Why we shouldn’t buy goods made in illegal Israeli settlements

Settlements are Jewish only communities established on Palestinian land in the Occupied West Bank. Together, settlements and outposts control, and exclude Palestinians from, approximately 42% of the total land area of the West Bank, effectively precluding any realisation of a viable Palestinian State.   Despite widespread criticism of the settlements, and calls for Israel to withdraw from them, the Israeli Government continues to not only retain but also expand settlements. The Israeli Prime Minister continues to reiterate Israeli policy of expanding settlements to make a contiguous and viable Palestinian State impossible.

The settlements are maintained by the presence of thousands of soldiers, hundreds of checkpoints, road-closures, Israeli-only roads through the West Bank and so much more, and have massive negative impacts on Palestinians’ daily lives.

Settlements are authorised by the Israeli Government, have approved planning schemes, and receive the same (and in some cases greater) benefits and services as the Israeli towns within Israel’s pre-1967 land. Some settlement “blocs” are huge, modern, multi-storeyed mini-cities. By 2013 there were some 138 official Israeli settlements with more than 550,000 settler residents. Israel’s Government frequently announces plans for settlement expansion and has done so repeatedly since 2013 including in areas close to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In addition to the “official” settlements, there are approximately 100 unofficial “outpost” settlements located throughout the West Bank, built without official approval, but with financial support from Israeli ministries and agencies. Although these outposts are illegal under both Israeli and international law, Israel provides most of them with state funded military protection and access to water, electricity, and other basic services. Settlers in outposts pressure the Israeli Government, often successfully, to “upgrade” them to full settlement status, often by adding them to nearby official settlements.

Israel undertakes significant agricultural and industrial activity within the settlement areas.   As with housing, there are many Government incentives for establishing businesses there. In the Jordan Valley, the most fertile region of the West Bank, Israel has allocated 86% of the land to settlements. There is also minimal business regulation, and frequently there are concerning reports about workers’ rights, most recently a Human Rights Watch report about exploitative use of Palestinian child labour.

These settlements in the Occupied West Bank are illegal because they violate international law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention to which Israel and most other countries are party. The United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice and all Parties to the Convention, except Israel, have affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply to all the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel. Article 49 of the Convention provides that an occupier may not transfer any of its own civilian population into the Occupied Territory. Settlements are a systematic and deliberate transfer of a population.

Despite constant criticism of the existence and expansion of these settlements, Israel ignores these calls.

Information in this section was sourced from two reputable organisations we recommend for more information: the (Quaker) American Friends Service Committee, and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

European Government attitudes to settlement goods & their labelling

Since 2013 European Union guidelines have explicitly forbidden any funding of or other agreements with organisations inside Israeli settlements. European Foreign Ministers are currently seeking to ensure any products made in Israeli settlements and sold in Europe are clearly labelled as such.

In December 2013 the British Government issued a warning to businesses trading with Israeli settlements about the legal and financial risks of such trade, and said they neither encourage nor support such trade.

Christian foundations of boycotts

The ACT Alliance is a global alliance of over 100 churches and church related organisations, focussed on humanitarian assistance. The Alliance’s Palestine Forum strongly supports an Israeli settlement boycott campaign. The Forum’s approach to settlements includes recognising that:

  • Boycotts apply pressure on Israel to respect and comply with international law, honour and apply universal principles of human rights, and work towards a genuinely just peace.
  • Illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories cause harm and poverty to Palestinians, and are an obstacle to peace in the region.
  • Despite their illegality, the settlements have grown and prospered under Israel’s protection, with the production and sale of settlement goods helping to bolster their economies and contribute to their permanence.
  • The campaign for boycotting settlement goods must be shaped by a focus on the human rights of all Palestinians, including refugees, those under occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as those living in pre-1967 Israel.

Since a decision by the United Church of Canada in 2012 to endorse a settlement boycott, they have undertaken a campaign they have called Unsettling Goods. For Easter 2015 the Church produced written and video resources – Let’s keep talking – for people grappling with questions about boycotts, refuting that boycotts are anti-Semitic.

Worldwide Christian and Jewish responses to goods from Israeli settlements
In recent years many churches and Jewish groups around the world have been campaigning against goods made in settlements, and against companies profiting from the occupation. We have documented some of these campaigns. Read more.