Israeli officials are reportedly doing everything they can to prevent the publication of a UN database of companies doing business in Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Israel fears the list could have a major economic impact, prompting companies to pull out, deterring others from doing business with it and encouraging investors to dump shares.
Some 100 local companies operating in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and about 50 more international firms – among them household brands such as Coca-Cola, Motorola and HP – have received UN warning letters that they may be mentioned in the database.
The diplomatic push by the US and Israel to stop the list’s publication may be succeeding. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the office mandated to compile the list, has reportedly pushed back publication from December to early next year.
Human Rights Watch appears worried enough that on Tuesday it reiterated the need for the database to be made public.
“Israel’s brazen disregard of the 2016 Security Council resolution, passed without opposition, reaffirming the illegality of settlements makes it all the more urgent for corporations to avoid entanglement in rights abuses inherent in settlement activity,” Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the group’s Middle East division, said. “The database can contribute toward establishing an authoritative list of corporations currently engaged in such activity.”
International companies also play a key role in supporting Israeli firms that service the settlements. Waste management firm Elidori Green illustrates this dependence.
The company operates a dump near the Palestinian village of Kisan, southeast of Bethlehem, to dispose of construction waste from Jerusalem and from illegal settlements in the Gush Etzion bloc, including Efrat and Beitar Illit.
In recent years, Kisan has seen large tracts of its villagers’ land confiscated by Israel for the construction of the nearby settlement of Maaleh Amos, part of the Gush Etzion bloc, and for Israeli military installations.
According to a document published on Elidori Green’s Facebook page in 2015, Israel’s Jerusalem municipality authorized the company to dump up to 2,000 tons of waste at the Gush Etzion site daily.
Earlier this month, Dror Etkes, who has long monitored settlement activity, posted images on Twitter of the Elidori Green dump site near Kisan.
According to Etkes, one of the photos shows a Palestinian youth, possibly a child, working at the dump.
Photos posted on Elidori Green’s Facebook page show that the company also uses trucks made by Sweden’s Volvo to transport materials in and out of the occupied West Bank.
Firms must respect human rights
There’s a growing international consensus that multinational companies are not exempt from responsibility to respect human rights and international law in the places where they do business.
In a landmark 2004 ruling on Israel’s wall in the West Bank, the International Court of Justice in The Hague reaffirmed the illegality of Israel’s settlement construction, which includes establishing industrial sites in the settlements.
In 2013, a UN fact finding mission on Israeli settlements urged private companies to ensure their activities do not negatively impact the Palestinian people’s human rights, even if that means ending their business activities altogether.
More recently, international legal experts have concluded that trade with settlements is itself illegal and should be banned by governments.
By definition, the companies that will be included in the UN database will have demonstrated utter disregard for the rights of the Palestinians.
A generation ago, similar UN databases proved to be effective tools for activists who supported the fight against South African apartheid.
That is why Israel is desperate to obstruct publication of the names of the settlement profiteers.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, told the Associated Press.
Now, Israel’s pressure on the UN and bullying of BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – activists aims to thwart efforts to hold complicit companies – and ultimately Israel itself – accountable.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein must not cave in and must ensure the database is published.