Palestine: the view from Korea (April 29)

ROK-Israel Free Trade Agreement in the Works

A free trade agreement (FTA) between Israel and South Korea has been in pipelines for a number of years and a final deal was expected to be agreed upon by April of last year. While no formal agreement has yet been reached, it is hard to follow progress given that these deals are rarely brokered with public consultation. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists the agreement as still being under consideration, a feasibility study was launched in August of 2009 and completed in August of 2010.

Korea Israel

It’s the “Creative Economy”, Stupid

Another important aspect of South Korea-Israel relations is the influence of the so-called “creative economy” that is currently the buzz word in the Blue House. The term comes from Israeli economic policy in which investment is focused on small startup companies which in turn is said to lead to overall economic growth. It came to popularity in Korea by former Yonsei University professor Yoon Jong-lok through his translation of the book ‘Start-Up Nation’. After gaining the ear of the Korean president, Yoon has now been appointed as the second vice minister of the Ministry of Future Planning and Science which has set up the Office of Creative Economy Planning. Following suit, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration established the Office of Creative Government Strategies, and it appears that other ministries are eager to adopt the new trend.

The fact that the Israeli economy relies in part on U.S. aid, which in turn goes into maintaining the military occupation of Palestinian land, seems not to have been a major consideration with the new buzz word floating around. The authors of ‘Start-up Nation’ explain how  Israeli struggled against the odds to achieve its economic miracle despite being “surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources”. Interestingly, this perpetual “state of war” has been used to imprison, kill and maim scores of Palestinians since 1948 and the lack of natural resources is in part made up for by illegally diverting water resources from the occupied Palestinian territories. Presumably these tidbits didn’t make it into the text.

In reality, the catch phrase appears to have little substance to it. No dramatic changes have been put into place since the change in administration that saw Park Geun Hye, daughter of former military dictator Park Chung Hee, come to power in South Korea. In one article that reads like satire an analyst was quoted as saying that, “The creative economy is a magic wand that can resolve all the problems. But the problem is that nobody knows where it is and how to control it.”

Samsung Expanding its Investment in Israel

One company that is caught up the hype is Korea’s largest chaebol or conglomerate, Samsung. The company is increasing its activity in Israel and earlier this month set up a benchmarking team to investigate the Israeli model in which some 500 ventures are launched each year by young Israelis. In February of this year the South Korean company launched a 100 million dollar venture capital fund to invest in early stage high tech start-ups in the U.S. and Israel. An innovation center is being established under the Samsung Semiconductor’s R&D center in Ramat Gan which already employs 200 workers. Apart from investing in startup companies, the center will also invest in Israeli academia and local venture capital funds investing in Israeli startups. Samsung also operates another R&D center in Yakum which it acquired in 2007.

The Most Recent Human Costs of the Military Occupation

The latest United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory (OCHAOPT) report for the week ending April 22 offered the following figures for 2013 thus far: 9 fatalities at the hands of the IDF, 2,032 Palestinians injured by the IDF, 119 incidents resulting in Palestinian casualties or property damage (20 incidents relating in Israeli casualties or property damage), 170 Palestinian structures (including homes) demolished with 327 people displaced. For the week ending April 26, the International Middle East Media Center is reporting that at least 98 military invasions were made by the IDF into Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. At least 52 Palestinians including 6 children were arrested. In addition, claiming to be in response to a rocket attack from Gaza on civilian communities in Southern Israel, the IDF bombed three sites in Gaza, two belonging to the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and another belonging to the military wing of Islamic Jihad. No injuries were reported.

Home demolition in Al Tur, occupied East Jerusalem, 24 April 2013. From
Home demolition in Al Tur, occupied East Jerusalem, 24 April 2013. From

Israel-South Korea Relations

To download the full report: Israel-South-Korea-Relations

In late 2010 we set out to research the growing relationship between South Korea and the state of Israel. Some of what we found we expected to find, and some things have given us cause for deep concern. We found that the support given by South Korea to the state of Israel is countercurrent to South Korea’s international and constitutional obligations, as well as appearing hypocritical coming from a country which itself has suffered under, and speaks out against, colonialism.
As is common practice amongst embassies, the respective South Korean and Israeli diplomatic missions often wax lyrical about the similarities between the two countries. For instance, both countries were founded in the same year. Both countries have been involved in bloody wars with their neighbors. The core industries of both countries include are strong ‘high-tech’ and military industries.

While this happens to be true, it is also true that South Korea has a lot in common with Palestine and Palestinian people. Most obviously, they share a history of suffering under colonialism. This was initially understood by the South Korean leadership, and in 1973 South Korea announced for the first time its official position on Palestine, calling for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and making clear its support for Palestinian self-determination.

It is worth mentioning that even if there wasn’t this shared history of suffering under colonialism, South Korea’s constitution explicitly describes international law as having the same standing and importance as Korean domestic law, which should at the very least see South Korea openly condemning Israel’s violations of International Law. Finally, as a voting member of the UN, South Korea is required to not only adhere to international law, but to promote adherence to international law. One would expect these factors would make for a South Korea which strongly condemns the colonialism, occupation and aparthei3 Palestinians suffer under.

Over the years, however, the South Korean position on Israel and Palestine has become less and less aligned with its anti-colonial standing, values described in its own constitution, and obligations as a UN member. This is manifest not only in South Korea’s foreign policy positions towards Israel/Palestine and voting patterns in the UN, but also through a driven and increasing economic, military and academic relationship with Israel.
After joining the United Nations in September 1991, Korea has never opposed resolutions regarding the question of Palestine, and it has consistently voted on resolutions to evacuate Israeli settlements. However, it has abstained from various resolutions on matters of great importance, such as the vote to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza following the Gaza Massacre of 2008-2009.

While South Korea votes to halt settlement construction, it deals quite unashamedly with companies involved in settlement construction and maintenance. While it has expressed support for Palestinian self-determination and while its own constitution equates international law as having equal standing with South Korean domestic law, South Korea and South Korean companies continue to deal with Israeli companies and institutions deeply embedded in the economy of the occupation. For example:

  1. Hyundai Heavy Industries has been clearly implicated in the demolition of Palestinian homes. There is abundant photo evidence and testimony which demonstrates the use of Hyundai equipment in the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem.
  2. The Korea Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, established in 2001 with the purpose of funding collaboration between Israeli and South Korean companies, has funded several projects involving Israeli companies known to be involved in the occupation, maintenance of illegal settlements, and the production of military technologies.
  3. Bobcat Company is operated by Doosan Infracore International, an affiliate of Doosan Infracore Co., Ltd. Bobcat has been documented to supply equipment which is used in the construction of the same illegal settlements that South Korea condemns in the UN.
  4. Ahava Cosmetics, which has been the target of an international campaign due to its exploitation of natural resources from the occupied West Bank, are widely stocked and sold in South Korea through online supermarkets such as: Gmarket, InterPark, Auction, and 11ST.

The extent and nature of the arms trade between Israel and South Korea was a particularly worrying discovery of ours. While Israel and South Korea are both major arms producers, South Korea imports far more Israeli weaponry than Israel imports South Korean weaponry. And the amount has soared since about 2008, prompting commentators to suggest that Israel will overtake the US as South Korea’s main arms supplier.

  • Some of the weaponry South Korea has purchased (or plans to purchase) from Israel includes:
  • Uzi, an Israeli submachine gun made by IMI, an Israeli weapons manufacturer (a specific model has not been confirmed)
  • Harpy, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by IAI, Israel’s aerospace and aviation manufacturer
  • Searcher, a UAV by IAI
  • Skylark II, a UAV by Elbit Systems
  • Spike NLOS, a pinpoint target missile by RAFAEL
  • Delilah GL, a ground-launched cruise missile by IMI
  • ‘SPS-1000(V)5’, a radar warning receiver (RWR) by ELISRA
  • Super Green Pine, an early warning radar by IAI
  • Condor 2, EO-X by Elop

Not only is trading arms with Israel in general a great concern, but there is also the issue of the particular companies involved in the transactions. Both Elbit Systems and IAI are directly implicated in the occupation. IAI Provides Surveillance Equipment for the “Apartheid Wall” (which has been condemned by the International Court of Justice). Elbit Systems not only provides “Intrusion Detection Systems” for use on the Apartheid wall, but also surveillance equipment for the illegal Ariel Settlement. Elbit’s image as a company deeply involved in the occupation has seen it divested from by Norway’s largest pension fund.

One of our most surprising discoveries was not the extent of the academic relationship between South Korea and Israel, but the nature of Israeli academic institutions. Omar Barghouti writes that Israeli academic institutions provide the Israeli military-intelligence establishment with “…research on demography, geography, hydrology, and psychology – that directly benefits the occupation apparatus.”

However, our research focused specifically on Israel’s Technion Insitutute and its growing relationship with the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Technion is one of the academic institutes most obviously embedded in Israel’s military industrial complex. Along with unashamedly grooming their students for positions in the arms industry, Technion goes as far as designing new and deadly weapons for the Israeli military. Inventions have included, The ROEE (an all-terrain vehicle with mounted machine gun) and most recently, a snake robot which “… will be able to identify specific targets while remain virtually unnoticed, and leave behind delayed activated explosive charges for employing lethal effect.”

Although the current relationship between KAIST and Technion is minimal, there has been a desire recently expressed on both sides to increase cooperation. Notably, in the field of space and nano-technology. With the knowledge of Technion’s relationship to the arms industry and thus the occupation, it becomes obvious that the cooperation with the institute is tantamount to tacit approval, at the very least. It is also possible that research cooperation could lead to a situation wherein South Korean research directly contributes to the development of new Israeli military technologies which will undoubtedly be used on Palestinians.

The prevalence of South Korean religious tourism to Palestine was something we were aware of before beginning our research. However, we were less aware as to how it affects the Israeli and Palestinian economies. Among Asian countries, South Koreans constitute the majority of pilgrims to Israel, and Korean Air runs a direct flight between Seoul and Israel. It is estimated that in 2010, Israel generated 400 million US dollars of revenue from tourism. Because of this, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism has become rather active in targeting South Koreans as potential religious tourists to Israel. In 2010, the ministry ran a seminar entitled ‘Seminar for Church leaders with the Israel Ministry of Tourism’ in various major cities in South Korea, with the intent of attracting more Korean religious tourists.

While some religious tourists tend to visit sites in the Occupied West Bank, such as Bethlehem, the local economy around these places has degraded due to the occupation, the wall and the fact that Israeli-run tours bypass a lot of small Palestinian businesses. So, although Israel benefits greatly from Korea’s religious tourism, the local economy of places such as Bethlehem cannot be said to experience the same level of benefit.

As mentioned earlier before, the relationship between Israel and South Korea is set to increase. According to Ma Young-Sam (former Korean Ambassador to Israel) a 20-30% jump in trade and investment is expected as a result of an Israel-South Korea FTA currently under negotiation. However, there are other results to be considered. It is safe to assume that increased economic, military and academic cooperation with Israel will mean an increase in the cases we have described above. This will inevitably put South Korea more at odds with its own professed values and further into a state of complicity with Israel’s colonialism, occupation and apartheid.