TEL AVIV – Human Rights Watch has charged Israeli banks with proliferating and financing Israeli construction in the West Bank and called on them to stop, adding that there is legal justification for doing so, according to a new report released by the group Wednesday.
The international group, whose chief donor is George Soros, says Israeli banks are contributing “to serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses” by financing construction in the Jewish settlements.
“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,” HRW said.
It explained that it was within the boundaries of Israeli law for these institutions to refuse to finance any new construction, mortgages, or loans to settler municipalities. HRW also called on banks to shutter branches and ATM s in West Bank communities.
The West Bank includes such cities as Hebron, the oldest Jewish community in the world and home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism. Also in the West Bank are sites of scores of other ancient Jewish communities, and the location of Judaism’s third holiest place, Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem.
HRW quoted – and then refuted – a text from January authored by the Association of Banks in Israel which deems any refusal to provide financial services based on a person’s location as being discriminatory.
According to the ABI:
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.
However, HRW continued by saying that the local law mentioned above still permits banks to consider 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 claimed.
“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.
In 2010, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations pledged to give $100 a year to HRW over a decade. The group has been criticized for requesting and receiving donations from Saudi Arabia, thereby compromising its integrity.
After HRW embarked on a fundraising visit to the Gulf kingdom, then-spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Mark Regev quipped, “A human rights organization raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women’s rights group asking the Taliban for a donation.”