On 21 February 2021, the Palestinian Authority’s sovereign wealth fund, the Palestinian Investment Fund, signed an MOU with Egyptian company Egyptian Natural Gas Holdings (EGAS) to develop the Gaza Marine field located in Palestinian waters held under Israeli naval blockade, a conflict affected area. [i] The Palestine Investment Fund stated that the MOU provided “a radical solution to the energy crisis afflicting the Gaza Strip, and supplying the Jenin power plant [in the West Bank] with gas, which will contribute to strengthening Palestinian national independence”.[ii] The following day in Jerusalem, on 22 February 2021, in a separate agreement, Israel’s Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz and Egyptian Minister of Energy Tarek el-Molla, concluded an agreement to build a gas pipeline from Israel’s Leviathan field to Egypt, the second gas pipeline laid by the two States traversing the Palestinian coast.[iii]
Al-Haq warns that the Palestinian Authority, by entertaining this gas “sweetner” to facilitate regional and international business for Israel’s gas, is directly contributing to the permanent entrenchment of Israel’s colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and permanent closure of the Gaza Strip. The agreement amounts to corporate capture , whereby “economic elite undermine the realization of human rights and the environment by exerting undue influence over domestic and international decision-makers and public institutions”.
Normalising Relations with Israel and Egypt who Hold the Palestinian Sea under Blockade
The agreement was prefaced by a radical shift towards normalisation, and the conclusion of the so-called Abraham Accords agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August 2020, Israel and Bahrain in September 2020, followed by agreements between Israel and Morocco in December 2020, to establish full diplomatic relations with regard to energy amongst others - agreements which were further endorsed by Sudan as bringing “a vision of peace, security, and prosperity in the Middle East and around the world”. In an open letter of condemnation, Al-Haq’s General Director Shawan Jabarin, criticised the agreements and called on third States to intervene stating: “It is now time, for the international community and the Palestinian people to collectively rise up and resist this egregious regional normalisation, to ensure the realisation of our people to self-determination and permanent sovereignty, and to prevent Israeli and regional measures towards the erasure of our people, culture, lands and home.”
Notably the Leviathan field is the most lucrative gas asset in Israel’s energy portfolio. Operated by Delek Drilling and Chevron (and formerly by Nobel Energy), Leviathan holds a staggering 21 trillion cubic feet of gas, an amount which industry analysts consider a “game-changer” for Israel. However, Israel’s problem has been that the gas far exceeds the needs of the domestic market, and must be exported in order guarantee full profits from gas revenues – this requires not just export to regional markets, but export to the more lucrative European market.
Leviathan is operated by organizations with deep Zionist links, for example, Noble Energy’s Israel, Country Manager, Bini Zomer was previously a lobbyist for AIPAC. The link between the gas industry and the Zionist settler colonial ideology, cannot be understated. As explained in the Israel Hayom article: “The oil company's investment isn't just a huge boost for Israel's natural-gas industry. It's more evidence that the Arab world has given up the war on the Jewish state. For many decades, one of the givens in the discussion about the Arab world's war on Israel was the role that the American and international oil industry played as a supporter of the Arab war on Zionism.”
Meanwhile, Chevron the second largest hydrocarbon company has a dark record of human rights violations, having been held accountable ten years ago in the Supreme Court of Equador for environmental destruction in the Amazon which caused “Amazon’s Chernobyl”. To this day Chevron has refused to pay the 18 billion USD ordered in damages, and has instead targeted human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, who helped bring the landmark case, who is now currently held under house arrest, and is being prosecuted by a private firm with ties to Chevron. In September 2020, the District Court in The Hagueupheld the arbitral award of the Equador Courts’ against Chevron, which it found to be enforceable under international law.
Gas Companies Unilaterally Deplete Palestine’s Gas
In 2011, following a reduction in Israel’s gas supply to the domestic market, Delek Drilling and the Noble Energy conglomerate unilaterally depleted the Border Gas field which is shared by Palestine and Israel, in the absence of co-operation agreementsrequired both under the Oslo Accords and under customary international law. According to Dutch NGO SOMO: “By failing to make efforts to assure Palestinian consent to gas extraction from the Noa field – which is contiguous to the Palestinian Border Field – Noble Energy has failed to comply with the OECD Guidelines and UNGPs and conduct appropriate human rights due diligence to identify and prevent potential adverse human rights impacts”.
Further, Delek Group and Noble Energy have fully depleted a number of gas fields in Palestinian waters to the north of the Gaza Strip, including the so-called ‘Yam Tethy’s’ fields, which recent maps and coordinates from the State of Palestine lodged with the UN Secretary General as Depositary clearly illustrate as located in Palestine. At the time, the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates called on: “all States, companies and institutions to respect the maritime boundaries of the State of Palestine and to review the contracts of their operations, and refrain from carrying out any work or activities within the maritime boundaries of the State of Palestine also reserves its right to compensation for the illegal exploitation of natural resources, as well as any other resources that have been exploited over the years” – in a noted reference to the Delek Drilling and Noble Energy’s depletion of Palestinian gas reserves.
The coordinates for Mari-B a gas field and storage facility near the Gaza Strip, and the Noa and Pinnacles gas fields are blacked out on the maps of Noble Energy’s official environmental survey. Meanwhile, maps from Delek Drilling, clearly show the gas fields including Mari-B, abruptly finishing at an arbitrarily drawn line, which Israel drew up unilaterally and in the absence of an international agreement with Palestine.
As previously argued by Al-Haq, investment in Israel’s gas fields effectively rubber-stampsIsrael’s policy and practice of continued closure of the Palestinian sea, conduct which, during belligerent occupation, constitutes a grave violation of international law amounting to the war crime of collective punishment. Israel’s gas export plans directly infringe Palestine’s right to self-determination and permanent sovereignty over its coastal resources. According to the Director of Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, “any gas exportation across the Palestinian sea by international corporations seeking to develop Israeli gas fields will undoubtedly contribute to the continuance of hostilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. Al-Haq warns Israeli and international companies that are active in the sea off the coast of Gaza, including companies that are operating pipelines, of their possible contribution to human rights harms, where they proceed to operate without conducting enhanced due diligence including obtaining the consent of the State of Palestine, in addition to the consultation and consent of local Palestinian communities.
Israel’s Illegal Gas Exports Through Palestine’s Territorial Sea
In 2020 alone, Israel profited from $151 million USD in gas exports to Egypt through the East Mediterranean Gas Pipeline, which passes along the coast of the blockaded Gaza Strip, between the Ashkelon in Israel and El Arish in Egypt. Israel controls the entire pipeline route under a heavy militarised naval blockade, closing off Palestine’s entire contiguous zone and exclusive economic zone - an expanse of sea amounting to nearly 200 nautical miles - and the majority of Palestine’s territorial sea. Israel’s military prevents access to all Palestinians to their coast line and natural resources, and permits only a fraction of access to arbitrary distances, usually well under 6 nautical miles. UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, Michael Lynk, has warned that Israel’s closure of the entire Gaza Strip amounts to the crime of collective punishment in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
That Israel intends to maintain its apartheid and fragmentation of the Palestinian people and territory and permanently imprison the two million population in the Gaza Strip is evidenced by the finalisation of its recent construction of an additional underground concrete wall between the Gaza Strip and Israel, as part of a 60 kilometer above and below ground wall and 20 foot high steel galvanised fence replete with advanced sensors, completed by Israel in the same week as the Palestinian/Egypt Gaza Marine and Israel/Egypt Leviathan pipeline agreements were announced.
Escalating Attacks on Fishermen Attack
In 1995, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip provided for an agreed maritime zone stretching 20 nautical miles (nm) from the Gaza coastline designated for “fishing, recreation and economic activities”.[iv]Despite the conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, Israel has maintained a brutal and deadly closure of Palestine’s Maritime Zone reducing “fishing, recreational and economic” maritime space at a whim to distances not exceeding 6 nm.[v] In 2002, the intervention of the Personal Humanitarian Envoy to the Secretary General resulted in the ‘Bertini Commitments’ whereby Israel committed to increase the Palestinian fishing zone to 12 nm.[vi] In fact, Israel has neither implemented the 12 nm fishing Bertini commitment nor increased the fishing limit back to the agreed 20 nm zone. Notably, in 2019, the State of Palestine declared an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nm, however Israeli navy patrol the sea and attack Palestinian fishermen at distances of even one nautical mile from the shore.
Since 2016, Al-Haq has documented the killing of 11 fishermen off the coast of Gaza, six by Israeli naval forces between 2017 and 2018, two by Egyptian naval forces in 2020, and three in 2021 in a drone strike by Palestinian armed groups during a training exercise.
On Friday 5 March 2021, the Israeli navy opened fire on two Palestinian fishermen whose boat had malfunctioned and was pulled by currents towards the 6 nautical mile limit. Muhammad Ashraf Ramadan Al-Aawour, 23 explained to Al-Haq:
“I saw two small rubber boats and a large ‘cruiser’ boat advancing towards us at high speed from within the borders, and the Israeli boats fired live bullets towards our boat... The bullets cut off the anchor rope, and the soldiers shouted at us from a very close distance of about two meters only, and they ordered us to raise our hands up at gunpoint, then they ordered us to jump into the sea water immediately, and my colleague Adham and I raised our hands up, then we shouted loudly at the soldiers’. The engine of al-Hasakah (the Makina) has stopped ... we are fishermen and we are not able to control al-Hasakah .. We cannot jump into the sea ... We do not know how to swim’. While we were raising our hands up and standing in front of al-Hasakah, the rubber boats with soldiers surrounded us from two sides, shooting rubber coated metal bullets. I was shot by a bullet in the left jaw, and Adham was shot by two bullets in the right arm.”
On 10 March 2021, at approximately 7:00 am Israeli gunboats, stationed at sea, opposite the Al-Waha area, northwest of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, chased fishermen's boats, which were located at a distance of about 3 nautical miles, targeting the vicinity of the fishermen with heavy machine gun fire. The shooting continued intermittently until approximately 10:15 am the same day, forcing the fishermen to flee the area and abandon their catch for the day. Al-Haq documented a further four open fire attacks on Palestinian fishermen by Israeli navy in pursuit between distances of 3 and 6 nm, between 16 and 22 March 2021 at Sudania, west of Jabalia, and Al-Waha area, northwest of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip
In addition, Israel maintains a naval blockade of Palestine’s EEZ, and in May 2010 targeted and killed 10 humanitarian activists and injured a further 50 on the Mavi Marmara flotilla which was intending to pass through the blockade with humanitarian provisions. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary examination into this attack, and found there was a ‘reasonable basis to believe’ that Israeli forces had committed war crimes with the inception of the flotilla, although the Office later closed the preliminary examination in November 2014, for not meeting the gravity threshold.
Objection of Political Representatives in the Gaza Strip
Critically, the State of Palestine, Third States, and corporations do not have the competence to conclude agreements on Gaza pertaining to land and natural resources without the consent and consultation of the affected communities in Gaza. Critically the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples requires that indigenous peoples be consulted on any matters that might affect them taking into account that the purpose of such consultations should be to obtain their “free, prior and informed consent”.[vii] Notably Articles 7, 8, and 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention binding as customary international law prohibits the political representatives of the protected population from entering into special agreements that would erode the guarantees of the Fourth Geneva Convention, including collective punishment, inhumane treatment, and the usufruct of the seabed to lay pipelines for the purposes of economic gain, a resource over which the occupied population have rights of permanent sovereignty.
The gas agreement between the PA and Egypt has been condemned by the Hamas group of the Palestinian Legislative Council as "illegal." Ahmed Bahar, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council warned, "The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah can't, in any way, sign International agreements on behalf of the Palestinian people and their legitimate institutions," [viii]Similarly, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem argued, “Our people have the right to know how the authority behaves on major issues because precedent confirms that it acts without the slightest degree of transparency, and determines its actions and relations based on narrow partisan and factional interests”. [ix]
Previously, Noble Energy similarly sidestepped any consideration of human rights abuses against Palestinians by deliberately ignoring their presence and directing its environmental impact assessment of nearby gas platforms on Israel only.[x] Although the Gaza Strip is located a mere 13 nm from Noble’s main Mari-B gas platform, it did not consider Gaza as a ‘local community’ for the purposes of its grievance mechanisms. There are very real environmental hazards in this area of the sea, for example, media reports suggest that Israeli naval forces may have attacked an oil tanker that polluted the entire Israeli and Palestinian coast with 1,000 tons of oil in February 2021. It is necessary that the gas pipeline companies including Delek Drilling, Noble Energy (taken over by Chevron), East Mediterranean Gas Company, Merhav, Thailand company PTT, EMI-EGI LP, Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and East Gas Company, who operate the current gas pipeline in a conflict affected area off the coast of Gaza, conduct enhanced due diligence including facilitating consultations and the consent of the affected community in Gaza.
In light of Israel’s non recognition of Palestine, its settler colonisation, apartheid, and de facto and de jure annexation of Palestinian territory, its unilateral exploitation of gas along disputed areas of sea along the Palestinian Israeli coast, including from the contiguous Border field, and its denial since 1999 of Palestinian access to the Gaza Marine field, it is clear that Palestine’s Gaza Marine ‘gas sweetner’ with Egypt is little more than a fig leaf to facilitate Israel’s lucrative gas exports to Egypt and the EU in pipelines held under a brutal naval blockade targeting Palestinian civilian fishermen, the people of Gaza, and the entire Palestinian people. For these reasons Al-Haq calls on:
- The Palestinian Authority and Palestine Investment Fund to immediately rescind its agreement with Egypt to develop Gaza Marine gas;
- The Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Israel, the EU, to engage in consultations with political representatives and affected communities in the Gaza Strip on issues pertaining to gas exploitation and export, for their consent;
- The Palestinian Authority to publicly condemn the use of its territorial and contiguous sea held under active conflict and blockade, for the benefit of Israeli and Egyptian pipeline companies;
- For the EU to withdraw from any agreements to import Israeli gas from the Leviathan field which is transited through pipelines to Egypt maintained through the commission of “serious and systematic violations of human rights”;
- For gas companies and suppliers, including Delek Drilling, Chevron, East Mediterranean Gas Company, Merhav, Thailand company PTT, EMI-EGI LP, Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and East Gas Company to conduct enhanced human rights due diligence as per the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and environmental impact assessments which include direct impacts on the protected population in the occupied Gaza Strip;
- For the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate individuals including corporate agents who have maintained the blockade and closure, acts of persecution and collective punishment of the protected population in the Gaza Strip.
[i] AA, “Palestine-Egypt gas deal illegal: Gaza lawmakers” (3 March 2021), available at: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/palestine-egypt-gas-deal-illegal-gaza-lawmakers/2163709
[ii] Sanaa Alswerky, Pa-Egypt Accord On Developing Gaza Gas Field Adds To Hamas-Fatah Tensions (24 February 2021), Available At: Https://Themedialine.Org/Top-Stories/Pa-Egypt-Accord-On-Developing-Gaza-Gas-Field-Adds-To-Hamas-Fatah-Tensions/
[iii] “Israel to build new natural gas pipeline from its offshore rig direct to Egypt” Times of Israel (22 February 2021), available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-to-build-new-natural-gas-pipeline-from-its-offshore-rig-direct-to-egypt/
[iv] Article XIV, The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (28 September 1995).
[v] M. Ali, ‘The Coastal Zone of Gaza Strip – Palestine Management and Problems’ (11-12 March 2002) Presentation for MAMA, 12 < http://overfishing.org/interesting/documents/fisheries_gaza/2002_gaza_ briefing_paper.pdf> accessed 14 June 2015
[vi] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Commitments made by the Government of Israel to Ms Catherine Bertini, Personal Humanitarian Envoy to the Middle East for the Secretary-General’ < http:// unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/3C484FF2A4F05BF285256D58004FF446> accessed 4 October 2015
[vii] A/HRC/EMRIP/2018/CRP.1, “Draft study on Free, Prior and Informed Consent:
A human rights based approach” (5 July 2018).
[viii] AA, “Palestine-Egypt gas deal illegal: Gaza lawmakers” (3 March 2021), available at: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/palestine-egypt-gas-deal-illegal-gaza-lawmakers/2163709
[ix] Sanaa Alswerky, Pa-Egypt Accord On Developing Gaza Gas Field Adds To Hamas-Fatah Tensions (24 February 2021), Available At: Https://Themedialine.Org/Top-Stories/Pa-Egypt-Accord-On-Developing-Gaza-Gas-Field-Adds-To-Hamas-Fatah-Tensions/
[x] Noble Energy, Tamar Expansion Project, Disclosure Summary of Environmental and Social Assessments and Conclusions (March 2015) para. 29.