The UK government has published guidance warning businesses about the problems and risks associated with doing business with illegal Israeli settlements and related activities in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.
Published on the Israel page of the British Department of Trade and Industry website, the guidance warns that there are “clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity”.
The document urges firms to take legal advice and consider “possible abuses of the rights of individuals” involved in doing business with illegal Israeli settlements.
Welcoming this guidance as a step in the right direction, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society, called for more practical measures to bring about British compliance with its obligations under international law.
Many major UK retailers purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from Israeli firms operating in illegal Israeli settlements. Other British firms, such as construction equipment manufacturer JCB, have extensive business involvement in Israel’s illegal settlements, whether in the construction of settlements, settlement roads and Israeli occupation-related installations and facilities.
“The UK government has realized that its condemnations of illegal settlements are falling on deaf ears and has started to address the huge amount of economic support that the illegal settlements receive from UK businesses,” said Rafeef Ziadah, a BNC spokesperson.
“The government should now make it absolutely clear to companies like G4S that it is unacceptable to participate in Israel’s illegal settlements or in Israel’s other human rights abuses,” Ziadah added.
British security company G4S provides equipment to Israeli military checkpoints and to private businesses in illegal Israeli settlements and to prisons at which Palestinian political prisoners are held without trial and tortured. The company has lost contracts with universities in the UK and Norway over its involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
The BDS movement urges a boycott of Israel and practical, gradual measures, including sanctions, by world governments to end their complicity in maintaining Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people.
The UK move follows steps by the government in Netherlands to actively discourage Dutch businesses from maintaining links with the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise. The Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans has intervened to dissuade engineering firm Royal Haskoning DHV from participating in a sewage treatment project with the Israeli municipality in occupied East Jerusalem.
“It isn’t enough to simply warn businesses about the economic and legal risks of doing business with settlements. The UK government and all EU member states have a duty to take a proactive approach to preventing businesses from contributing to Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights,” Ziadah said.
Under international law, signatories to the Geneva Convention such as the UK are obliged not to provide assistance or recognition to Israeli violations of international law and are obliged to take action to end trade and other economic relations with illegal Israeli settlements.
The government has published the advice for businesses following calls to do so by MPs and Palestinian and UK human rights groups. A 2012 report by EU diplomats in Jerusalem called for steps to address the contribution by business to the expansion of illegal settlements.
A report published by Palestinian agricultural organisations in February shows that many illegal settlements are only economically viable because the Israeli companies operating in them are able to export their fresh produce to European supermarkets.
The Co-Operative supermarket chain in the UK has pledged not to source produce from Israeli companies that operate in settlements such as Mehadrin, Israel’s largest fresh produce exporter. Campaigners are now calling on Sainsbury’s and other UK supermarkets to follow suit.
The European Union published new rules regarding Israel’s participation in EU projects in June. The new guidelines prohibit projects in illegal settlements from receiving EU grants and any Israeli entity with operations in settlements from receiving EU loans.
“The European Union and its member states are finally starting to address some aspects of their complicity with Israel’s system of colonization, occupation and apartheid over the Palestinian people. European governments must take further action to limit economic support for settlements and stop halt their military relations with Israeli, including arms exports and joint research and development,” said Ziadah.
1. The full guidance is published online at http://www.ukti.gov.uk/export/countries/asiapacific/neareast/israel/overseasbusinessrisk.html
and has been reposted at http://opentoexport.com/article/overseas-business-risk-israel/ (the UKTI website seems to be having some general technical problems as of Monday morning)
2. For details of calls by EU diplomats and the UN Human Rights Council for action to tackle the contribution of businesses to illegal Israeli settlements, see