Another brick in the wall

Another brick in the wall
Published: 30 July 2004

The row over the Israeli border barrier and the debate over the various cement sources involved in its construction continues to reverberate and evens threatens to topple some of the Palestinian leadership, said to be involved in buying low cost Egyptian-sourced cement and then diverting it to Israeli contractors engaged in the wall’s construction.

In fact, the Egyptian cement scandal began nearly a year ago when Egypt offered to sell the PA some 420,000 tonnes of high- quality cement at extremely low prices -- at US$12-15 per tonne -- for the purpose of propping up the Palestinian economy, badly battered by sustained Israeli invasions through the last four years. The cement was apparently meant to be used to rebuild dilapidated Palestinian houses and buildings destroyed by the Israeli army, particularly in the Gaza Strip where entire neighbourhoods in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip were recently bulldozed by Israel and would most likely have been sourced from the neighbouring Sinai Cement works, Egypt.

However, instead of honouring the benevolent gesture, some corrupt businessmen -- most likely in coordination with influential figures within the PA -- snatched a license to import the cement from the PA National Economy Ministry, headed by Maher Al-Masri. Most of the cement was then sold to Israel, apparently with the knowledge of senior officials at the National Economy Ministry and close aides of Arafat.

Al-Masri claims that the amount of imported cement did not exceed 65,000 tonnes. The Palestinian Legislative Council launched a thorough investigation into the affair after an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Arabi, disclosed strong business links between a German Jewish businessman and a number of Palestinian companies and firms, some affiliated with the PA.

One of the main authors of the investigation is Hasan Khreisha, a deputy speaker of the council and a frequent critic of Arafat’s autocratic tendencies. Khreisha, an independent lawmaker, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he had found records showing that the consignments amounted to 420,000 tonnes of high quality cement. He said that the bulk of this amount, some 390,000 tonnes, ended up in Israel and was sold at $80-100 per tonne to Israeli contractors who were building the huge separation wall in the northern West Bank. According to the Legislative Council report, three firms were involved in importing the cement from Egypt and selling it to Israel. The main suspect is the Tarifi Company for Concrete Mix (TCCM) -- headed by Jamal Tarifi, a brother of Jamil Tarifi, the PA Minister of Civil Affairs.