For almost a half a century, Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied during the Six Day War have grown, imposing a two-tiered system—one that not only discriminates against Palestinians but deprives them of basic rights and adversely impacts their society’s economic viability. Proponents of a two-state solution have watched with dismay as every new apartment and settlement erected in occupied territory created new stumbling blocks on the path to peace and ending the conflict. And yet Israel has faced few consequences. On Tuesday morning, however, New York–based Human Rights Watch released a report calling for an end to this impunity, at least where the international business community is concerned.
The new 162-page report, “Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” calls for businesses operating in and dealing directly with Israeli settlements to end their endeavors there. “In Human Rights Watch’s view, the context of human rights abuse to which settlement business activity contributes is so pervasive and severe that businesses should cease carrying out activities inside or for the benefit of settlements,” the report says. “They should also stop financing, administering, trading with or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure.”
The report coincides with recognition from an unlikely place of just how bad Israeli discriminations and rights abuses have gotten. On Monday, US 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.
“Occupation, Inc.” leverages case studies to demonstrate just how businesses contribute to discrimination, rights abuses, and violations of humanitarian law. It divides businesses into two broad categories: those that directly contribute to supporting settlements—such as construction of settlements and the infrastructure needed to establish and maintain them—and those that are based in settlements, which don’t necessarily directly bolster the inherently rights-abusive enterprises, but nonetheless provide benefits to exclusive Jewish Israeli communities in Palestinian territories.
“We’re trying to be very strongly based in law,” says Sari Bashi, HRW’s Israel-Palestine country director. “Under international law, businesses have responsibilities. Our position is doing business in the settlements is inconsistent with those responsibilities.”
The move will no doubt be seen as controversial. “Israel is not going to care about this distinction that Human Rights Watch is making,” said Ali Abunimah, an activist and journalist who advocates for boycotting Israel. “As far as Israel is concerned, it’s a call for a boycott.”