In mid-September, Israel’s Economy and Industry Ministry announced the country’s diamond industry continues to show growth, with net imports of rough diamonds rising 165 percent to US$1.4 billion, and net exports rising 177 percent to US$1.16 billion. Despite the Ministry’s celebratory tone, the report has prompted new questions about Israel’s ties to the trade of blood and conflict diamonds.
While much hype surrounds Israel’s technology sector, it’s the processing and sale of imported diamonds that gives its economy the most bang for its buck. Diamonds and other precious stones account for 35 percent of the country’s export revenue, which represents roughly one-fifth of the global diamond trade.
It’s for this reason that visiting Israel has often been likened to shopping in a “diamond supermarket.”
Lurking behind these boasts and economic achievements, however, is the pernicious and stubborn presence of the blood and conflict diamond trade. It is estimated to represent upwards of 15 percent of the global diamond sales, with much of the proceeds used to fund violence and terrorism in Africa.
The blood and conflict diamond trade is estimated to represent upwards of 15 percent of the global diamond sales.
While the terms “blood diamonds” and “conflict diamonds” are often used interchangeably, they do refer to vastly different but equally horrific practices. Blood diamonds refers to any diamond that was mined by nation states and private companies which inflict human rights abuses upon those doing the mining. Conflict diamonds designates diamonds mined in areas controlled by militias, warlords, and insurgent groups—typically in western and central Africa.
These groups often solicit slave and child labor, and then use the proceeds from sales to buy weapons, which, in turn, help them assault civilians and overrun legitimate governments.
It is important to note that diamonds are not a natural resource of Israel. This means 100 percent of the diamonds it processes and sells are imported from other countries and supply chains that are inextricably tied to the mining of both blood and conflict diamonds.
Although Israel has claimed 100 percent of its imported diamonds are “conflict free,” the simple truth is most diamonds cannot be reliably traced to their point of origin, and no international body – not even the World Diamond Council – has defined exactly what constitutes “conflict free.”
The Kimberley Process (KP) is a certification system for diamonds that Israel tends to cite in its claims. It was established in 2003 to resolve concerns and doubts regarding the origins of imported diamonds, but industry watchers have said it has “so many loopholes [that] it can be almost impossible to be sure that your diamond isn’t tainted.”
The Kimberley Process has become a “standard” Israel uses to shield its ties to the trade of blood and conflict diamonds.
In other words, KP has become a “standard” Israel uses to shield its ties to the trade of blood and conflict diamonds.
Tellingly, Israel Diamond Exchange opposed a move by members of the World Diamond Council on September 17 to broaden the definition of the conflict diamond issue to include countries that flout human rights laws, not only in mining areas but also in diamond trading centers.
Israel and KP’s faulty ethics were clearly demonstrated in May. That month, Petra Diamonds, which purchases diamonds from Israel, was forced to pay out US$6 million in damages to 71 Tanzanian miners, after a law firm acting on their behalf charged the company with an array of human rights abuses, such as beatings, stabbings, and shootings of workers. But despite this settlement, the British diamond company continues to trade as an “ethical diamond seller,” an assertion not countered by KP.
In fact, the only country currently under a KP embargo is the Central African Republic, yet that hasn’t stopped it from smuggling its diamonds into neighboring countries, due to the systemic levels of government corruption in the region.
To this end, Israel’s blossoming relationship with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) deserves close scrutiny, given Dubai has become the world’s third-largest importer of diamonds, pulling in an estimated US$20 billion per year. Moreover, the Financial Action Task Force has identified the UAE as a desirable destination for money laundering, terrorist financing, and other forms of transnational crime, as Abu Dhabi has not put in place mechanisms to dissuade such criminal activities.
The open invitation offered by the UAE to those who profit from the blood and conflict diamond trade in Africa does not require overstating. Simply put, Dubai has become the ideal hub for Israel to import diamonds under the protection of plausible deniability.
The country’s diamond exports are estimated to fund the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to the tune of US$1 billion per year.
More troubling is the fact that the blood and conflict diamond trade is also unquestionably linked to Israel’s human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian Territories. The country’s diamond exports are estimated to fund the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to the tune of US$1 billion per year, according to Shir Hever, an economic researcher at the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem.
“Diamonds processed in Israel fund the proliferation of unregulated nuclear weapons as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity and yet jewelers claim they are conflict free, which is fraudulent,” Sean Clifton, an activist against the conflict diamond trade, told Inside Arabia.
As mentioned earlier, blood and conflict diamonds represent over 15 percent of total global diamond sales, therefore it’s reasonable to conclude the IDF receives roughly US$150 million per year from this illicit trade. As the brutal market continues to inflict violence, misery, and death upon the African continent, it’s vital that industry insiders and human rights organizations call out Israel’s willful complicity.