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 immediately 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 Jewish-only 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 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 2016, UN Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36 called on companies “to avoid contributing to the establishment or maintenance of Israeli settlements or the exploitation of natural resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” In the same resolution, the Human Rights Council requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce a database of all companies involved in such activities. In 2018, the Office of the High Commissioner reported to have identified 206 such companies.
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 settlement - 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 database of business enterprises involved in the Israeli settlements
- WhoProfits Settlement Industry database - including privately-owned companies that are not publicly traded
- Gush Shalom Settlement Products Wiki
- Human Rights Watch Occupation, Inc. report on business involvement in settlements
- DanWatch report and list of businesses on occupied territories