Human rights groups have claimed a major victory after HSBC, one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world, confirmed that it fully divested from Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit Systems, which sells weapons to the Israeli military used in attacks on Palestinians.
As part of the campaign, over 24,000 people emailed HSBC with concern over its investments in Elbit Systems and other companies selling weapons to Israel’s military. Forty HSBC branches across the UK were picketed monthly to call on HSBC to stop aiding Israel’s brutal occupation and human rights abuse of millions of Palestinians.
Campaigners said that they targeted Elbit Systems because it is one of Israel’s largest arms manufacturers, notorious for its deadly drones used in attacks on Palestinian civilians. Shamefully, the company prides the deadly use of its arms in operations against Palestinians to market its products abroad as “combat proven”. The company has also manufactured white phosphorous and artillery systems that can be used for cluster munitions.
Elbit Systems has been excluded from pension and investment funds around the world over the company’s involvement in supplying surveillance systems and other technology to Israel’s illegal Separation Wall and settlements in the West Bank. Elbit has also supplied surveillance technology for use along the US-Mexico border.
Along with a number of major arms companies Elbit Systems has become the target of campaign groups over the past few years with notable victories for human rights groups. Last month the University of Leeds made the decision to divest from three companies which were found to be complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights: Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence Corporation. It was seen as another sign of the growing momentum of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).
HSBC’s link with Elbit Systems was first exposed in 2017 in a War on Want report on UK banks’ business dealings with companies selling military technology to Israel. The campaign calling on HSBC to divest from complicit companies received a critical boost when the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other groups joined, picketing bank branches across the UK over its connections to Elbit and other companies.
In making their case to the bank, campaigners said that HSBC has a “Defence Equipment Sector Policy” which specifies that the bank would not provide financial services to companies involved in the production or selling of cluster munitions. Campaigners pointed out that its involvement with Elbit Systems, even if “on behalf of clients” as the bank long claimed, violated this policy as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Elbit Systems is rumoured to be on a list currently being compiled by the UN Human Rights Commissioner of companies that are violating international law by providing support for Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
Ryvka Barnard, War on Want’s senior campaigner on militarism and security said: “HSBC has taken a positive first step in divesting from Elbit Systems, the notorious manufacturer of drones, chemical weapons, cluster bomb artillery systems, and other technology used in attacks against Palestinian civilians, and to militarise walls and borders around the world. Doing business with companies like Elbit means profiting from violence and human rights violation, which is both immoral and a contravention of international law.”
“However, HSBC continues to do business with over a dozen companies selling military equipment and technology used in human rights violation, including Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are used in demolition of Palestinian homes and properties, and BAE Systems, whose weapons are used in war crimes by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other repressive regimes.”
The activists have vowed to continue their campaign against HSBC’s business relations with more than a dozen other companies selling weapons and technology to the Israeli military.