Business enterprises involved in the activities...
In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council mandated the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to produce a database of companies involved in specific activities relating to settlements. The activities included:
- Supplying equipment and materials facilitating the construction and expansion of settlements and Israel's West Bank barrier
- Supplying equipment for the demolition of housing and property, and the destruction of farms, greenhouses, olive groves and crops
- Providing services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport
- Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and businesses
After lengthy delays, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced that 112 major companies had been identified as operating in Israeli settlements in ways that violate human rights. Of the entities listed, 94 are domiciled in Israel and 18 in six other states - the United States, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Thailand and the UK.
Aside from major Israeli banks, transport services, cafes, supermarkets, and energy, building and telecoms firms, prominent international businesses include Airbnb, booking.com, Motorola, Trip Advisor, JCB, Expedia and General Mills. Work on compiling the database began four years ago. But both Israel and the United States put strong pressure on the UN in the hope of preventing the list from ever seeing the light of day.
The Palestinian Authority's Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, said: "The publication of the list of companies and parties operating in settlements is a victory for international law." but Israel called it "shameful". The main body representing Jewish settlers, the Yesha Council, said the list had "clear anti-Semitic features" and insisted the companies were "working to strengthen the economy in the area and are contributing to peace more than the UN has done in all its years of operation".
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the findings had been subject to an "extensive and meticulous review process" and the report "reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate". "While the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterisation of the activities in question, or of business enterprises' involvement in them," "I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious," said Michelle Bachelet.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949 to protect civilian populations in war-torn countries, says occupying powers shall not transfer their population to occupied territories. However, about 700,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this. Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog, noted in response to the list’s publication that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. It argued that the firms’ activities mean they have aided “in the commission of war crimes”.
Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti said the report will reinvigorate the international movement Boycott, Divestment and Sanction or BDS and its allies who seek to boycott companies and businesses who are deemed violating international law by operating in the occupied Palestinian territories. "This report will have a very big impact because it will encourage Palestinians and others around the world to increase their boycott of these companies," he said.
Legal experts believe the listing can be used in strategic litigation against companies identified in the report. Professor Kevin Jon Heller, who teaches international law at the University of Amsterdam and Australian National University, said he does not believe the report itself can function as grounds for domestic legal action against the companies at this point. "Any legal action against one of the corporations in a domestic court would still require proof that the corporation's activities were illegal under domestic law," he said. He, however, said the report is "a helpful tool for focusing strategic litigation on the corporations identified in it".
This week it also emerged that Amazon was aiding the settlements, though it is not named on the list. The online retail giant delivers for free to addresses in West Bank settlements, while imposing large shipping charges on Palestinians living nearby.
To see the report on business activities related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory visit the Human Rights Council website, and scroll down to A/HRC/43/71.