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Israeli banks contributing to expansion of West Bank settlements: HRW

A Palestinian flag is seen in front of the Israeli settlement of Gilo, in the West Bank village of Walaja, August 18, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Israeli banks for financing the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, saying that the practice violates human rights.

In a report published on Wednesday, the rights groups said all five of Israel’s largest banks are involved in the regime’s settlements activities through providing loans and mortgages for their construction in the West Bank.

“By providing services to and in settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL), and partnering with developers in new construction projects, Israeli banks are making existing settlements more sustainable, enabling the expansion of their built-up area and the take-over of Palestinian land, and furthering the de facto annexation of the territory,” the report said, adding, “All of this contributes to serious human rights and IHL abuses.”

Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds during the Six Day War in 1967. It later annexed East Jerusalem al-Quds in a move not recognized by the international community. 

Construction workers build new structures in the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, east the West Bank city of al-Khalil (Hebron), August 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Sari Bashi, Israel/Palestine advocacy director at the HRW, said Israeli banks should respect the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights or else face action by shareholders.

She noted that there were “many, many steps” that the banks should take to “at the very least reduce their involvement in settlements, if not stop it entirely.”

Israeli banks argue that they are required to provide settlement-related services under the regime’s law, but the HRW did not find such a rule.

About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built illegally since the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements is one of the major obstacles to the establishment of peace in the Middle East.

In recent months, Tel Aviv has stepped up its settlement construction activities in the occupied Palestinian territories in a blatant violation of international law and in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.

The resolution, which was passed last December, states that Israel’s establishment of settlements in the occupied territories “had no legal validity” and urges the regime to immediately and completely cease all its settlement activities.

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