UK: HSBC hit by protests at 20 branches over Israeli arms trade links

01.07.2017 - Brighton and London, United Kingdom - Pressenza Budapest

By the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

Protests forced HSBC branches in London and Brighton to close today and protests were held at a total of 20 branches over the bank’s links with arms companies that supply weapons used by Israel to oppress Palestinians.

The bank’s Brighton branch was closed for several hours as activists held a ‘die-in’ occupation and stuck up posters about HSBC’s investments in arms companies with links to Israel in the bank’s windows.

Protests were also held at HSBC branches in Manchester, Birmingham, Tower Hamlets, Oxford, Liverpool, Durham and in a dozen other towns and cities.

HSBC has become a target for the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement after research by campaigning charity War on Want, that will be published next week, revealed the bank’s extensive links with arms companies that supplies the weapons and equipment Israel uses to oppress Palestinians.

In the summer of 2014, Israel carried out its deadliest ever massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. More than 2,300 people were killed, including 550 children. The UN and human rights organisations have documented how Israel has carried out war crimes during its attacks on Palestinians.

HSBC owns shares in military and technology companies that sell weapons and equipment to Israel worth £831m. The bank holds £180m of shares in BAE Systems, a key company involved in manufacturing the F-16 fighter jets used by Israel to attack Palestinians in Gaza. HSBC also holds £102m of shares in Boeing, who have provided Hellfire missiles, F-15 Eagle fighter jets, MK84 2000-lb bombs and Apache helicopters used in Israel’s devastating attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Since January 2012, HSBC has been involved in syndicates with other banks that have provided loans to arms companies that supply weapons to Israel worth at least £19.3bn. HSBC has been involved in providing loans to  Caterpillar, whose specially modified bulldozers are used to demolish Palestinian homes, and to United Technologies, who produce UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters used by the Israeli military in its assaults on Palestinian civilians.

HSBC has a ‘Defence Equipment Sector Policy’ which appears to commit the bank to not providing financial support to the arms trade.

Riya Hassan, a campaigner with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the coalition of Palestinian organisations that leads the BDS movement, said:

“By investing in and providing loans to the arms companies that help Israel to oppress Palestinians, HSBC is lending its support to Israel’s violations of international law.”

“HSBC is profiting from the armed violence and repression that lies at the heart of Israel’s system of oppression over the Palestinian people.”

“HSBC appears to be acting in violation of the UN rules on business and human rights and its own stated commitment to not provide support to the arms industry.”

More information about HSBC’s investment in and loans to the arms industry will be made available in a report due to be published next week. The report draws on databases used in the financial services industry to reveal how HSBC and other high street banks help to finance the arms trade with Israel.

The actions targeting HSBC come on the third anniversary of Israel’s brutal 2014 attack on the Gaza Strip, as part of a UK wide Stop Arming Israel Week of Action. Campaigners are calling for an end to the profitable military relationship between the UK and Israel.

In June 2017, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published guidance to the banking sector clarifying that banks and financial institutions have responsibilities to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts” and “to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships”

This is not the first time HSBC has been held to account for violating its own policies. Earlier this year, a report by the environmental campaigning group, Greenpeace, found that HSBC provides services to companies involved in the palm oil industry, despite its own policies on forestry and  agricultural commodities.

War on Want’s senior militarism and security campaigner, Ryvka Barnard, said:

‘HSBC holds shares in, and arranges loans to, a number of companies that sell weapons and military technology to Israel, used in the abuse of Palestinians’ human rights, including war crimes.

‘HSBC presents itself as an ‘ethical’ bank because of its Defence Equipment Sector policy, but our research has shown that the policy is no more than words on paper. If HSBC is serious about a commitment to human rights, its first step must be to immediately end its business relationship with companies that sell weapons to Israel.’

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