Guest Post: ‘Don’t Buy into Occupation – Business, Finance and Palestinian Dispossession’

We are delighted to share this guest post by Siobhan Curran, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Trócaire (@SiobhanMCurran) and Maha Abdallah, International Advocacy Officer, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (@MahaAbdallah) discussing the research of the ‘Don’t Buy into Occupation’ coalition and steps that Ireland should take.

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European financial institutions are playing a key role in the maintenance, economic viability and growth of illegal Israeli settlements, with financial relationships of over $250 billion in the settlements. These financial institutions, together with their home States, need to take urgent action to stop providing Israeli settlements with the economic oxygen they require to grow and thrive.

Israeli settlements, their maintenance and expansion are illegal under international law and comprise a number of violations and acts that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In addition, settlements substantially contribute to the segregation and fragmentation of Palestinians, feed on Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies, and thereby are an integral element to Israel’s apartheid regime and persecution of the Palestinian people. Yet European financial institutions continue to invest billions into companies that are actively involved with the Israeli settlement enterprise.

That’s why 27 organisations in Palestine, Ireland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the UK, came together to form the Don’t Buy into Occupation (DBIO) coalition.

Our research, published in September 2021, shows that between 2018 and May 2021, 672 European financial institutions, including banks, asset managers, insurance companies, and pension funds, had financial relationships with 50 businesses that are actively involved with Israeli settlements. US$ 114 billion was provided in the form of loans and underwritings. As of May 2021, European investors also held US$ 141 billion in shares and bonds of these companies.

Corporate responsibility

The State has a duty to protect against human rights abuses by business and to ensure access to remedy, through effective policies, legislation, regulations, and adjudication. However, major gaps remain with a lack of binding regulatory frameworks for corporations. While a number of EU countries are developing legislative responses, Ireland lags behind.

Private actors including businesses and financial institutions bear responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. As such, these businesses, creditors and investors have a responsibility to ensure that they are not involved in violations of international law and are not complicit in international crimes, and to address any adverse human rights impacts arising from their business activities and financial relationships.

Companies are expected to have a rapid response and to consider responsible disengagement, in addition to an enhanced due diligence process to assess, prevent and mitigate involvement in violations. International financial institutions, including banks and pension funds, have a responsibility to use their leverage to ensure their investee companies act responsibly and in line with international law standards, and to divest from those who are unable or unwilling to do so.

Businesses and financial institutions cannot continue to follow the lead of the occupying power in legitimising the unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land and property, the pillage and destruction of Palestinian natural resources, and the exploitation of the Palestinian labour force. Israel has imposed a captive-market on Palestinians while coercing them into economic dependency to assert control over all aspects of their lives.

Positive steps

Recently, several financial institutions and companies have taken up their responsibility by divesting from business enterprises linked to Israeli settlements. The two most recent and important examples are those of Kommunal Landspensjonskasse (KLP) and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG). KLP is Norway’s largest pensions company, who in July 2021, divested from 16 companies linked to Israel’s settlement enterprise.

In a similar vein, GPFG announced in September 2021 that it will exclude three companies that are actively involved with Israeli settlements. The 19 companies excluded by KLP and GPFG were listed in the UN database of businesses involved in certain activities relating to Israeli settlements in the OPT, mandated by the Human Rights Council in 2016, and published in February 2020.

Trócaire’s work with Palestinian communities who have been forcibly displaced by the growth and expansion of the illegal settlements, losing homes and livelihoods in the process, shows the urgent need for those with links to such illegal activity to take appropriate action.

Irish domiciled financial institutions and companies should now take the opportunity to review their own portfolios to ensure that they are not complicit in human rights violations and follow the example of KLP and GPFG. They should end all investments and financial flows into Israeli settlements, and not buy into the Israeli occupation.

In the same vein, the Government of Ireland, as the primary duty bearer under international law, should live up to its obligations within this context. For example, Ireland should work with other like-minded States to ban trade with settlements in occupied territory, and to support the UN database of businesses involved in Israel’s settlement enterprise. Ireland should follow the lead of other countries to implement human rights and environmental due diligence legislation in order to systematically prevent human rights and environmental harm by business, including financial institutions. Asking business to effectively police themselves has failed – the Irish Government needs to progress with legislation to protect people from corporate harm – it is a matter of justice for all affected persons, communities and peoples, including the Palestinian people.

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