Israel's largest banks are funding illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, even though they are under no obligation to do so by law, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday.
The organisation accuses banks of violating their responsibilities under international law by contributing to human rights abuses that settlement construction incurs. It also contradicts previous statements by some Israeli banks that argued that they were legally obliged to provide such funding.
"In addition, the services they offer in settlements make life in settlements more sustainable. They're providing services to settlement businesses and settlement municipalities, I'ts quite extensive," Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine advocacy director at HRW, told MEMO.
Israeli banks provide loans to construction companies, as well as home buyers and settlement councils. Most also have branches in the West Bank to provide easy access for settlers. Whilst Israeli law requires banks to serve all citizens, including settlers, there is no compulsion to provide their services to construction companies.
Israeli banks are financing settlement construction and facilitating settlement expansion as a matter of choice, not because they are somehow required to do so under domestic law
HRW called on banks to halt business with organisations that build settlements, and on institutional investors to ensure that their affiliated businesses do not profit from land unlawfully seized from Palestinians.
The report cites the examples of the United Methodist Church and the Dutch Pension fund PGGM, both of which have divested from Israel's five largest banks due to their operations in the occupied territories.
"We know that many foreign investors are already in conversation with Israeli banks about their settlement activities, the questions and suggestions we put in the report are designed to help those investors come to a decision," Bashi added.
Some 400,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank, and a further 200,000 settlers live in occupied East Jerusalem.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and have been condemned by the UN on numerous occasions. Israel's refusal to heed such criticism has been identified as a major obstacle to the peace process; the immediate cessation of all settlement activity is a core demand of the Palestinian Authority.
Since US President Donald Trump took office, Israel has been given the green light to build more than 6,000 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.