This section focuses on the companies involved in the settlement industry, which depend on and benefit from the illegal confiscation of occupied resources and from the discriminatory legal regime in the occupied territories.
Between 1967 and 2016, Israel has built 132 settlements in the occupied West Bank, with a population of almost 400,000 settlers. An additional 200,000 settlers live in neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem, a part of the West Bank that Israel officially annexed after the 1967 war. In addition, there are about a hundred smaller settlement “outposts” in the occupied West Bank that were built without official government approval but still receive tacit approval and support. In the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel annexed by law in 1981, there are some 30 settlements, with about 22,000 residents.
Regardless of their status under Israeli law, all the above settlement activities violate Israel's obligations as an occupying power under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its nationals into the territory it occupies. As early as 1979, UN Security Council Resolution 446 determined that the Israeli settlements in Palestine and the Golan Heights “have no legal validity.” In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank “have been established in breach of international law.” In 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 determined that the settlements constitute “a flagrant violation under international law.” The Resolution called on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities,” and called on all other states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
The UN proclaimed responsibilities of states for internationally wrongful acts include an obligation to refrain from recognizing as lawful a situation created by a serious breach of international law. To avoid recognizing the settlements as legal, many states differentiate in their policies between the State of Israel and activities that happen in its illegal settlements. The European Union’s policies, for example, explicitly exclude settlement-based entities and activities from receiving EU funding, and require settlement products to be clearly labeled as such. US customs regulations similarly mandate that goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and imported to the US shall not be labeled as “Made in Israel.”
In addition to state obligations, businesses also have responsibilities with regard to their operation in settlements. In 2013, the UN Human Rights Council issued a report on the implications of the Israeli settlements on the rights of the Palestinian people. The report, which also examined the impact of businesses, called on companies to “assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps - including by terminating their business interests in the settlements - to ensure that they do not have an adverse impact on the human rights of the Palestinian people.”
In 2020, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights published a list of 112 companies doing business in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. The annual publication of such a list was mandated by U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36 of March 2016, which reaffirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements and identified the settlements and the impunity they enjoy as the root cause of many violations of Palestinian human rights. The resolution called on states to prevent their companies from contributing to gross human rights abuses of Palestinians and to provide guidance to businesses on the financial, reputational, and legal risks for corporate involvement in such abuses. More information about the U.N. database can be found here.
Corporate involvement in the settlement industry includes:
- Settlement construction - companies that have participated in the building of housing units or infrastructure projects in or for settlements, that have financed such projects, or that have been active in the settlement real estate market.
- Business activities in settlements - companies with factories, storage facilities, or retail stores in settlements or in the settlement industrial zones in the West Bank.
- Settlement services - companies that provide vital services that help sustain settlements such as communication, transportation, waste management, etc.
The American Friends Service Committee maintains that people should have the right to build and live anywhere, but not as a result of unwarranted land confiscation and illegal settlements. AFSC’s investment policy precludes investment in companies that “provide products or services that contribute to the maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories,” or that “establish facilities or operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Related databases and resources
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 2020 database of business enterprises involved in the Israeli settlements
- WhoProfits Settlement Industry database - updated regularly and includes privately-owned companies that are not publicly-traded
- Gush Shalom Settlement Products Wiki
- Human Rights Watch 2016 Occupation, Inc. report on business involvement in settlements
- DanWatch 2017 report and list of businesses on occupied territories