By Megan Araghi, MSc Globalisation and Development
On Wednesday 12 February, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) publicly issued a list of 112 companies engaging in commercial operations in Israeli settlements. Per international law, such settlements are regarded as illegal and are largely unrecognised as such by the international community. OHCHR claims that operating in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is a violation of Palestinians’ human rights.
The list is comprised of 94 companies registered in Israel, 12 registered in the United States, 1 registered in the United Kingdom, and the remaining in France, Thailand, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Well-known firms such as Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Motorola, General Mills, and JC Bamford Excavators are among those identified in the list.
According to OHCHR, this action comes as a response to an unprecedented mandate issued in a March 2016 United Nations Human Rights Council resolution requesting the creation of a database detailing all companies with commercial operations in the occupied territories. The resulting list of 112 firms is the product of meticulous scrutiny of corporate activity and consultation with actors from academia, think tanks, states, and the firms listed.
OHCHR makes clear that while the identification of such enterprises does not constitute a formal “legal characterisation” and legal indictment of the commercial activity itself, such activity nevertheless has “raised particular human rights concerns.”
Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti, moreover, believes that the public nature of such a list has the power to regenerate the international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and may be a starting point for further scrutiny and accountability of firms in the occupied territories. Publication of the list has unsurprisingly sparked a controversial and polarising reception, from being heralded as a “victory for international law and diplomatic efforts” by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, to being touted as a “shameful initiative” by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh threatened to take legal action under international law against the companies listed and decried their contribution to human rights violations in Palestine.
Netanyahu, expressing deep contempt for the list, stated, “Instead of dealing with human rights this body is trying to blacken Israel’s name. We reject any such attempt in the strongest terms and with disgust.”
Well-known firms such as Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Motorola, General Mills, and JC Bamford Excavators are among those identified in the list.
The publication of the U.N. list comes on the heels of U.S. President Trump’s newest Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which permits Israel to maintain all existing settlements and for the development of any future Palestinian state to be built around them. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and has since built extensive illegal settlements for Jewish citizens. Today, over 750,00 Jewish settlers reside in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.