If you have ever contributed to USS, some of your money is supporting illegal settlements in Palestine. On the USS website list of investments can be found several of the 112 companies identified by the United Nations in 2020 as doing business in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land.
Many of the 112 companies are relatively small Israeli companies. Of the well-known international companies identified by the UN, the USS list includes Airbn, Alstom, Booking Holdings, Caterpillar, Expedia, Heidelberg Cement, and Motorola. It also supports General Mills, which has recently, under pressure from activists, closed its factory in an illegal settlement (Mondoweiss 15.6.2022). Of these, Caterpillar and Heidelberg Cement have been identified as being of particular concern. Caterpillar is a U.S. multinational manufacturer of heavy engineering machinery, whose equipment is used in home demolitions, the construction of the West Bank and Gaza walls, and the construction of illegal settlements. Heidelberg Cement, the world’s largest cement producer, operates quarries and manufacturing facilities in the occupied West Bank: their products have been used to build and expand illegal settlements.
What follows is for those who have doubts about urging divestment from these companies.
The case for divestment consists of a combination of three factors that make the case of Israel unusual if not unique.
The first factor, and the one least appreciated, is that we are being asked to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) by the Palestinians themselves. The call to BDS was initiated in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian organisations. When someone being robbed and beaten up asks you to do something peaceful and legal to help them, my view is that you should do it. This is ignored by those who oppose BDS against Israel on the grounds that there are other states just as bad (an odd argument, even without the special circumstance that I have just described). Of course, if the combination of all three factors obtains anywhere else in the world, I have a moral duty to support BDS there too.
The second factor is the obvious one that placing settlements in land that does not belong to you is illegal under the Geneva conventions (signed by Israel), and generally requires considerable brutality (as in Palestine). Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population in the territory it occupies.”
The third factor is that Israel knows that there is as yet no genuine pressure on it (external or internal) to halt the increase and expansion of settlements (to say nothing of house demolitions, detention without trial, etc.). The position of the British government (as of almost all governments) is that the settlements are illegal. But it is prepared to do nothing whatsoever to pressure Israel to cease its illegal activity (and of course Israel has never cared anything about the criticisms that governments occasionally issue), and a government headed by Starmer would be no different. Given the genuine action taken by the British government against other countries (examples are not difficult to think of), this represents blatant double standards. The policy of Israel is to progressively see what it can get away with: the answer (so far) is everything. This gives Israel the green light to continue to encroach on land that does not belong to it, and to intensify and extend what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have painstakingly documented as Apartheid.
The only hope for the Palestinians is the eventual growth of BDS to the level at which, as in the case of South African Apartheid, it can have a real effect (including on governments). The issue is not whether you are pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. The issue is whether or not you are prepared to do something, however small, to halt the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of a defenceless people by a military superpower.
Emeritus Professor, University of Exeter
Ex-chair, Exeter UCU.
 The support of Palestinians for BDS as a whole is difficult to ascertain. Research conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey (Survey 56, June 2015) reported that ‘86% support the campaign to boycott Israel and impose sanctions on it’. Since then the situation of the Palestinians has steadily deteriorated.
3 thoughts on “Your money is supporting illegal settlements in Palestine”
I am appalled that my pension investments are being used to finance companies that contribute to the oppression of the Palestinian people. Thank you for letting us know the details of this.
Thank you for letting me know. I will continue to let Uss know that I am not in favour of this. I have a pension with them, and am not an investor.
Thank you for writing this piece which continues to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people. It is appalling that the USS focuses entirely on its fiduciary duty with no ethical ot moral underpinning. I was shocked to learn that my pension was in part derived from investments in armaments, and I wrote to USS directly to a) express my concern that USS could possibly have thought that it would be appropriate and b) to urge them to divest. I will now do the same about USS links with companies which allow their products to be used to subjugate and terrorise Palestinian people.
Regards apartheid and ethnic cleansing, I agree this is an accurate description of what’s going on and it’s interesting to note that in the 70’s wrt apartheid in S Africa, the student body were much more active – doing things like peaceful protests outside shops and supermarkets which sold South African goods. I don’t see it now and it really is a result of two things imo, one is that many have become weary of the 50 plus years of conflict and almost accept it as a status quo, and the other is that British Government now exerts significant control over the people of Britain and the National Security bill (for instance) currently in parliament, seeks to control our right to protest even further. The mainstream media is controlled by a big business monopoly where independent investigative journalism no longer exists, so we are again ‘controlled’ by the messages purveyed. When did you last see mention of Palestine in any supportive way?
The only organisations I know of which undertake investigative journalism now are Open Democracy and the Byline Times. I’m sure there are many more internationally. Keep pushing for Palestine….