When discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much of the focus tends to be on the armed aspect of the conflict.
We argue about who attacked whom, whether it was self-defense, or whether one side had better justification than the other. Yet, an important discussion to have, and important information to know, relates to Israel’s informal settlements in the West Bank, in which companies produce and sell goods for profit.
But what is an informal settlement?
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development offers two definitions of informal settlements. One defines them as areas where groups of housing units have been constructed on land that the occupants have no legal claim to, or occupy illegally. The second defines them as unplanned settlements and areas where housing is not in compliance with current planning and building regulations, unauthorized housing. These issues, however, do not only apply to housing units, but to companies who use these settlements to their advantage, in order to increase profits.
But, before tackling that important issue, it’s important to examine the many human rights violations that take place in the settlements.
The United Nations, the international courts and the majority of the international community have all declared Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territories, such as the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Golan Heights to be illegal.
These settlements are agreed to be a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into the territory it occupies and from transferring or displacing the population of an occupied territory within or outside the territory. Unsurprisingly, Israel has refused to make any changes with regards to their illegal settlements, and have largely ignored and even condemned urges by the international community for them to stop this illegal activity that violates the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
On top of that, Israel continues to establish more of these illegal settlements. Israel is largely doing this in order to offer cheaper housing options to their Jewish citizens, as living within Israel can be quite costly. However, they are displacing Palestinians in the process, many of which find themselves without any land and having to find refuge in bordering states.
With that being said, it is important to learn how companies play a role in the conflict.
Earlier this year, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) put together an extensive report explaining how settlement businesses contribute to Israel’s violations of Palestinian Human Rights. Businesses are easily drawn to the settlements because of factors such as low rent, favorable tax rates, government subsidies, and of course the access to cheap Palestinian labor. All of these factors help them make higher profits.
According to HRW, the presence of business activity within the West Bank has exceeded the amount of residential settlements. There are about twenty Israeli-administered industrial zones in the West Bank that cover 1,365 hectares, in addition to Israeli agricultural cultivation that takes up 9,300 hectares of land, while 6,000 hectares are attributed to residential settlements.
It is for this reason that we should boycott these companies.
Boycotting these companies in support of the Palestinians effectively shows Israel that we will not stand behind these violations of humanitarian rights and laws. Hundreds of multi-national corporations and other businesses are involved with Israel and their illegal settlements. This isn’t just about the loss of land, but also the loss of opportunity, the continued oppression, the lack of resources, the horrible conditions that Palestinians must live with due to these settlements and their effects.
The World Bank estimates that discriminatory Israeli restrictions in Area C of the West Bank, most of which are directly linked to Israel’s settlement and land policies, cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion a year. This leads many Palestinians to work as cheap labor in these illegal settlements as they have no other choice. This in turn also leads proponents of these settlements to use the employment of Palestinians in their settlements as a somehow “positive” or “good” thing, as it provides jobs.
The issue of illegal settlements is not something you can blame on Hamas. You can’t claim this is acceptable because of any alleged attack on Israel by Palestine. This is a black and white issue where there is no gray area to speak of. Something is either legal or it isn’t, and this is not.
Arvind Ganesan, Director of the Business and Human Rights Division at HRW, explains that “every dollar that settlement businesses extract and sell from the West Bank is a dollar taken from Palestinians, and the bottom line is no settlement business should be operating and profiting from land and resources illegally taken from the Palestinian people.”
Here is a brief list of some of the hundreds of companies that profit from Israel’s illegal settlements, with details provided by Interfaith Peace Initiative.
Hewlett Packard Company (HP) owns Electronic Data Systems, which heads a consortium providing biometric monitoring of checkpoints, including several built inside the West Bank, in violation of international law.
Motorola: have antennae in military installations in the West Bank. Motorola subcontracts IT services to settlers in the settlement of Modi’in Illit through a company called Matrix. According to Israelí’s Coalition of Women for Peace, Motorola subsidiary MIRS has at least 70 cell phone towers in illegal settlements in the West Bank and MIRS has developed a special pricing plan for settlers.
Volvo: their bulldozers have been photographed and videotaped destroying Palestinian homes. They have also been used in Israel’s construction of the Separation Wall, which is on Palestinian land and has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) has also provided us with a list of many companies engaged in and profiting from Israeli illegal settlements, such as Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart, Calvin Klein and Nike.
So, why do I choose to boycott these companies, and any involvement with Israeli’s illegal settlements? Because I am not comfortable with individuals being continuously discriminated against, displaced, resource-less, jobless, at the mercy of their occupiers, helpless against a government that has no respect for international law and the Palestinian people’s basic human rights.