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Israel-Hamas conflict: Banks must avoid complicity in human rights violations

By Ryan Brightwell* 

Like so many of our work partners globally, BankTrack is shocked by the horrific events that have unfolded in Israel, the Gaza strip, and the West Bank since the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas on October 7th. We mourn the innocent victims of this conflict, in Gaza and in Israel, and support the call on all parties in this conflict for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
Over the last weeks, human rights organisations have been sounding urgent alarm bells. Human Rights Watch has stated that both the October 7th Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacks and the Israeli government’s response constitute war crimes, and has called for a suspension of the transfer of arms to the warring parties “given the real risk that they will be used to commit grave abuses.” The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) speaks of “mounting evidence of a sharp spike in human rights abuses” gathered by its Palestinian and Israeli members, including settler violence in the West Bank, arbitrary arrests and a crackdown on freedom of speech. The UN has warned that Gaza “is running out of time”, and has demanded a ceasefire “to prevent genocide”.
No end to this conflict, let alone a lasting peace, can be envisioned without an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Yet, financial institutions – including some of the world’s largest banks – have for years been investing billions into companies playing a critical role in the functioning and expansion of illegal settlements. This is clear from the research of the Don’t Buy Into Occupation (DBIO) coalition, of which BankTrack is a member. We call on all commercial banks with ties to Israel and its illegal settlement enterprises to attend to the recommendations of the DBIO coalition, including by seeking a responsible exit from client relationships where the bank is not able to use its leverage to effect change.
Beyond this, the current escalation of violence calls for banks and other financial institutions to take urgent action to ensure they are upholding their responsibilities, as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These include the responsibility to conduct heightened human rights due diligence to ensure they avoid contributing to human rights abuses and breaches of international law.
Banks should urgently cease financing any companies associated with grave human rights violations. This includes companies knowingly supplying weapons to combatants that are used in attacks on civilians. Such companies, as Human Rights Watch has stated, may be complicit in war crimes, and banks should ensure their finance does not make them complicit in these crimes as well.
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*Human Rights Campaign Lead, BankTrack

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