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New Report - Don't buy in to occupation

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Between January 2018 and May 2021, 672 European financial institutions, including banks, asset managers, insurance companies, and pension funds, had financial relationships with 50 businesses that are actively involved with Israeli settlements, for a total of US$ 255 million in crediting and investments.

New research by a cross-regional coalition of 23 Palestinian and European organisations shows that, between 2018 and May 2021, 672 European financial institutions, including banks, asset managers, insurance companies, and pension funds, had financial relationships with 50 businesses that are actively involved with Israeli settlements.

These financial institutions can be directly linked to violations committed in the illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT through the provision of such loans, underwriting services and investments to businesses involved in the settlement enterprise. European FIs should be aware of the risks of being linked to the settlement enterprise, and of their responsibilities under international law, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines).

The “Don’t Buy into Occupation” (DBIO) coalition is a joint project between 26 Palestinian, regional and European organisations based in Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom. The coalition - which Fair Finance Belgium is a part of - aims to investigate and highlight the financial relationships between business enterprises involved in the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and European Financial Institutions (FIs).

In order to create such awareness, this report has identified a total number of 130 businesses that are involved in activities linked to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the OPT. This list of businesses, which builds upon the existing UN database of businesses involved in activities linked to Israeli settlements in the OPT (UN Database), together with the UNGPs, serves as the basis for further research into the financial relationships between business enterprises and European FI's.

Settlements

Israeli settlements, their maintenance and expansion are illegal under international law and constitute acts which incur individual criminal liability as war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). International humanitarian law (IHL), as per the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits the Occupying Power from the individual or mass forcible transfer and deportations of protected persons, as well as from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. In addition, the confiscation of land to build or expand settlements in occupied territory is also prohibited, whereas the extensive destruction and appropriation of property for the benefit of settlements violates a number of provisions of IHL, as found in the Hague Regulations of 1907, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and in customary IHL.

In addition, Israeli settlements have resulted in a myriad of human rights violations against the protected Palestinian population, while fragmenting the West Bank and isolating it from Jerusalem, and rendering sustainable and independent social and economic development for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) impossible to achieve.

As evidenced by legal experts and human rights organisations, settlements are also a key component of Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, in which Israel administers the territory under two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions: a civil administration for Israeli-Jewish communities living in illegal settlements on the one hand, and a military administration for the occupied Palestinian population living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other.

Israeli, European and international business enterprises operating with or providing services to Israeli settlements, play a critical role in facilitating the functioning and growth of settlements. Considering the illegality of settlements, the associated wide range of international humanitarian law violations, severe adverse human rights impacts on the Palestinian population and the obstruction of the development of the Palestinian economy, private actors have a responsibility to ensure that they are not involved in violations of international law and are not complicit in international crimes, and address any adverse human rights impacts arising from their activities and business relationships. However, despite its illegal nature, European financial institutions continue to invest billions into the Israeli settlement enterprise.

Main findings

  • During the analysed period, US$ 114 billion was provided in the form of loans and under- writings. As of May 2021, European investors also held US$ 141 billion in shares and bonds of these companies.
  • The 50 companies for which this research found financial relationships with European financial institutions, are: ACS Group, Airbnb, Alstom, Altice Europe, Ashtrom Group, Atlas Copco, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Bezeq Group, Booking Holdings, Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), Caterpillar, Cellcom Israel, Cemex, CETCO Mineral Technology Group, Cisco Systems, CNH Industrial, Delek Group, Delta Galil Industries, DXC Technology, eDreams ODIGEO, Elbit Systems, Electra Group, Energix Renewable Energies, Expedia Group, First International Bank of Israel (FIBI), General Mills, HeidelbergCement, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Israel Discount Bank, Magal Security Systems, MAN Group, Manitou Group, Matrix IT, Mivne Group, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, Motorola Solutions, Partner Communications Company, Paz Oil Company, Rami Levy Chain Stores Hashikma Marketing 2006, RE/MAX Holdings, Shapir Engineering and Industry, Shikun & Binui, Shufersal, Siemens, Solvay, Terex Corporation, Tripadvisor, Volvo Group, and WSP Global.
  • All 50 companies are involved in one or more of the “listed activities” that raise particular human rights concerns, which constitute the basis for inclusion in the UN database of business enterprises that are involved in Israeli settlements, which was published in February 2020.

The Top 10 creditors (loans and underwritings) alone provided US$ 77.81 billion to businesses that are actively involved with Israeli settlements:

The Top 10 investors (shareholdings and bondholdings) alone invested US$ 67.22 billion in businesses that are actively involved with Israeli settlements:


Further details on these connections, as well as three in-depth case studies, can be found in the full report by the “Don’t Buy Into Occupation” coalition.

Recommendations

Based on the analysis and findings presented, the relevant applicable international law framework, and the jurisprudence of various international instruments, the report provides a set of recommendations for financial institutions, business enterprises, European governments and institutions, and local authorities across Europe.

  • Companies directly operating in the Israeli settlement industry should cease these activities at short notice, and provide the necessary compensation to Palestinian communities that have suffered from such business activities in the Israeli settlement industry.
  • Financial institutions that have financial relationships with settlement companies should:
    • Undertake enhanced human rights due diligence on all financial relationships with companies operating in the Israeli settlement industry.
    • Use their influence to persuade such companies to cease their activities in the Israeli settlement industry. In the event that such influence process fails to produce concrete results within a reasonable period of time, the financial institution should divest from the settlement companies in question.
    • Take the necessary action to avoid future investment in companies active in settlements, through the development of a clear human rights policy that uses "involvement in Israeli settlements" as an exclusion criterion.
  • National governments should
    • Provide political and financial support for an annual update of the UN database of settlement companies.
    • Strengthen the existing advice to companies regarding financial and economic activities in Israeli settlements, and disseminate it more proactively to national companies and financial institutions.
    • Play an active role in the ongoing negotiations on a legally binding UN Convention on Business and Human Rights, and work to ensure that activities in occupied territory are included in the substantive scope of the treaty.
    • Establish a national ban on trading with illegal settlements in occupied territory.
  • Local municipalities should take great care not to enter into contracts with companies actively involved in the Israeli settlement industry.

A full list of recommendations can be found in the report, on pages 98-100.

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