Who Profits statement on UN list – a positive yet partial step

Israeli organisation Who Profits that have recorded the activities of over 400 companies complicit in profiting from the occupation release a statement on the UN list released last week.


The UN list of 112 companies involved in the Israeli occupation is an important step toward corporate accountability. However, its narrow focus and restrictive temporal frame leave out hundreds of complicit corporations and wider structures of dispossession.

From Who Profits, Feb 2020

On February 12, 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a long overdue list of companies complicit in Israel’s settlement enterprise, considered illegal under international law.[1]  The list of 112 companies includes major multinational corporations such as AirbnbMotorola Solutions and JCB, as well as all major Israeli banks, which provide the financial infrastructure for the continuing occupation of Palestinian land.[2]This is a leap in the right direction toward ensuring corporate accountability for complicity with Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights.

The inclusion of companies was determined on the basis of their involvement in at least one of the activities listed below within the specified time frame of 1 January 2018 to 1 August 2019:[3]

 (a) The supply of equipment and materials facilitating the construction and the expansion of settlements and the wall, and associated infrastructures;

(b) The supply of surveillance and identification equipment for settlements, the wall and checkpoints directly linked with settlements;

(c) The supply of equipment for the demolition of housing and property, the destruction of agricultural farms, greenhouses, olive groves and crops;

(d) The supply of security services, equipment and materials to enterprises operating in settlements;

(e) The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport;

(f) Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and the development of businesses;

(g) The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes;

(h) Pollution, and the dumping of waste in or its transfer to Palestinian villages;

(i) Captivity of the Palestinian financial and economic markets, as well as practices that disadvantage Palestinian enterprises, including through restrictions on movement, administrative and legal constraints;

(j) Use of benefits and reinvestments of enterprises owned totally or partially by settlers for developing, expanding and maintaining the settlements.

The list of criteria for inclusion in the database, though not exhaustive, covers a wide-range of business activities. Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of the captivity of Palestinian financial and economic markets and practices that disadvantage Palestinian firms, which is an important step toward addressing structural dependency under occupation. However, the report stated that no business enterprises that satisfy involvement in this activity were identified, despite listing corporations such as Altice and Bezeq – the Israel Telecommunications Corp, which benefit from the structural captivity of the Palestinian cellular industry, or major Israeli banks, which benefit from the subjugation of the Palestinian banking industry to the Israeli currency.

Furthermore, the list is by no means a comprehensive one, as in the UN Human Rights Office’s own words, it “does not extend to wider business activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that may raise human rights concerns.”[4] This narrow focus and restrictive temporal frame (January 2018-August 2019) fail to situate the settlements as part of a broader structure of dispossession and violation of rights and disregard the cumulative adverse impact of business practices such as the quarrying of occupied resources. In so doing, the UN falls short of fulfilling its own directives on Social and Corporate Responsibility.

Out of 112 listed companies, 94 are Israeli and only 18 are international. Major complicit international corporations, such as the German conglomerate HeidelbergCement, which has been operating a quarry in the West Bank for over 13 years, are omitted. As research conducted by Who Profits and other civil society organizations and campaigns shows, hundreds of corporations profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands. Who Profits’ verified database lists over 400 companies that are involved in various occupation-related activities.

The report also takes a conservative approach to the question of demolitions by stipulating that “equipment must be specifically supplied ‘for’ the particular activities of demolition.”[5]This makes it exceedingly easy for corporations to evade responsibility for the uses to which their equipment is put. During 2019 alone, Israel demolished 265 structures in East Jerusalem and 256 structures in the West Bank, in addition to demolishing 14 housing units as a punitive measure.[6] Yet the list does not include any company for this particular activity.

Despite these limitations, the list published by the UN is an important and concrete step toward ensuring that corporations are held accountable for their contribution to human rights violations.

[1] United Nations Human Rights Council. A/HRC/43/71, February 2020. The report is accessible at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session43/Pages/ListReports.aspx

[2] Who Profits. Financing Land Grab: The Direct Involvement of Israeli Banks in the Israeli Settlement Enterprise. February 2017.

[3] United Nations Human Rights Council. A/HRC/43/71, February 2020. The report is accessible at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session43/Pages/ListReports.aspx

[4]  Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] B’tselem. Israeli House Demolitions Spiked in 2019 Compared to Previous Years. January 2020.


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