Major European pension funds are profiting from the dispossession of the Palestinian people.
Danwatch says that the top five European investors hold $357 million in shares of five big Israeli banks that are heavily involved in colonizing the occupied West Bank.
A staggering 766,302 Israeli settlers lived in the occupied West Bank by December 2015, including 360,000 in East Jerusalem, according to figures cited by Israeli media, sourced to the interior ministry.
The population in the settlements in the West Bank has grown much faster than the rest of the Israeli population, a reflection of the priority Israel gives to colonizing the occupied territory.
Faced with prohibitively expensive housing costs in present-day Israel, Israeli Jewish citizens are lured to the settlements with generous subsidies, tax breaks and easy connections to Jerusalem and other cities via a system of segregated roads.
Danwatch’s report includes a case study of Beitar Illit, a settlement of 50,000 near Bethlehem – and of its impact on the nearby Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin.
“The expansion of the settlements surrounding the town threatens its agriculture, since the settlers release sewage into the valley,” Danwatch states. “In addition, the army often closes the village entrance, or seals off areas or roads in the village, making it hard to grow, harvest and transport the crops to market.”
This brief video, included in the Danwatch report, shows Wadi Fukin mayor Ahmad Sokar talking about the impact of the expanding settlement, which can be seen in the background:
“I was three years old when the first settlers came. No one asked our permission. They just confiscated the village’s land and began building houses for settlers,” Sokar also told Danwatch. “Now there are 50,000 settlers, and we are nearly surrounded on all sides.”
Investing in settlement financiers
Israeli law requires developers that build settlements to partner with banks to guarantee financing and insurance. The banks also provide mortgages and services to settlers and settlement municipalities through branches in the colonies.
In 2014, the Dutch Pension fund PFZW (formerly PGGM) divested tens of millions of dollars from the five biggest Israeli banks because of their role in settlement construction.
But major European financial institutions continue to invest in these banks.
According to Danwatch, the Norwegian government pension fund, commonly known as the oil fund, is by far the largest investor, holding a total of $253 million in shares in all five of the Israeli banks.
And despite numerous calls to divest, the Dutch pension fund Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP holds $104 million worth of shares in three of the banks.
Two other major pension funds, one in Denmark and one in Sweden, hold no shares in the Israeli banks, according to Danwatch, but neither has placed the banks on their lists of excluded companies.
Israel has announced plans for more than 6,000 new housing units in its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank since January.
Even the administration of President Donald Trump – which has shown warmth to the settlers – weighed in unexpectedly last week, warning Israel that the continued expansion of settlements would not help the US achieve its goal of peace in the region.
“Israel’s policy of settling Jewish civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories violates international humanitarian law and amounts to war crimes,” Amnesty added. “It is also inherently discriminatory and has resulted in grave human rights violations including the destruction of homes, forced evictions, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions and collective punishment.”
Last year, Human Rights Watch urged all companies to end any business in or with the settlements. It highlighted the role of Israeli banks in financing the settlements as particularly egregious. The group also urged governments to withhold aid to Israel over the issue.
All of Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law, as the UN Security Council reaffirmed in a much-publicized resolution in December.
“If Israel understands that the international community will take no meaningful steps to enforce the Council’s resolution, it will continue to intensify its settlement project undeterred,” UN special rapporteur on human rights for the occupied Palestinian territories Michael Lynk warned last week.
On Monday night, the Israeli parliament doubled down, passing a law to retroactively legitimize the theft of large tracts of privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank. The move prompted another flurry of international condemnation, but no action by governments to hold Israel accountable.
But by continuing to invest in Israeli banks they are aiding and profiting from Israel’s crimes.