example) various incidents documented during demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories make it clear that the use of these weapons by Israeli forces is far from ethical”.

Beit Alfa’s apartheid lineage is recorded by Chris McGreal, a journalist who wrote an in-depth, two-part article on the relationship between Israel and the apartheid state for The Guardian newspaper in 2006.

“Alongside the state-owned factories turning out material for South Africa was Kibbutz Beit Alfa, which developed a profitable industry selling anti-riot vehicles for use against protesters in black townships,” wrote McGreal.

Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, also wrote about the connection in an article published by Al Jazeera in 2013.

“Kibbutz Beit Alfa, it should be mentioned, was established by the Jewish National Fund partly on lands purchased from absentee landlords and partly on confiscated lands belonging to Palestinian villages.”

Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, said while there was no legal bar to the SAPS buying such equipment, the ANC had made clear its support for the Palestinian cause, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“We all know that one of the biggest marketing tools for Israeli defence and security equipment is the fact that all of it is tested on Palestinians,” he said.

“Given the SA government’s position on this, the fact that we’re importing this kind of stuff is completely unacceptable, it’s morally reprehensible and definitely requires some urgent intervention from the ANC leadership,” said Jeenah.

Zackie Achmat, an activist and member of the anti-occupation movement Open Shuhada Street, said he had personally witnessed “how the equipment of Beit Alfa Technologies has been used in the brutal suppression of children, men and women in the village of Nabi Salih”.

“Skunk is like having a s**t shower and it is sprayed into people’s homes,” he said.

Beit Alfa did not reply to a request for comment.

At the time of going to print, the police had not responded to a subsequent request for comment.

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