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HRW Issues Groundbreaking Call to Shut Down Israeli Settlement Businesses

'The only way for businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities is to stop working with and in Israeli settlements.'

Barkan, located in the occupied West Bank, is an Israeli residential settlement and industrial zone that houses around 120 factories that export around 80 percent of their goods abroad. In the background is the Palestinian village of Qarawat Bani Hassan. (Photo: David Silverman/HRW)

Decrying "an inherently unlawful and abusive system that violates the rights of Palestinians," Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday called for all businesses to stop operating in and dealing directly with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

The report, Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights, also calls on third-party states such as the U.S. to "ensure that any import of settlement goods into their territory is consistent with their duty under international humanitarian law not to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories." This includes requiring exporters to accurately label goods produced in settlements as such.

What's more, it urges countries to "[offset] the costs of Israeli government expenditures on settlements by withholding funding given to the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank."

In other words, Omar Barghouti declares at Mondoweiss, the report "actually calls for sanctions!"

Backed up by specific case studies, HRW argues that settlement-related business activity contributes to and benefits from labor abuse, unlawful confiscation of and restrictions on Palestinian land, and systematic discrimination—and thus violates a slew of international conventions and humanitarian laws. 

"Businesses should account for the reality that using Palestinian land, water, minerals, and resources in their settlement operations is unlawful and comes at a great cost to Palestinians," said Arvind Ganesan, director of HRW's business and human rights division. "But the tide is turning as more and more businesses are waking up to the reality that it is wrong for them to profit from inherently illegal settlements."

Writing at Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah said the report "will likely enrage Israel."

"It will also prove a useful tool for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to explain to companies why they must end their complicity in Israel’s crimes," Abunimah added, though he noted that HRW is "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."

Still, with Occupation, Inc., HRW "is departing from its earlier position that firms could 'mitigate' the damage of doing business in settlements without necessarily pulling out completely," he continued. 

Meanwhile, The Nation's Ali Gharib pointed out:

The report coincides with recognition from an unlikely place of just how bad Israeli discriminations and rights abuses have gotten. On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, a fluent Hebrew speaker who is well liked in the Jewish state, told an audience in Tel Aviv that “at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank: one for Jews and one for Palestinians.” Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried Shapiro’s statement as “unacceptable and untrue,” the settlement enterprise—which is illegal under international humanitarian law—patently imposes different standards on many aspects of life in the West Bank.

As Ganesan put it: "Settlement businesses help entrench discriminatory Israeli policies that favor settlers over Palestinians...even though the settlers should not be there in the first place."

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