Settlers at a protest rally on the ruins of the Sa-Nur settlement in Samaria.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Domestic law allows the country’s banks to halt its financing of settlement activity, left-wing NGO Human Rights Watch said in a report it published Wednesday morning.
The international group has long argued that Israeli activity over the pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem and the Golan, is illegal, and must be halted.
The report’s analysis of the bank’s ability to turn down settlement business, however, were aimed specifically at Area C of the West Bank.
All five of Israel’s largest banks do business in that region and their investors should insist they receive transparent information about the institutions involvement in settlement activity, HRW said.
“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. All of this contributes to serious human rights and international human law abuses,” HRW said.
It explained that it understood banks had to offer settlers who entered branches within sovereign Israel, the ability to hold and use bank accounts for personal service.
But these lending institutions could stop financing new construction, providing mortgages, providing loans to settler municipalities and close their service branches and ATM s in those communities, HRW said.
At issue, it explained, is a belief on the part of the banks that exclusion of settlement activity is discriminatory.
HRW provided the text of a response on that score the Association of Banks in Israel wrote in January in response to a report by Dutch research center Danwatch.
“The Anti-Discrimination [Law] prohibits banks, who provide banking services and credit, from discriminating in the provision of banking services and credit due to race, religion, religious group, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, point of view, partisan affiliation, personal status or parenthood. It also provides that discrimination includes setting irrelevant conditions in the provision of services,” the association said.
But HRW countered that domestic laws still allow for banks to take into account other considerations, including international law, as long as it applies its policies evenly and across the board, HRW said.
“Israeli consumer protection law allows businesses to refrain from offering goods and services in settlements, provided they notify customers in advance of this choice and apply the policy to all customers, irrespective of their place of residence,” the report said.
This can be extended to financial support for companies that do business with the settlements, HRW emphasized.
“Banks could refuse to offer a service if that transaction originates, terminates or passes through a settlement as long, as they disclose that they decline to provide services in settlements and apply that policy to all customers,” the NGO concluded.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Association of Banks in Israel had a response to the report.
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