51 Years of Israeli Occupation: Settlement Expansion and Exploitation of Natural Resources
Israel’s colonial policies and practices have continued and intensified as a result of over 50 years of brutal military occupation. Today, some 600,000 Israeli settlers live in over 200 illegal settlements established in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. Israel’s settlement enterprise has created an entirely unequal, separate, and discriminatory system whereby Israeli citizens continue to be unlawfully transferred into the occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of international law, and benefit from access to and use of Palestinian land and resources, of which Palestinians are largely deprived. Although illegal, Israel has now built some 460 kilometres, or 65 per cent, of the Annexation Wall, annexing and severing access to Palestinian land, including farmland, disrupting the contiguity of the occupied territory, and violating the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, as determined by the International Court of Justice nearly 14 years ago. These policies and practices are reflective of Israel’s institutionalised discrimination against the Palestinian people, pursued since the Nakba in 1948, and which may amount to the crime of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory, prosecutable by the International Criminal Court.
Israel’s prolonged military occupation of the Palestinian territory violates the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, an erga omnes obligation and jus cogens norm of international law, which all States have a positive obligation to fulfil towards all peoples “which have not been able to exercise or have been deprived of the possibility of exercising their right to self-determination.” Self-determination includes the right to permanent sovereignty over natural wealth and resources, of which Palestinians are systematically deprived by Israel, the occupying power, who has continued to exploit Palestinian resources for the benefit of its economy and its unlawful settlement enterprise, in violation of the rules of usufruct and customary international humanitarian law. As such, the longer Israel’s occupation continues, the more it raises the question of whether it has become illegal, a form of de facto annexation of occupied territory, and can no longer be seen as a merely factual consequence of armed conflict.
Lucrative, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory has also been prolonged by corporations, who have long exploited this situation with impunity, profiting from Israel’s colonisation, exploitation of natural resources, and entrenched annexation of the occupied Palestinian territory. The exploitation of Palestinian resources by businesses stands in violation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and may amount pillage, which is prosecutable as a war crime at the International Criminal Court. The database produced pursuant to UN Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 is an avenue towards ending corporate complicity in Israel’s occupation. As such, Al-Haq continues to call for its public release. Al-Haq also continues to call on States to fully ban settlement products in line with their obligations as third States, and to support the efforts towards elaborating “an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises”, with a view to holding corporations accountable for violations of international human rights law.
11 Years of Intensified Closure of the Gaza Strip, Amounting to Collective Punishment
This June also marks 11 years since Israel intensified its closure of the occupied Gaza Strip, severing it from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory and its people. Al-Haq notes that Israel has restricted Palestinians’ access to border lands in Gaza since the year 2000, when it unilaterally and unlawfully decreased Palestine’s agreed maritime zone (Zone L) from 20 nautical miles to six nautical miles. Before 2000, when Israel tightened movement restrictions on people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, in place since the 1990s, over half a million workers exited Beit Hanoun “Erez” checkpoint every month. In June 2007, Israel intensified its closure of the Gaza Strip and imposed a comprehensive blockade by land, air, and sea on the occupied territory.
Eleven years since, Israel has made the Gaza Strip entirely uninhabitable, as now widely recognised by the international community, which has failed to take any concrete action to put an end to this unlawful situation. As recently highlighted by Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip has resulted in “economic suffocation, faltering reconstruction efforts, social and familial isolation from the outside world and a dire impact upon the territory’s already-anemic living and health standards”. Israel’s 11-year closure of the Gaza Strip remains an unlawful form of collective punishment prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). As such, Israel is under an obligation to lift the closure immediately, while the High Contracting Parties of the Geneva Conventions are bound under Common Article 1 to “ensure respect for the [Convention] in all circumstances.”
Israel’s unlawful closure forms part of its decades-long policy of de-development of the Gaza Strip, which has included the deliberate reduction of Gaza’s electricity supply, currently averaging at about five hours of electricity a day, the destruction of Gaza’s agricultural sector, and systematic attacks on the lives and livelihoods of Gaza’s fishermen. A majority of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption, as a result of depletion and over-extraction of the Coastal Aquifer and contamination by seawater infiltration and sewage, given denials of wastewater treatment infrastructure. Meanwhile, Israel continues to exploit natural resources in the Gaza Strip, including natural gas off the Gaza shore, which also forms part of Israel’s energy security policy, one of the drivers of its prolonged closure of the Gaza Strip. Following 11 years of unlawful closure, Israel has destroyed Gaza’s economy and social fabric, disrupted the contiguity of the occupied Palestinian territory, and entrenched its fragmentation of the Palestinian people.
51 Years of Inaction: Time for Sanctions
For 51 years, the international community has stood idly by and even tacitly endorsed Israel’s occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian territory. As an erga omnes obligation, the international community as a whole bears responsibility for the continued denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and permanent sovereignty. As grave breaches of international law continue to be committed by Israel, the occupying power, each High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention has a legal obligation towards prosecuting perpetrators, including corporate entities, and holding them to account.
The international community can and must take concrete steps towards ending Israel’s unlawful closure of the Gaza Strip and prolonged occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories as a whole. As stated by UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, “it is no tribute that — as the occupation deepened, as the occupier’s intentions became crystal clear, and as its defiance grew – the international community recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide.”
Urgent measures are needed today to finally bring to an end Israel’s prolonged occupation and ensure perpetrators of international crimes are held accountable. The continued inaction by the international community, following 25 years of failed peace negotiations that have led to an increase in settlement expansion and the entrenchment of Israel’s control over the occupied territory and its people, will inevitably lead Palestinians to lose faith in the international legal system as a whole, necessitating immediate intervention.
Accordingly, Al-Haq makes the following recommendations:
Israel, as occupying power, must:
- Immediately and urgently end its unlawful closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip, amounting to collective punishment, and ensure unimpeded access to and movement from the Gaza Strip, to preserve the contiguity of the occupied Palestinian territory;
- Dismantle the Annexation Wall and its associated regime, as per the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the construction of a Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory;
- Dismantle all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in occupied East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan, and immediately cease all further settlement construction and expansion;
- Cease all practices that purport to alter the legal status, demographic composition, and character of the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around the city of Jerusalem, which are null and void and cannot purport to alter the status of Jerusalem;
- Bring to a complete end its military occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories occupied since 1967, comprising the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the occupied Syrian Golan; and
- Fulfil the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including their right to permanent sovereignty over natural wealth and resources and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property, from which they were displaced in and around 1948 and 1967, as mandated by international law.
Third States Party must:
- Abide by their obligations not to recognise as lawful any alteration imposed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, and in the city of Jerusalem, including the annexation of Jerusalem and the construction of the Annexation Wall, including in and around occupied East Jerusalem;
- Abide by their obligations as third States not to relocate their embassies to the city of Jerusalem, in line with UN Security Council resolution 478 (1980), and refrain from engaging with representatives of the unlawfully relocated embassies of the United States of America, Guatemala, and Paraguay in Jerusalem;
- Abide by their obligations as third States not to contribute to the prolongation of Israel’s occupation, including but not limited to supporting its unlawful settlement enterprise, including through corporate entities domiciled in their territory and profiting from Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian natural resources and occupation at large;
- Cooperate to bring to an end Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territory and realise, as an erga omnes obligation, the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including permanent sovereignty over natural wealth and resources and the right of return of Palestinian refugees;
- Take concrete measures to bring to an end Israel’s longstanding impunity for widespread and systematic violations of international law committed against the Palestinian people, including in the occupied Palestinian territory, including by imposing sanctions on Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law;
- Cooperate with and support the investigation by the international commission of inquiry established pursuant to UN Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/S-28/L.1 on 18 May 2018 to ensure accountability for grave breaches, including wilful killings, committed in the occupied Gaza Strip on and since 30 March 2018;
- Bring perpetrators of grave breaches, including corporate entities, before their own courts in line with their obligations as High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention under Article 146; and
- Support the preliminary examination currently conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and encourage the opening of a full investigation into the situation in Palestine since 13 June 2014 in an effort to hold accountable perpetrators of international crimes committed against the occupied Palestinian people.
The international community, through the UN, must:
- Impose sanctions on Israel and urgently take action to ensure that Israel’s unlawful 11-year closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip are immediately and completely lifted and Israel’s prolonged 51-year occupation of the Palestinian territory is brought to an end;
- Call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to publicly release the database created pursuant to UN Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 on business enterprises involved in the activities identified by fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements dispatched in 2012, to end corporate complicity in Israel’s unlawful settlement enterprise and occupation at large;
- Support the mandate of the UN working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights in relation to elaborating a binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises under international human rights law, in line with UN Human Rights Council resolution 26/9;
- Ensure Israel ceases all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, in line with UN Security Council resolution 2334 (2016);
- Call for the convening of a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949;
- Refer to the International Court of Justice a request for an advisory opinion on the question of Jerusalem, in line with its protected status under international law, and the legality of Israel’s prolonged military occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories after 51 years; and
- Trigger UN General Assembly resolution 377 A (V) and collectively agree to take all necessary means to bring to an end Israel’s violations of international law, including its unlawful closure of the Gaza Strip, and its systematic denial to fulfil the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return, as mandated by international law.
 UN Human Rights Council, Written statement submitted by the Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, UN Doc A/HRC/35/NGO/27, 24 May 2017, p. 2.
 See UN OCHA sources, as cited by B’Tselem in: B’Tselem, “The Separation Barrier” (11 November 2017), available at: https://www.btselem.org/separation_barrier.
 UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 12, Article 1 (Right to Self-determination), 13 March 1984, para. 6. See also UN Human Rights Council, Written statement submitted by the Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, UN Doc A/HRC/35/NGO/27, 24 May 2017, p. 5.
 See, for example, Al-Haq, “Grapewashing the Occupation: The Case of the Chinese Hubey Pengdun Group” (16 January 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/business-and-human-rights-focus/1171-grapewashing-the-occupation-the-case-of-the-chinese-hubey-pengdun-group.
 UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, UN Doc A/HRC/37/75, 15 March 2018, para. 21. UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Report on UNCTAD assistance to the Palestinian people: Developments in the economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, UN Doc TD/B/62/3, 6 July 2015, paras. 40-43.
https://www.amnesty.ca/blog/occupation-water. The electricity crisis compounded this situation as it prevented Gaza’s wastewater treatment plant from operating, leading sewage to flow into the sea. See Zafrir Rinat, “Ninety-seven Percent of Gaza Drinking Water Contaminated by Sewage, Salt, Expert Warns” (Haaretz, 21 January 2018), available at: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-expert-warns-97-of-gaza-drinking-water-contaminated-by-sewage-salt-1.5747876. As of mid-March 2018, the World Bank announced that a new wastewater treatment plant had begun to operate in the northern Gaza Strip. See The World Bank, “North Gaza communities will finally benefit from sewage treatment services” (12 March 2018), available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/03/12/north-gaza-communities-will-finally-benefit-from-sewage-treatment-services. UN General Assembly, Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, UN Doc A/72/556, 23 October 2017, para. 64.  Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 2004, p. 136. UN Security Council, Resolution 478 (1980), UN Doc S/RES/478 (1980), 20 August 1980.
 Al-Haq, “Al-Haq Condemns Relocation of US Embassy to Occupied Jerusalem” (15 May 2018), available: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/wall-and-jerusalem/1240-al-haq-condemns-relocation-of-us-embassy-to-occupied-jerusalem. Al-Haq, “Guatemala and Paraguay Embassy Relocation to Jerusalem Blatantly Disregards Jerusalem’s Internationally Protected Status and Violates United Nations Resolutions” (23 May 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/wall-and-jerusalem/1258-guatemala-and-paraguay-embassy-relocation-to-jerusalem-blatantly-disregards-jerusalems-internationally-protected-status-and-violates-united-nations-resolutions.
 See Al-Haq, “Al-Haq Attends 28th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the Situation in Palestine, Calls for Accountability” (22 May 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/targets/united-nations/1255-al-haq-attends-28th-special-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council-on-the-situation-in-palestine-calls-for-accountability.
 UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission to Investigate the Implications of the Israeli Settlements on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the Palestinian People throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, A/HRC/22/63, 7 February 2013, para. 96.
 See recommendations given by UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk in: UN General Assembly, Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, UN Doc A/72/556, 23 October 2017.