On Monday, 16 November 2020, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) participated in the Exchange of Views on recent human rights developments in Palestine, organized by the Subcommittee for Human Rights at the European Parliament (DROI) and in association with the Delegation for Relations with Palestine of the Parliament. The session was held in the presence of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, as well as Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B’Tselem, and Maha Abdallah, International Advocacy Officer at CIHRS.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Maria Arena and Manu Pineda opened the session by highlighting the deteriorating human rights situation in Palestine, including Israel’s exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic to further perpetrate violations against Palestinians, the continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the increasingly limited space for civil society and human rights organisations.
In her intervention, Maha Abdallah focused on Israel’s rapidly-growing settlement enterprise and the associated economic and corporate actors’ significant role in contributing to the economic viability of settlements and the annexationist agenda. She stressed that settlements and associated business activities serve Israel’s territorial and demographic goals, while violating obligations incumbent upon an occupying power and denying the Palestinian people the right to self-determination, among other violations. From this comes the need to hold relevant corporate actors to account and regulate them. Such accountability efforts include the UN database of businesses involved in Israel’s settlement enterprise, which was released in February 2020 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Maha Abdallah further emphasized the need for the EU and Member States, as one of Israel’s main trading partners, to take immediate and effective measures to bring settlements, annexation and the occupation to an end by disrupting the economic structures incentivising them. This includes the banning of all products and services originating from illegal settlements, divesting or disengaging from corporate activities there; restrictive measures and sanctions against the de facto and de jure annexation of Israeli occupied territory and other grave violations committed; and to constructively engage with and support the UN database and other accountability mechanisms, including the ICC.
Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk warned against Israel’s prolonged occupation which is taking the form of “a one-state reality of unequal rights, an occupation on steroids, an occu’annexation, and even apartheid”. He further urged for international pressure and action, particularly from Europe, in order to stop the cycle of impunity. In particular, Rapporteur Lynk emphasized the importance of basing all political efforts on human rights and international law. Some of the accountability measures he proposed include the banning of Israeli settlement goods from entering the European market; the imposition of travel bans on Israeli settler leaders; the review and downgrading of treaty relationships between Europe and Israel; and supporting proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Meanwhile, Hagai El-Ad focused on Israel’s systemic practice of house demolitions over the past decade, displacing Palestinian families and communities, amid continued international silence and denial. He stressed that European foreign policy should introduce consequences for Israel’s grave and systemic violations, effectively using its leverage – based on Europe’s commitment to human rights and the rules-based order.
Following the three interventions, several MEPs raised relevant issues, reiterated points raised by the speakers and posed questions. For example, MEPs Isabel Santos and Margerete Auken echoed the importance of holding business actors associated with Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise to account, imposing a duty of diligence, banning settlement products and making efficient use of the UN database. MEP Miguel Crespo reaffirmed the lack of accountability within this context and highlighted that Europe’s continued trade with illegal Israeli settlements is an illicit recognition of them. At the end, the European External Action Service (EEAS) representative spoke briefly, acknowledging the interventions of the three speakers. He stressed that it is of high importance for the EEAS to continue to make public statements of condemnation and concern.
Thank you, Chair. It’s an honour to speak to you and Members of the European Parliament today.
As we have already heard, the situation in Palestine is characterized by a growing list of well-documented, systemic and persistent Israeli violations against Palestinians, met with impunity and international inaction, including by the EU and Member States – one of Israel’s main trading partners.
One stark example is Israel’s fast-growing settlement enterprise, spearheaded by the Israeli government, which has long served its territorial and demographic goals, while violating obligations incumbent upon an occupying power and denying the Palestinian people the right to self-determination.
The EU’s position on settlements is clear. They are illegal and an obstacle to peace. Yet this has been limited to statements of condemnation, avoiding any concrete actions and restrictive measures to put Israel’s wrongful acts to an end.
Instead, European institutions and companies have been involved in projects that facilitate, promote and sustain settlements and annexation – from research to railways, stone quarries, and much more.
For years, civil society has been working to ensure accountability for corporate and economic actors – one of the main drivers of Israel’s occupation, colonization, and systems of segregation and apartheid.
One recent effort supported the establishment of a UN database of businesses involved in Israel’s settlement enterprise, mandated by the Human Rights Council in 2016.
It is important to note that businesses contribute significantly to the economic viability of Israeli settlements and the annexationist agenda.
Businesses provide job opportunities to settlers in settlements, encouraging Israeli civilian transfer to occupied territory – contrary to IHL and amounting to a war crime.
Businesses supply construction equipment; transport, banking, surveillance and security services; exploit resources – including land, water, minerals and stone; contribute to roads, sewage and water networks, and telecommunication towers built for Israeli settlers only – and mostly for the benefit of the Occupying Power, its economy and population, including settlers.
Some businesses operate in settlement tourism sites, while others provide and advertise accommodation there. Meanwhile, Israeli settlement goods and services are significantly exported to international markets, namely Europe, with a high return profit.
In February 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner published the database of businesses involved with Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, listing 112 Israeli and multinational companies.
It lists businesses that are directly or indirectly involved in violations of international law in their operations and relationships with the settlement enterprise.
It is one tool that helps prevent companies from being involved in such illegal activity. Such a list should also encourage home states of multinationals to strengthen domestic legislations, at a minimum, requiring mandatory enhanced due diligence procedures.
The database complements relevant UN Security Council resolutions, like 2334, and States’ duty of non-recognition and non-assistance.
While it is not comprehensive in scope, the mandate requires its annual update. All companies involved with settlements should be listed. We hope to see companies removed when they end their involvement in settlements and respect international law.
Of the 112 companies listed, eight are domiciled within the European Union, like Booking.com and Alstom, whereas several others, like Motorola and Mekorot, have received European funding and taxpayer money.
This contradicts the EU’s longstanding position on the illegality of settlements and annexation, as well as Europe’s significant contribution to the advancement of the business and human rights framework.
Human rights violations linked to Israeli settlements and associated business activities are many.
Israel unlawfully appropriates Palestinian land and allocates it for the sole use of its own civilian population; it establishes settlements, where profitable business activities take place.
Home demolitions, forcible transfer, discriminatory planning laws, labour exploitation, unlawful exploitation of resources, and a two-tiered legal system – are some of the main violations.
The settlement enterprise further contributes to the de-development of the Palestinian economy, leaving it captive to that of Israel and international aid.
Yet impunity continues to prevail. The lack of political will on Palestine, coupled with the absence of regulatory frameworks for corporations more broadly, has meant an accountability gap, with limited-to-no access to effective remedy.
In closing, it is simply impossible for businesses to be involved with the settlement enterprise without undermining Palestinian rights and international law.
If settlements continue to be incentivized by the economic structure perpetuating them, Israel will continue to advance them – just as we see today in Givat Hamatos and other locations in occupied Palestinian territory.
The EU and Member States must take effective measures to bring settlements, annexation and the occupation to an end, and preserve the international rules-based order. Among others, they should:
- Ban all products and services originating from illegal settlements, divest or disengage from corporate activities directly or indirectly involved in them.
- Introduce measures, including sanctions, against the de facto and de jure annexation of Israeli occupied territory and other grave violations committed.
- Suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the European Neighbourhood Policy considering Israel’s grave breaches of the “common values”.
Equally important, the EU and Member States should:
- Constructively engage with and support the UN database and other accountability mechanisms, including the ICC.
- Ensure that business conduct fully aligns with their existing positions and commitments, and with customary international law affirming the illegality of settlements.
- Exclude businesses from public procurement bidding where they are unable or unwilling to respect international law within this context – in line with the UN Guiding Principles and the EU’s non-recognition and differentiation policies.
Photo: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
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