Jerusalem24 – “Warm community, quality education, magical landscapes and an excellent location! 5 room apartments in Ma’amash starting from 1,350,000 NIS!” These words surprised Palestinians who were scrolling through the social media website, Facebook. These words were from a sponsored advertisement for apartments in Israeli settlements constructed in the West Bank. The apartments in question are built and sold by Avney Derech, an Israeli real estate company that works in the West Bank.
In a correspondence with Jerusalem24, former UN special rapporteur, John Dugard says that “the advertisement of apartments in settlements in the West Bank constitutes aiding and abetting illegal settlements. In short it is unlawful under international law.” The legality of the Israeli settlements is challenged by international law. Saleh Hijazi, Deputy Regional Director of Amnesty International, told Jerusalem24 that “The settlements are not only just a war crime, they are at the heart of the human rights crisis, which Palestinians experience again on a daily basis in the occupied West Bank. This includes the right to freedom of movement, the right to life, the right to livelihood.” This is further confirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 which was adopted on December 23rd, 2016. The resolution states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In February of 2020, a “black list” was published after being mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. The list, which took 3 years to complete, which is comprised of 112 companies that include various Israeli businesses and banks as well as other international companies like Motorola Solutions, General Mills, Trip Advisor, Airbnb, Opodo, JC Bamford and Alstom. However, Avney Derech and the social media giant, Facebook, that has been a platform hosting Avney Derech’s advertisements for apartments in settlements have not made the list.
Hijazi had this to say about Facebook’s dealings with Avney Derech, “war crimes should not be promoted or advertise in any way. They should be fought on the legal front, on the public front, on whatever front is possible.” He also added that “Companies such as Facebook have a responsibility, according to the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, to ensure that no war crime gets a promotion or advertising on their platform.” The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) provided the first global standard for preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights linked to business activity, and continue to provide the internationally accepted framework for enhancing standards and practice regarding business and human rights.
However, holding Facebook responsible for its activities in allowing advertisements in Israeli settlements will not be straightforward matter. In a phone conversation with Jerusalem24 Hijazi stated that “The responsibility is always when it comes to companies lies within the states in which these companies are domiciled,” adding about the American based social media giant, “the United States has a responsibility to ensure that companies including Facebook do not contribute, are not a complicit promoting in any way an illegal situation such as Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Further complicating the matter is the US government’s view on Israeli settlements. “while USA has in the past regarded settlement activity as unlawful, President Trump declared that the USA no longer regards settlements as unlawful. Biden has yet to change this,” says Dugard. He continues by saying that “the position under international law is clear. Israeli settlements are unlawful, Facebook aids the commission of an international crime by allowing the advertisement of apartments in settlements.”