QNN Exclusive: Shawan Jabarin from Al Haq speaks about the Israeli exploitation of the West Bank’s natural resources

Israel’s pillage of Palestinian resources represents approximately 8 billion dollars every year, which means that if Palestine had access to its resources, it wouldn’t need foreign help.

QNN exclusive- After the Israeli government missed its self-imposed deadline of July 1, to begin the annexation of parts of the West Bank, the prospect of the annexation has become unclear. However, the Israelí official imposition of its law on Palestinian lands in the West Bank is only one side of the coin. The other is the de-facto Israelí colonization of the West Bank which continues to expand, regardless of the changes Israeli politics.

An essential part of this colonization is the Israeli exploitation of Palestinian natural resources. Most of these resources are located in the areas classified as (c) under the Oslo accords, controlled in all aspects by the occupation state. These areas include Israelí settlements, some of which have agricultural or industrial functions, but they also include tens of stone quarries. One of Palestine’s historical economic resources. In the Jordan valley, all of the arable lands, except for the city of Jericho and its immediate surroundings are under Israeli direct control. Most of these lands are exploited by Israeli private capital or locally-based Israeli settlers. But most importantly, the area (c) lands contain the largest and most important natural water reserves, vital for the survival of Palestinian cities, towns, villages, and Bedwin communities.

To discuss the effects of Israeli colonization on Palestinian resources, Quds News Network met Shawan Jabarin, the General Director Al-Haq, the largest Palestinian human rights organization, which has been documenting Israeli exploitation of natural resources for years. We spoke about the involvement of international companies in this exploitation, and about the UN database, released last February exposing these companies. Shawan Jabarin gave us his evaluation of this database, and what is needed to make it effective in the future, as a deterrent for international businesses, engaged in illegal activities, benefiting from the Israeli colonization. In addition, we spoke of legal responsibilities, and of the role of the international community and third-party states.

The world expected the annexation of the Jordan valley and other parts of the West Bank by the occupation state, to take place on July the 1st, but it didn’t. Will it eventually happen? And what will it really change?

It is important to remember that the issue of annexation is not about a specific date. It doesn’t really matter if it happens in July or in December, this year or the coming one. What really matters and is that there is a political decision in Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.

At the same time, we have to remember that although the annexation is already happening in the practical meaning in many ways, it’s legal extension would have dramatic consequences on the Palestinian population.

The Israelí annexation wall in the Palestinian town of Hizma, separating it from the city of Jerusalem while including Israelí settlements which houses can be seen behind the wall.

The most important effect would be that the Israelí law would be implemented in these parts of the West Bank instead of Israelí martial law. This means that the law for the properties of absentees will be implemented, which means that Palestinians who haven’t been able to use their lands because of military restrictions for years, will legally lose them. Until now, Palestinians are still right holders to their lands, even if they are taken by settlers or by the army and Palestinian owners can still argue for their property rights in Israelí courts. If the Israeli law is implemented, that will no longer be the case, because Palestinian owners are not Israelis, they haven’t been using their lands for years, and as a consequence, they will lose their property rights.

Politically, the Israeli legal, official annexation, is the last step to officially end the two-states solution. Concretely, the annexation would deprive any potential Palestinian state from any borders, geographical continuity, or natural resources.

A partial view of Maale Adumim, the second-largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank, between Jerusalem and the Jordan valley.

Your organization’s documentation shows that the occupation state has been exploiting Palestinian natural resources in the West Bank for decades. When did this start? And what is the size of this exploitation?

It started from day One. Since it occupied the West Bank, Israel began to exploit the natural resources of the West Bank in violation of the international humanitarian law, which strictly forbids the exploitation of natural resources in the benefit of the occupying power’s economy. Israelí exploitation of Palestinian natural resources in the West Bank started through military orders. This continued when private businesses started to move in, especially Israelí businesses, followed then by foreign companies.

The first resource to be exploited was water, then agricultural land, and then the aerial space that was used for telecommunications. But it extended to stone and lime queries, the Dead Sea minerals, touristic sites, and in the recent years, oil reserves that were discovered in the North-West of Ramallah, in addition to the natural gas fields discovered in the waters of Gaza. According to our estimates, Israel’s pillage of these resources represents approximately 8 billion dollars every year. If Palestine had access to these resources, it’s resources, it wouldn’t need foreign help. Instead, these resources are generating benefits for the Israelí economy. We call this ‘pillage’.

Israelí water extraction and transportation pipes, on the Israelí high-way between the settlement of Maale Adumim and the Dead Sea, in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
An Israelí-exploited stone quarry near the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, next to the houses of a Palestinian Bedwin community.

You mentioned international companies involved in illegal activities on Palestinian resources. Do you think that the UN database of these companies which was published last February, exposed the real dimensions of foreign capital participation in the Israelí exploitation of Palestinian resources?

The UN database was an important step forward, especially after three years of work and big pressure from many countries to not see it published. At the same time, it is not enough. The database has to be updated yearly and there is a clear mechanism to do that.

To understand the importance of this yearly update, we should consider that the database only included 18 international companies, while we know there are many more companies that are active in the Palestinian territory benefiting the occupation state’s economy, in violation of international law.

In fact, all companies were contacted by the UN and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on their involvement in illegal settlements, before the publishing of the database. Some of these companies said that they were already preparing to exit the occupied territory and end their activities there, and therefore were not included in the database. This is why it’s so important to ensure the yearly update, so that those companies would know that if they continue to do business on stolen Palestinian resources, they will be exposed in the future.

What is the responsibility of the states to which these companies belong?

Third-party states, or member states of the international community have the responsibility of not assisting the business violation of human rights by any means. These states have the obligation to make sure that their private companies do no profit from human rights violations.

However, most of the states have only issued warnings to their national private businesses, of the legal consequences of their activities in the occupied territory, like the Netherlands. But without taking action to prevent the continuation of this business involvement in the pillage. This is a serious contradiction because by warning their companies, states are recognizing the violation, while at the same time they allow it to continue. Other states haven’t even issued warnings, like the US and the UK. In fact, the US continues to give facilitations to American companies to help them continue doing business in Palestine, benefiting from Israelí occupation and pillage.

How do you evaluate the role of European states in particular so far?

Most states recognize the illegal aspect of Israel’s pillage of Palestinian resources and of their countries’ companies participation in it, but they continue to allow it. The clearest example is the European decision to label all Israeli products coming from settlements in the West Bank, while continuing to allow these products to sell in European markets. The European Union also continues to hold a discourse that is in line with international law, especially of not recognizing the effects of Israelí settlement and possible official annexation. But at the same time, it continues to give the occupation state a privileged trade status, through the European-Israelí association agreement. If the occupation state continues to benefit from privileged treatment and sees no practical consequences to its violations, then political stands and declarations will have no effect, and the violations will continue.

A bill-board in Hebrew, Arabic and English, indicating that the Kalia beach follows the Israelí Magilot settlement council.
A closed gate of Israelí dates plantation near the Dead Sea in the Palestinian occupied West Bank.

The international community and especially Europe have the capacity and the responsibility to make real pressure on the occupation state, by at least imposing sanctions on it. But also by regulating their countries’ companies’ activities in Palestine, preventing them from participating in the occupation’s violations.

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