As the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights commences this week in Geneva, the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights draws attention to the role that private businesses have come to play in Israel’s forcible transfer of Palestinians. As such, corporate complicity in the facilitation of grievous rights abuses represents just the latest evolution in a process of continuous forced displacement of Palestinians by the state of Israel, dating back to the Nakba of 1948.
Information gathered by UN bodies and Missions, research institutes and Human Rights organizations reveal that business enterprises have enabled, facilitated and profited - directly or indirectly - from a wide range of Israeli practices which effect the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities. These include involvement in the Israeli colony industry, purchase of produce of colonies, construction on occupied land, provision of services to colonies, exploitation of occupied resources, controlling the movement of the civilian population, private security companies functioning in an occupied territory and the construction of the Annexation Wall.
To draw briefly from just two examples of this list, regarding the construction of Israeli’s illegal Annexation Wall, more than 50 companies have contributed to its existence through their roles in construction, demolition, supply of surveillance equipment, security services and tools, as well as construction materials and heavy machinery. Regarding colonies, again, the aforementioned roles have been performed by corporations, but there is also a deep-seated involvement from the financial sector. Such involvement is manifested in the provision of loans for home purchases and building projects in colonies; the provision of financial services to Israeli local authorities in the West-Bank, and in physically operating in such locations.
Furthermore, private businesses have been extensively involved in the supply of military equipment, material and vehicles to Israel that were used during the recent operation ‘Protective Edge’; a military assault which led to the death of over 2100 Palestinians and is now the subject of a United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated investigation into grievous rights abuses against the civilian population. Collectively, and in grave breach of key tenets of international law, these practices have resulted in Palestinian land loss on a vast scale, extensive restrictions on freedom of movement and the steady erosion of personal safety throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.
In response, encouraging steps have been taken in the field of business and human rights towards a reinforcing of corporate responsibilities in relation to abusive Israeli actions.
For instance, in September 2009, the Norwegian Government Pension Fund sold its $5.4 million holding in Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systemson account of the company’s supply of systems for the Annexation Wall, citing a refusal to fund companies that “so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law. In January 2014, the Netherlands’ largest pension fund management company withdrew all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks due to the presence of branches in the West Bank and involved in the financing of construction in the colonies.
Elsewhere, there have been welcome developments in the formalizing of national and regional positions regarding corporate compliance with illegal Israeli practices. The Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland has issued an advisory framework for businesses which, for the first time, outlines the risks of trading with Israeli colonies, whilst the publication of the EU Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities for grants, awards and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards specifies that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the European Union must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967”. This action was followed by the issuing of warning statements by seventeen EU countries advising their citizens of the inherent risks – specifically, legal, financial and in terms of reputation - of doing business with Israeli colonies.
In addition, at the consumer level, many states, stores and food chains overseas have called for products originating from Israeli colonies to be labeled as such, allowing for full transparency and, in-turn, an informed purchasing process.
Yet, these developments must represent only a starting point. All private corporations and individuals who materially contribute to the maintenance of any of the multitude of Israeli practices which result in the forcible transfer of Palestinians must be reminded of their responsibilities in this regard. The requisite tools and systems to ensure compliance with these responsibilities already exist. They include both internally-driven, ethically-rooted processes, and external judicial procedures conducted through domestic, national and international courts. What is required is not, therefore, a reinvention of the wheel, but the thorough and consistent application of these tools. Until this is achieved, the forcible transfer of Palestinians will continue unchecked.