CJ Werleman on a new report published by the UN which lists the companies profiting from Israel’s unlawful settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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For decades, the veto power of the United States and a handful of its closest allies has blocked one global effort after another to halt Israel’s unlawful settlements in the Palestinian territories, with the aim of ending the occupation and bringing the self-proclaimed Jewish state into compliance with international law. 

But, if civil rights history has taught us anything, it is that great injustices are never resolved from the top-down, but rather from bottom-up through movements which harness people power in a way that makes change irresistible to the political establishment.

In publishing a list of 112 Israeli and international business enterprises that derive vast profits from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, the UN Human Rights Office has provided us all with the potential to end Israel’s five decades-long colonial venture. 

“The UN Human Rights Council is a biased body that is devoid of influence,” tweeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah. “Not for nothing have I already ordered the severing of ties with it.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised the “discredited” body, saying that the decision to publish the list “only confirms the unrelenting anti-Israel bias so prevalent at the United Nations”.

Certainly, Netanyahu’s response is predictable, given his track record of smearing every critic of his Government’s policies as “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic”. But the remark by Pompeo perfectly illustrates the Trump administration’s incoherent double-speak. Why would it be critical or fearful of a published list of companies that do business in the Palestinian territories, given that it recently declared that the settlements do not constitute a violation of international law?

Both the US and Israel have enough self-awareness to understand that the list provides sub-state actors and individuals within the international community to exact an economic cost on Israel’s stubborn refusal to abide by international law and end its current system of apartheid in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by targeting these companies with condemnation and boycotts.

Among the international companies listed are the travel booking websites Booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Airbnb, along with British construction and manufacturing firm JCB Ltd and US corporate giants General Mills and Motorola. The UN Human Rights Office intends to update the list each year in line with its ongoing investigations, with pro-Palestinian human rights groups urging companies such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, Volvo, Hyundai Heavy Industries, among others, to be included on the basis that they are “irrefutably implicated in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise”.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement praised the UN body, describing the published list of companies as a “first significant and concrete step by any UN entity towards holding to account Israeli and international corporations that enable and profit from Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights”.

“It is high time for all public institutions, city councils, churches, trade unions, cultural organisations, universities, investment funds and others to stop contracting, procuring from or investing in any of the companies on the UN list of shame, to avoid complicity in Israel’s settlement enterprise,” the group said.

An international boycott of Israeli and international businesses that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation is what Tel Aviv fears, particularly at a time when the Trump-Israel partnership has effectively killed whatever hope remained for a two-state solution.

With Israel recently declaring its intention to annex the West Bank, and the US giving Israel the diplomatic go-ahead, Israel will soon officially control the lives of the Palestinian people, but under a system of segregation and apartheid, rather than one in which all citizens hold equal rights.

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Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” is nothing more than a cruel and sinister effort to break the will of the Palestinian people through crippling cuts to humanitarian aid and diplomatic channels in order to force them into accepting a small handful of non-contiguous pockets of land to call their own, while Israel steals the overwhelming majority of territory that rightfully belongs to the Palestinians.

In publishing a list of companies that participate in this, the UN has handed power to global consumers to right this wrong. Israel’s system of colonisation and apartheid is not sustainable without global consumer support – a reality white South Africa learnt the hard way in the 1980s.

As such you, as a consumer, now have a clear choice: either aid and abet Israel’s criminality or boycott and condemn the companies that help make these injustices against the Palestinian people possible.


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