In the last years, fueled by the climate crises, the ever-growing presence of the private sector in everyday life and unparalleled levels of globalisation, thriving voices demand businesses across the world to watch and address the effects of their actions on human rights. Beyond the general role businesses play towards workers, the environment and the broader community, there are specific contexts where their activities are instrumental in supporting or combating ongoing human rights violations.
This is the case of businesses running in militarily occupied land – like the Palestinian territory, occupied by Israel since 1967. According to the latest figures, 600,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, protected by the Israeli military and state authorities. In total, 40% of the West Bank is under direct control of Israeli settlements. Israel’s settlement enterprise constitutes serious violations of international humanitarian law and cements a system of gross human rights violations and institutionalised discrimination that Palestinians residing in the occupied territory suffer from daily. Israeli and international businesses have not missed the opportunity to supply services to Israeli settlers, open manufacturing plants or invested in lucrative ventures.
On 29 September 2021, a coalition of 25 Palestinian and European organisations launched a ground-breaking report detailing the intricate constellation of Israeli, European and international economic actors present in the settlements, essentially “facilitating the functioning and growth of the illegal Israeli settlements”. Indeed, this coalition, which includes many EuroMed Rights members, is exposing the connections between companies involved in the Israeli settlement enterprise and European financial institutions. According to the report’s findings, between 2018 and May 2021, 672 European financial institutions had business relationships with 50 companies that are actively involved with Israeli settlements. USD 114 billion was provided in the form of loans and underwritings, while European investors also held USD 141 billion in shares and bonds of these companies.
These companies are at a high risk of being involved in violations of International Humanitarian Law and complicity in war crimes. Enhanced due diligence of their processes and activities, toppled by direct disengagement when risks are identified, is global standard of corporate responsibility. Companies should observe it to avoid being caught up in the ugly instance of abetting human rights violations. The report also points out the way forward, with examples of companies that have divested from the Israeli settlement enterprise.