The consequences of Israeli occupation and anti-Palestinian discrimination for Israel’s economy are now coming faster than ever.
Israel ‘feeling heat’ over settlement businesses: Sam Bahour and Edward E. Thompson (Opinion)
The consequences of Israeli occupation and anti-Palestinian discrimination for Israel’s economy are now coming faster than ever. Like so many previous military occupations, Israel is starting to feel the heat of the international community. However, this heat is not of the political kind that Israel has become accustomed to deflecting, but rather the economic kind that has a mystical way of invoking action from the political echelon. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the message is arriving loud and clear: It’s time for Israel to end its nearly 50-year occupation and allow Palestinians to live in freedom in an independent state.
The latest thoughtful criticism of Israel’s actions is a 162-page report titled “Occupation, Inc.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights.” Issued by the reputable, international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), the report documents how settlement businesses facilitate the growth and operations of Israel’s settlement enterprise, an enterprise deemed illegal by every country in the world, except Israel. These settlement businesses depend on and contribute to the Israeli authorities’ unlawful confiscation of Palestinian land and other resources.
Human Rights Watch’s director of the Business and Human Rights Division, Arvind Ganesan, noted that “Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources. The only way for businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities is to stop working with and in Israeli settlements.”
Speaking of the stone and marble industry, Ganesan said, “Every dollar of stone that settlement businesses extract and sell from the West Bank is a dollar taken from Palestinians. The bottom line is no settlement business should be operating and profiting from land and resources illegally taken from the Palestinian people.”
In light of the clear illegality of doing business with Israeli settlements, multinational companies will need to face clear legal and moral liabilities in continuing to do business as usual. However, for those firms that have been operating in the settlements, there is another option they can pursue to compensate for their past wrongdoings; they can redirect their business investments to the Palestinian economy and become a constructive element in helping Palestinians recover from the real economic damage caused by nearly half a century of military occupation.
Making such investment and business options materialize is exactly why we co-founded Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) as a tax-deductible organization based in Chicago, Illinois. As two Americans, one a retired Chicagoan and the other a Palestinian American from Youngstown, Ohio now based in Ramallah, we have witnessed firsthand the damage on the ground caused by Israel’s deliberate battering of Palestine’s economy. But we also have visited Palestinians’ firms, those keeping their businesses’ doors open despite all odds, and want to connect them to the U.S. market. After a year of operations, AVPE documented serious interest from Palestinian businesspersons interested in linking to American business partners.
Large-scale projects that global firms can surely relate to are taking shape. The first planned Palestinian city, Rawabi, is now witnessing its first tenants taking up residence and offers international high-tech firms the opportunity to locate their operations in the new Rawabi Tech Hub. From Dead Sea products that compete head on with similar products produced in illegal Israeli settlements to olive oil soap and Bethlehem greeting cards, Palestinians have products and services worthy of note.
This new HRW report is actually the second vital criticism that calls into question business as usual for Israel. The first was issued by the European Council on Foreign Relations and titled EU Differentiation and Israeli settlements (July 22, 2015). In this past report, Israeli banks, among other businesses, were a main target, given most have branches in settlements. The Israeli business community took note. With this new HRW report, they will take note again, and all indications are that the reports and actions against illegal business practices will continue until occupation comes to an end.
The World Bank estimated in 2013 that Israeli restrictions in Area C (the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control) cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion annually, approximately equal to 33 percent of Palestine’s GDP. Settlement businesses contribute to and benefit from unlawful and discriminatory policies that leave many Palestinians with no alternative but to work in Israel or settlements. As multinationals divest from illegal settlements, redirected economic activity can be a key component to further advance the Palestinian economy, while putting more Palestinians in jobs and giving them hope for a day when they will live in freedom and occupation-free.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian American businessman originally from Youngstown now living in Ramallah, where he is managing partner at Applied Information Management. He is a policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy. Edward E. Thompson, a retired consulting psychologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, is the co-founder and president of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy.
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