Gaza Coast mining under Israeli licenses violates international law

Gaza Coast mining under Israeli licenses violates international law
Courtesy: Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights. This map illustrates the 2019 declared Palestinian maritime area (pink) and natural gas exploration zones licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Energy that cross into it: Zone H, G, E.

A number of Palestinian Human Rights groups have sent notices to the Israeli Ministry of Energy, as well as, six oil and gas extractivist companies urging them to refrain from sending/signing any licensing documents, and desist from undertaking any activities pertaining to natural gas deposits. This is due to significant overlap with Palestinian maritime territories off the coast of the Gaza Strip, exploitation without Palestinian permission violates international law. 


During the latter stages of the first month of Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip, which has been recognised by the ICJ as plausibly constituting a genocide against Palestinians, the Israeli Ministry of Energy had awarded a number of licenses for natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. A number of the partitioned areas or zones which companies bid to exploit cross into Palestinian maritime territories declared in 2019. 


Israel, as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, exercises tight control over its physical spaces, on land, in the air and at sea. With fisherman only allowed to access up to 11km of space adjacent to the Strip’s coast, they regularly come under attack from Israeli gunships, tightly enforcing it’s blockade. Despite this, Palestine has consistently looked to entrench its inalienable rights to self-determination. In 2019, the State of Palestine continued it’s attempts to define it’s legal nautical space at the UN, continuing on from a 2015 declaration concerning the same issues. This latest attempt transmitted its intentions to “promulgate its maritime assertions under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea”. 


Israel is not, unlike Palestine, party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Despite this Israel responded; describing a “principled and formal objection to the recent Palestinian declaration on its purported maritime boundaries”, reiterating it’s opposition to a Palestinian State. “Only sovereign states have the right to maritime zones”. As illustrated by the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, this “argument stands in direct contradiction to the established principles of international law” and ignores Palestinian rights to self-determination within agreements that Israel itself is not party to. 


For at least three of the maritime areas that Israel has awarded exploration licenses to, there is significant crossover with the declared Palestinian maritime area. Notably Zone E, G, and H (illustrated on cover image) all have portions inside Palestinian nautical space, 5%, 62% and 73% respectively.  Promising this maritime space for natural gas exploitation under Israeli domestic law is tantamount to the annexation of this declared territory, and ignores clear international humanitarian law norms. 


Under The Hague Convention of 1907 which concern the Laws and Customs of War on Land, or the Rules of Usufruct, which “provide indirect protection to the natural environment” by establishing property rights, naming protected objects and the obligations that a controlling state must abide by whilst occupying an others space, such as maintaining public order and safety in the territory. Creating clear parameters by which an occupying State must operate. Particularly in terms of occupied’s public property, natural resources and capital, Article 55 of The Hague Convention of 1907 states: 


“The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied territory. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.”


This obligation has widely been interpreted as “covering all immovable public property”, and is relevant to water resources with extensive academic backing, with commentators suggesting that “cutting or mining or other abusive exploitation” is prohibited. 


Under Article 55, alongside the Al Mezan, Al-Haq, and The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, imPACT International stresses that the issuing of tender and the granting of licenses for the extraction of resources in this area clearly violates critical international laws. The law stresses that the Occupation must prevent the exploitation of finite non-renewable resources of the territory in which it occupies for “commercial purposes and for the benefit of the Occupying power”. The extraction of deposits, which could be sold or used by the Palestinian state, deprives it’s citizens of the ability to benefit from it’s own natural resources and contributes to the continuation of their financial, physical and mental plight under occupation. 


It is in reference to Article 55 that Palestinian Human Rights Groups have urged the involved extractivist companies to refrain from undertaking any activities in Zones which overlap declared Palestinian maritime areas. In the letter, sent by Foley Hoag LLP. they notify extractivist companies involved (Eni S.p.A, Dana Petroleum, a UK-based company, Ratio Petroleum) that “any attempt to explore for and exploit natural resources claimed by Palestine risks breaching international humanitarian law”, that “Israel appears intent on placing the risk of this situation squarely on [the companies] shoulders” and that if they proceed, “corporate actors can be subject to individual criminal liability” under these regulations. 


Alongside Article 55, there are a number of other elements of Israel’s occupation that violate international humanitarian norms in respect to properties. Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907, which indicates that destroying or seizing the “enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war” and Article 47, which stipulates that “pillage is formally forbidden”. The latter article certainly has historical significance in relation to the plundering of public resources under occupation. In a case concerning the Ugandan occupation of the Ituri District, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from 1998 to 2003, an area, much alike Palestinian maritime space: rich in natural resources. At the ICJ the DRC accused the Ugandan occupation of plundering natural resources, superseding their natural right to resources within their own territory, the ICJ ruled that “Uganda had not complied with its obligation as an occupying power” after extracting, using and selling such resources. We suggest that the ICJ, alongside their judgement on genocidal actions by the Israeli occupation, also consider instances of pillaging. 


impACT International implores Dana Petroleum, Eni S.p.A and Ratio Petroleum to abide by international humanitarian norms and consider their own legal position before illegally plundering the resources of an Occupied territory. Further, Israel, alongside rather blatantly ignoring the ICJ’s provisional measures, must act like a state who is a participant in international humanitarian norms, these clear violations represent an existential threat to the international community and cannot continue. The Ministry of Energy must repeal all tenders and licenses for natural gas exploration in Palestinian maritime territory under Article 55 of The Hague Convention of 1907. 


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