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UN expert: ‘Israel’s policy of usurping Palestinian natural resources has robbed the Palestinians of vital assets’

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In a new report (Word file) issued Monday by the UN Human Rights Council, officials condemned a number of Israel’s ongoing policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian natural resources and its impacts on the environment, and the catastrophic effects the 12-year siege has had on the Gaza Strip.

The report states that as an occupying power, Israel has a responsibility to ensure that Palestinians enjoy “the full panoply of human rights enshrined in international law, in order to protect their sovereignty over their natural wealth.”

In what could amount to several human rights violations, Israel has overseen the degradation of the Palestinian water supply, the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources, and the defacing of their environment.

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said in the report that “Israel’s policy of usurping Palestinian natural resources and disregarding the environment has robbed the Palestinians of vital assets, and means they simply cannot enjoy their right to development.”

The report reads:

For the almost five million Palestinians living under occupation, the degradation and alienation of their water supply, the exploitation of their natural resources and the defacing of their environment is symptomatic of the lack of any meaningful control they have over their daily lives as Israel, the occupying power, exercises its military administrative powers in a sovereign-like fashion, with vastly discriminatory consequences.

Lynk highlighted three key impacts of Israel’s policies on the Palestinian environment and natural resources, including the inability of West Bank Palestinians to control their water supplies, the lack of clean drinking water in Gaza, and Israel’s practice of disposing of hazardous waste in so-called “sacrifice zones” in the West Bank.

“As of 2017, more than 96% of Gaza’s coastal aquifer – the main source of water for residents of Gaza – has become unfit for human consumption,” Lynk said.

He attributed the lack of clean drinking water in Gaza to over-extraction because of the territory’s extremely dense population, contamination with sewage and seawater, Israel’s blockade, “and asymmetrical wars which has left Gaza’s infrastructure severely crippled and with a near-constant electricity shortage.”

He went on to condemn Israel’s policy of extracting natural and mineral wealth from the Dead Sea, located partially in the occupied West Bank, “for its own benefit,  while the Palestinians were denied any access to those resources.”

“States are obligated to ensure that the enjoyment of human rights is not affected by environmental harm, and to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against any environmental damage that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights,” Lynk said.

The report itself ends in dramatic and condemnatory fashion:

An occupying power that took its responsibilities under international law seriously would rule in the best interests of the population under occupation, and aim to end its alien rule as soon as reasonably possible. It would recognize that the territory’s natural wealth, environment and resources belongs to the protected people. As such, it would encourage them to assume increasing authority and management over this wealth as a necessary precondition for a short and successful occupation, and a peaceful and cooperative future. An occupying power governed by these principles would not pillage. It would respect both public and private property. Any development or use of the natural resources would be conducted strictly within the limits of usufruct. It would seek to conserve and to preserve. Above all, it would not appropriate the occupied territory’s natural resources for its own gain or exploitation.

Israel has strayed extremely far from these legal responsibilities. Indeed, its temporary-permanent occupation of the Palestinian territory has been the photo negative of what is required of a faithful occupying power. During its five decades as occupant, it has appropriated private and public property without lawful authority. It has regarded the Palestinian territory as its own for acquisitive purposes and someone else’s territory with respect to the protection of the people under occupation. Its expropriation of Palestinian hydro resources breaches both international humanitarian and human rights law, and scorns the principles that underlie the right to water. Its usurpation of the territory’s natural resources and its disregard for its environment robs the Palestinians of vital assets that it requires should it ever achieve its freedom. The right to development in Palestine has become a dead letter. Can we not do the math to understand that these realities belie any visible path to Palestinian self-determination, and instead lead to a darker future that portends dangers to both peoples? 

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

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