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Israel’s largest banks are providing services that help support, maintain, and expand unlawful settlements by financing their construction in the occupied West Bank, including partnering with developers to build homes on land unlawfully seized from Palestinians. The banks’ involvement is direct and substantial: they acquire a property interest in the development projects and shepherd them through to completion. The transfer by the occupier of members of its civilian population into the occupied territory, and the deportation or transfer of members of the population of the territory, are war crimes. The activities of banks finance a critical step in this transfer.
The 41-page report, “Bankrolling Abuse: Israeli Banks in West Bank Settlements,” details new research on the scope of banking activities in settlements and the violations to which these activities contribute. Israel’s seven largest banks provide services to settlements. The report also documents the involvement of most of them in building housing units that expand settlements by acquiring property rights in new construction projects and shepherding the projects through to completion. The transfer by the occupier of members of its civilian population into the occupied territory, and the deportation or transfer of members of the population of the territory, are war crimes. By facilitating expansion of settlements, these banking activities facilitate unlawful population transfers.
“Israeli banks are partnering with developers to build homes reserved exclusively for Israelis on Palestinian land,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The projects these banks underwrite contribute to displacing Palestinians unlawfully.”
A map created by Human Rights Watch provides a partial picture of the financial services the banks provide throughout West Bank settlements. In addition to construction projects, banks provide loans to settlement regional and local authorities and mortgage loans to homebuyers in settlements and operate bank branches there. Palestinian West Bank residents, forbidden by military order to enter settlements except as laborers bearing special permits, cannot use these services. Palestinian and foreign banks provide services to Palestinian customers outside the settlements.
Settlements are unlawful under international humanitarian law. They contribute to a discriminatory regime in which Israeli authorities restrict and stunt Palestinian economic development, while subsidizing and supporting Israeli settlements built on land unlawfully seized from Palestinians. International humanitarian law forbids an occupying power from using land except for military purposes or to benefit the local population living under occupation.