In a groundbreaking new report, Human Rights Watch has joined the chorus of voices calling on countries to label goods made in the Israeli occupied territories as the products of settlements, and calls on countries to withhold aid to Israel that can be used to “offset the costs of Israeli government expenditures on settlements.” The report titled Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights puts pressure on a “multitude” of private companies to stop doing business in the occupied territories, because they are helping to sustain an illegal settlement project that deprives the Palestinian population of their human rights.
HRW says that businesses that are operating in the occupied territories are implicated in the occupation and directly benefit from Israel’s discriminatory policies:
It is Human Rights Watch’s view that by virtue of doing business in or with settlements or settlement businesses, companies contribute to one or more of these violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses. Settlement businesses depend on and benefit from Israel’s unlawful confiscation of Palestinian land and other resources, and facilitate the functioning and growth of settlements. Settlement-related activities also directly benefit from Israel’s discriminatory policies in planning and zoning, the allocation of land, natural resources, financial incentives, and access to utilities and infrastructure. These policies result in the forced displacement of Palestinians and place Palestinians at an enormous disadvantage in comparison with settlers. Israel’s discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians have harmed the Palestinian economy and left many Palestinians dependent on jobs in settlements—a dependency that settlement proponents then cite to justify settlement businesses.
It calls on these businesses to cease these functions:
Human Rights Watch has advocated that certain types of businesses cease operating. That is the case for businesses engaged in activities related to Israeli settlements, since the Human Rights Watch research finds that such business activities contribute to abuses that are beyond the control of companies to mitigate.
The report includes several case studies that demonstrate how companies operating in the settlements benefit from and support the occupation. One case study is of the real estate brokerage franchise RE/MAX which has recently become the target of international BDS activists. The report reads:
By advertising, selling and renting homes in settlements, both the Israeli franchise of RE/MAX and RE/MAX LLC, the owner of the global franchise network, facilitate and benefit from the transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied territory and the associated human rights abuses, contravening their rights responsibilities. . . .
The RE/MAX Israel website, which is entirely in English and Hebrew, does not list any Arabic-speaking agents in Jerusalem or Ma’aleh Adumim, the area where most of its settlement properties are concentrated. Human Rights Watch spoke with one RE/MAX agent who has two properties listed in a settlement in East Jerusalem. “I don’t buy from or sell to Arabs. It’s not racism, I just prefer not to deal with [them],” he said. He said he doesn’t know whether this violates any RE/MAX policies, and added: “I just share the profits with them; we’re like partners. They can’t make me sell to anyone.”
HRW says its call to label settlement goods is in line with the European Union’s demand that goods from settlements that are exported to Europe be labeled as originating in settlements. And it says the U.S. has a similar policy, unexercised:
Since 1995, United States customs regulations have required goods originating in the West Bank and Gaza to be labeled as such and specifically prohibit them from being labeled
However, US customs officials have not been enforcing these regulations for goods originating in Israeli settlements.
The human rights organization says that the recommendations are in line with earlier reports in which it urged businesses not to source diamonds from Zimbabwe, or energy resources from Sudan, or logging/mining products from Burma, also because of human rights violations. It says that the same principles have moved the EU to bar exports from the occupied Western Sahara and from Russian-occupied Crimea.
The recommendations are distinct from the BDS movement, and HRW says it takes no position on BDS, in a document it released with the report:
[H]ow does it relate to the BDS movement?
Human Rights Watch has not taken a position to support or oppose the call by some groups for consumers to boycott settlement goods or Israel at large
HRW also said that it recognizes that Palestinians get employment from these businesses, but it says that it spoke to many Palestinians who describe experiencing a “Catch-22.” They work for businesses that help to violate their rights and deprive them of employment on their own land. If the occupation were ended, the GNP of Palestine would go up, HRW says:
The World Bank estimates that if Israel lifted its restrictions on Palestinians in Area C (the area under Israel’s exclusive control), it would generate US$3.4 billion annually, raising the Palestinian GDP by one-third. Indeed, some of the Palestinian workers in settlement businesses used to work on their own land or in Palestinian businesses, but because of land confiscation, inadequate access to water, and discriminatory restrictions, they have lost their sources of livelihood and are relegated
You can read the full report here.