Human Rights Watch Calls on Private Businesses to Cease Operations in Israeli Settlements

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A Palestinian (top) works at a textile factory in the Industrial Park of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Barkan, southwest of Nablus November 8, 2015.
A Palestinian (top) works at a textile factory in the Industrial Park of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Barkan, southwest of Nablus November 8, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Human Rights Watch has called on businesses to cease operations in West Bank settlements because they violate Palestinian rights and contribute to Israel's violation of international law.

In a report released Tuesday, the human rights group said that by servicing the settlements, businesses contribute to Israel's unlawful maintenance and expansion of them.

"Israel’s confiscation of land for settlements and settlement businesses violates international law, regardless of whether the land was previously privately held, 'absentee land” or so-called “state land,'" the report says, adding that "businesses operating on these unlawfully confiscated lands are inextricably tied to the ongoing abuses perpetuated by such confiscations."

"Without the participation and support of such private businesses that service Israel’s settlements, the Israeli government would incur much greater expenses to sustain the settlements and their residents. In this way, businesses contribute to Israel’s maintenance and expansion of unlawful settlements."

The 162-page report, titled “Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” also concluded that companies that finance, service or trade with Jewish settlements facilitate the growth of the settlements and violate the rights of Palestinians.

“Based on the findings of this report, it is Human Rights Watch’s view that any adequate due diligence would show that business activities taking place in or in contract with Israeli settlements or settlement businesses contribute to rights abuses, and that businesses cannot mitigate or avoid contributing to these abuses so long as they engage in such activities,” the report says.

The report said businesses “should cease carrying out activities inside or for the benefit of settlements, such as building housing units or infrastructure, or providing waste removal and landfill services. They should also stop financing, administering, trading with or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure.”

Human Rights Watch said it was not calling for a consumer boycott of settlement companies, “but rather for businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities. Moreover, consumers should have the information they need, such as where products are from, to make informed decisions.”

Settlement businesses depend on and contribute to the Israeli authorities’ unlawful confiscation of Palestinian land and other resources, according to the group. They also benefit from such violations, as well as from Israeli policies that provide privileges to settlements at the expense of Palestinians, such as access to land and water, government subsidies, and permits for developing land.

Some settlement businesses operate in residential settlements, or provide services to them, while others operate in industrial zones specially built for the businesses.

Some settlement businesses are directly engaged in managing the practical demands of settlements, such as banks and waste management businesses, and other businesses are drawn to the settlements for lower rents or cheap Palestinian labor, according to the report.

“Settlement businesses help entrench discriminatory Israeli policies that favor settlers over Palestinians in Area C (under Israeli civilian and military control), even though the settlers should not be there in the first place,” said Arvind Ganesan, director of the business and human rights division at Human Rights Watch. “Businesses that claim they are helping Palestinians by offering trapped Palestinians minimum-wage jobs with few labor rights protections add insult to injury.”

More than half a million Jewish settlers live in 237 settlements throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to the report. Israel administers approximately 20 industrial zones covering 13,650 dunams , or 1,365 hectares, in the West Bank. Israeli settlers oversee the cultivation of 93,000 dunams, or 9,300 hectares, of agricultural land, and settlement businesses operate 187 shopping centers inside settlements as well as 11 quarries that supply around 25 percent of Israel’s gravel market.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a preliminary comment that the report appears "one-sided" and "politicized," adding that it was still studying the document.

"At a time when Israel and the international community are taking practical steps to bolster the Palestinian economy and increase Palestinian employment," it said, according to AFP, "Israel is concerned with this one-sided, politicized report that jeopardizes the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians and discourages rare examples of coexistence, coordination and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians."