Exploitation of Natural Resources

Companies of the extractive, waste management, and energy industries are involved in the exploitation and plundering of natural resources in occupied territories, despite strict prohibitions in international humanitarian law

This section of Investigate includes companies involved in the pillage of natural resources in occupied Palestinian territories and in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Corporate involvement in this sector involves mainly the extractive and waste industries:

  • Extractive companies that drill for water, oil, or natural gas.
  • Companies that own, operate, or mine in quarries.
  • Waste management companies that own or operate landfills, sewage treatment plants, and other facilities that pollute the land and groundwater.
  • Solar energy companies that operate solar fields on occupied lands.

Companies involved in the exploitation of occupied land for the purpose of building residential projects in illegal settlements are addressed separately in the Settlement Enterprise section.

Since 1967 Israel has been treating the natural resources of these lands as its own. Shortly after the end of the 1967 war, Israel seized control of all water resources in the newly occupied territories. According to B’Tselem, Israel has used the water "as it sees fit, ignoring the needs of Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, to such an extent that the two areas suffer a severe water shortage.” Israel has been Land has been confiscated piecemeal for the building of settlements in a process that continues today.

In the early 1970s, the Israeli government started permitting companies to mine for natural resources in the West Bank. According to Who Profits, as of 2016 there are eleven Israeli quarries operating in the West Bank, extracting rock, gravel, and aggregates. These quarries produce millions of tons of construction material annually, the majority of which are transported outside the West Bank to be used in Israeli construction projects. Who Profits also reports that, as of 2017, there are six settlement waste management companies operating in the occupied West Bank, taking advantage of the occupation’s lax environmental regulations in the area while polluting Palestinian land and water resources. In addition, over the years Israel has granted special permits to specific companies, giving them exclusive rights to conduct activities such as exploratory oil and gas drilling, excavating minerals from the dead sea area, and the like.

According to international human rights law, all peoples have “permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources.” This principle was codified in the 1966 International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both declare that “all peoples have the right of self-determination,” and that this includes the right “to freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources.”

The case of an occupation is governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. While they allow the occupying power to use the natural resources of the occupied territory, they impose strict conditions. Specifically, it is generally illegal for an occupying power to exploit the natural resources of an occupied people for its own domestic purposes. Also, the occupier “must safeguard the capital of these properties,” and therefore must not deplete or alter them in a way that would prevent their future use. It is illegal to use resource found on privately owned land, unless it is strictly necessary for legitimate security needs. In addition, pillage by occupying forces is strictly forbidden under all circumstances, and is considered a war crime.

With specific regard to the Israeli occupation, the UN General Assembly resolved as early as 1973 that all the measures Israel undertook “to exploit the human and natural resources of the occupied Arab territories” it had occupied since 1967 are illegal. This principle was reaffirmed multiple times, most recently in a 2012 resolution. In 2016, UN Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36 called on companies “to avoid contributing to the establishment or maintenance of Israeli settlements or the exploitation of natural resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” In the same resolution, the Human Rights Council requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce a database of all companies involved in such activities. In 2018, the High Commissioner reported to have identified 206 such companies.

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