The U.S. Corporations Profiting from the Israeli Occupation

It’s not just defense contractors—many U.S.-based companies are profiting from business with Israel, directly or indirectly enabling the Israeli state’s crimes against Palestinians.

By Nick French | March/April 2024

This article is from Dollars & Sense: Real World Economics, available at

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Since it began in mid-October of last year, Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza has claimed the lives of 29,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are civilians—including 19,000 women and children. Israeli government ministers have made statements that strongly suggest they are aiming at the ethnic cleansing of the entire population of the Gaza Strip, and South Africa brought genocide charges against Israel at the International Court of Justice, which ruled on January 26 that Israel may be in violation of the United Nations’ Genocide Convention and ordered it to immediately cease violations, including its killing of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, despite increasing evidence of Israeli war crimes, the U.S. government has offered unconditional support to the offensive, apart from perfunctory pleas that Israel exercise “restraint” and respect human rights. The Biden administration has requested $14.3 billion in military aid for Israel from Congress, on top of the roughly $3.8 billion in aid the United States already sends annually.

That aid has been held up in Congress; but in December 2023, President Joe Biden twice circumvented the legislature to sell weapons to Israel, with a total value exceeding $200 million. All this is taking place in the context of decades of occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, a proliferating and increasingly violent settler movement that continues to displace Palestinians, and what Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations have described as a system of apartheid.

The long-standing Israeli occupation and the current war on Gaza is big business for many U.S.-based defense contractors. But beyond military suppliers, many U.S. corporations have substantial investments in Israel. These companies are also complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses—and as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has long recognized, putting pressure on these companies may be crucial to changing Israeli policy.

The Defense Racket

The U.S. corporations with the most direct complicity in Israeli crimes, of course, are military contractors. According to Molly Gott and Derek Seidman, writing for the investigative news website Eyes on the Ties, five of the six biggest weapons manufacturers in the world are based in the United States. Those are Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, and RTX (formerly known as Raytheon).

Disturbingly, but unsurprisingly, many of these companies saw their stock prices shoot up when Israel’s war on Gaza began, Gott and Seidman reported. And weapons company executives have been publicly enthusiastic about the opportunities for profit opened up by the war. Discussing the conflict on an earnings call on October 24, RTX CEO Greg Hayes declared, “I think really across the entire Raytheon portfolio, you’re going to see a benefit of this restocking.” On General Dynamics’s earnings call the following day, the company’s CFO and Executive Vice President Jason Aiken said, “If you look at the incremental demand potential coming out of that, the biggest one to highlight and that really sticks out is probably on the artillery side.”

What Is BDS?

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, known popularly by the acronym BDS, is a global movement calling on people around the world to join a variety of pressure campaigns (including academic, cultural, and economic boycotts) against the state of Israel. The movement was founded in 2005 by a number of Palestinian civil society organizations, including 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organizations, and other Palestinian civil society groups.

According to the organization’s website (, BDS says it hopes to build nonviolent international pressure to get Israel to meet three long-standing demands, in addition to ending its current war on Gaza:

  • “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”—the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, and the Syrian Golan Heights—and taking down the Gaza-Israel wall.
  • “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” including abolishing the many racially discriminatory laws affecting Palestinian citizens who live within Israel’s 1948 borders.
  • “Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in U.N. Resolution 194.”

There can be little doubt that Israeli forces are using these weapons to commit war crimes against Palestinians. As Stephen Semler reported in Jacobin, many of the specific weapons that the Biden administration has sent to Israel have been repeatedly used to commit war crimes in the past. This includes Hellfire missiles, artillery shells, and assault rifles that have been used to kill clearly identified civilians. It also includes white phosphorus, which Semler describes as “a brutal incendiary weapon capable of burning straight through flesh, bone, and even metal” that is outlawed for use near civilians by Protocol III of the Geneva Conventions. Israel has used white phosphorus repeatedly, including in the current war.

Profiting From War, Occupation, and Apartheid

Looking beyond weapons companies and their investors, plenty of other U.S. corporations are profiting from the brutal assault on Gaza and the Israeli occupation and apartheid more generally.

The BDS movement is targeting a number of international corporations for consumer boycott campaigns, which are “carefully selected due to the company’s proven record of complicity in Israeli apartheid,” according to a statement on the BDS website. Among the companies based in the United States are Hewlett-Packard (and its enterprise and government services spin-off Hewlett-Packard Enterprises), Chevron, and real estate company RE/MAX.

Hewlett-Packard provides computer hardware and other technology to the Israeli military, police, and government offices. Hewlett-Packard Enterprises provides servers for the country’s Immigration and Population Authority, which BDS says Israel uses “to control and enforce its system of racial segregation and apartheid against Palestinian citizens of Israel.” Energy giant Chevron, meanwhile, extracts gas claimed by Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean; according to BDS, it provides the Israeli state with billions of dollars in revenue in gas licensing payments. In addition, according to BDS, Chevron is:

implicated in Israel’s illegal transfer of extracted fossil gas to Egypt through a pipeline illegally crossing the Palestinian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Gaza, owing Palestinians millions in transit fees. It is also potentially complicit in Israeli pillage of Palestinian gas reserves offshore the occupied Gaza Strip, a war crime under international law.

In 2017, SOMO, an Amsterdam think tank that investigates multinational corporations, produced an extensive report on Noble Energy’s involvement in the violation of Palestinian rights connected to its extraction of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean—the company was acquired by Chevron in 2020. In addition to participating in illegally blocking the Palestinian Authority’s access to its small gas reserves off the coast of Gaza via collaboration with Israel’s navy, SOMO reports that its extraction activities in Israeli gas fields could be draining Palestinian gas reserves as well.

“By failing to make efforts to assure Palestinian consent to gas extraction from [Israeli gas fields contiguous with Palestinian gas reserves],” SOMO concluded, “Noble Energy has failed to comply with the OECD Guidelines [for Multinational Enterprises] and [the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights] and conduct appropriate human rights due diligence to identify and prevent potential adverse human rights impacts.” Their report continues:

The company has also potentially contributed to a violation of the collective right of self-determination. Furthermore, if Palestinian natural gas was indeed drained . . . it could be argued that Noble Energy participated in an act of pillage, in violation of international humanitarian and criminal law.

RE/MAX markets and sells property on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are widely viewed as illegal under international law. The Israeli settler movement has long committed violent attacks against Palestinians, often with the implicit or explicit blessing of the Israeli armed forces. It has only grown bolder and more violent since the start of the war. Other U.S. corporations that do business in Israel and have been singled out by BDS for divestment or other forms of pressure campaigns (though not complete boycotts) include Intel, Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Airbnb, Expedia, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Papa John’s.

Following the example of other successful boycott and divestment campaigns, BDS selects only a handful of companies as targets in order to maximize the impact of its campaigns. But these companies are only the tip of the iceberg. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) maintains a more comprehensive list of companies complicit in various aspects of Israeli occupation and apartheid. Plenty of U.S.-based corporations are, no surprise, to be found on their list as well.

Leaving aside weapons suppliers, among the other prominent and particularly egregious offenders is Caterpillar Inc., the construction machinery and equipment manufacturer, whose D9 armored bulldozer is frequently used by the Israeli military. Israel has deployed Caterpillar D9s to destroy Palestinian homes, schools, and other buildings in the occupied territories, as well as in attacks on Gaza that kill civilians. In 2003, U.S. activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by one of these bulldozers “as she attempted to defend a Palestinian home from being demolished while the family was still inside,” according to the AFSC.

ExxonMobil Corporation and Valero, not to be outdone by Chevron’s violations of human rights, provide fuel for the Israeli aircraft that have been relentlessly bombarding Gaza for the past few months. Motorola Solution Inc., the communications and surveillance company, has long provided the surveillance technology that Israel uses to monitor Palestinians in illegal West Bank settlements and at separation walls and checkpoints in Gaza and the West Bank. Travel and tourism company TripAdvisor, meanwhile, is involved in the occupation in a more mundane way: like Airbnb, its websites frequently list and act as booking agents for properties in illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights.

Overall, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, in 2022 the United States exported $20 billion worth of goods and services to Israel, accounting for 13.3% of the latter’s total imports. Israel in turn exported $30.6 billion to the United States, with that figure amounting to 18.6% of all Israeli exports. U.S. trade with and investments in Israel play a significant role in Israel’s economy, constituting a potentially powerful source of leverage on the Israeli state.

The Importance of Economic Boycotts

The BDS movement is partly inspired by the decades-long anti-apartheid boycotts against South Africa’s system of apartheid. The boycotts began when African National Congress leader Albert Luthuli called for them in 1958, and the U.K.-based Boycott Movement (later the Anti-Apartheid Movement) was founded the next year. It initially called for a boycott of South African goods, but expanded to demand total disinvestment from and economic sanctions on South Africa.

Eventually, the international pressure created by the Anti-Apartheid Movement helped bring an end to South African apartheid. The hope of BDS supporters is that a similar movement might one day help bring about an end to Israel’s oppression of Palestine.

Right now, the prospects for ending Israeli occupation and apartheid anytime soon look quite dim. The immediate demand that advocates for Palestine are pushing in the United States is a permanent cease-fire in Israel’s devastating attack on Gaza; some activists have also been protesting and attempting to disrupt U.S. weapons sales to Israel. In the long run, though, achieving justice in Palestine will likely require pressuring our own government, and the many U.S. companies who are currently complicit in Israeli crimes, to change course.

is an associate editor at Jacobin magazine.

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