Looking closely at Israel's obligations over Palestinian natural resources, we can see that Israel, as an occupying power, does not obtain sovereignty over the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Gaza Strip, and acts as an administrator of the land as long as the occupation continues.
When Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, it immediately took control of the area's water resources. All the water was declared Israeli property. The Palestinian consumption is limited to 1976 levels. For instance, within the Jordan River area (which includes underground water), Palestinians are allowed to utilize 8.2%, while Israel exploits 57.1% and Jordan 34.7%. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) it is now estimated that 80-95% of all water is used by Israeli settlers, who make up just over 10% of the population of the occupied land. Villages in Palestine have traditionally been entirely dependent on relatively shallow, dug wells.
The Theft of Palestinian Natural Resources
During more than 25 years of occupation, Israel has virtually prevented Palestinian construction of new water sources. Meanwhile, Israelis have drilled deep wells for their own use, with the result being that the water table has dropped. Fewer than half of the Palestinian wells provide water today.
The number of irrigation permits for Palestinian farmers has been cut down and only 5% of agricultural land is currently irrigated, while the settlers' farms are irrigated from deep wells and from the Jordan River, which Palestinians are no longer allowed to use. As for Gaza, Israel pumps the water, which is then also pumped to the Israeli Negev desert. Most Palestinian households are connected to the waterworks, but Israel controls the main taps and decides how much water is allocated to each of the different communities. Many systems have also been damaged during the conflict and during long periods of drought. In 218 communities in the West Bank, there is no running water. All of this means that hundreds of thousands of people have serious difficulty getting the water they need on an almost daily basis. Specifically affected are the women, who use water in the home and are responsible for fetching water.
Exploitation, Control and Protection of Resources by the Occupying Power According to International Law and Conventions
According to international law, Israel, as an occupying power, is not allowed to exploit or drain the natural resources of the OPT for its own economic benefit. Israeli practices of denying Palestinians access to their own water resources and of over-exploitation of aquifers, are all considered violations of international humanitarian law, including Articles 49 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Articles 43, 46, 53 and 55 of the Hague Regulations.
International humanitarian law (IHL) also requires Israel to compensate Palestinians for any private property that it takes for its own military needs. This compensation should only be in proportion to the resources of the country. We can define privately owned property as wells, pumps and other water installations, even if they are owned by municipalities, while communally held or cross-border water resources, such as the water in the mountains and the Jordan River, are included in the regime of publicly owned immovable property.
IHL states that Israel must run the Occupied Palestinian Territories according to the rules of usufruct of public property. Israel's over-exploitation and pollution of groundwater has caused irreparable damage to the Palestinian aquifers, which makes the groundwater a non-renewable resource. Therefore, groundwater is considered public immovable property and Israel has occupied one of the most important of the Palestinian territories' sources of capital.
Groundwater is protected by Article 55 of the Hague Regulations. So, it is and should be protected by the rules of usufruct, meaning that it cannot be completely depleted, damaged or destroyed by Israel. The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council have confirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which includes their right to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.
International human rights law (IHRL) says that Israel has four obligations regarding Palestinian natural resources, including water, which are to protect, fulfill, respect and not to utilize any of the resources as a political tool. Israel must respect the right of the Palestinian people to water and not destroy or damage the Palestinian water infrastructure. Furthermore, Israel must protect and fulfill the right of the Palestinian people to their water by taking necessary measures that make it easy to enjoy such a right. Israel's illegal closures in the Gaza Strip, which impede essential construction materials for the rehabilitation of water and sanitation infrastructure from getting in, constitute a violation of this duty.
The UN General Assembly confirmed in its resolution on March 29, 2012 that the Palestinian people have permanent sovereignty over their natural resources. On December 21, 2013, the General Assembly requested that Israel stop the exploitation, damage, cause of loss or depletion and endangerment of natural resources in the OPT. All EU member states voted in favor of this resolution.
According to international water law (IWL) obligations, Article 2 of the UN Watercourses Convention, Israel must abide by the three principles of IWL that reflect international law: First, they must insure equitable and reasonable utilization; second, they must prevent causing harm to other Watercourse States; and finally, they have a duty to cooperate in the protection and maintenance of the water infrastructure.
Influence of the Settlements on Natural Resources
The Israeli settlements that are built on the OPT are illegal by definition, and as a result, the utilization of Palestinian natural resources by the settlers and the building up of the settlements are also illegal. The UN has repeatedly upheld the view that Israel's construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The International Court of Justice also has said, in a 2004 advisory opinion, these settlements are illegal.
The Israeli settlements have a detrimental effect on the Palestinian natural resources, and the occupation enterprise allows the state of Israel to profit from Palestinian natural resources. Settlements represent a significant axis of control; 68% of the Area C lands are reserved for settlements. The Israeli Supreme Court has allowed for Israeli companies to exploit the West Bank's natural resources for economic gain.
Palestinian olive farming has also suffered due to Israeli settlements. Hundreds of thousands of olive trees were cut down or burned by settlers. In 2008, the settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area were allocated 44.8 million cubed meters of water, 97.5% of which, 43.7 million m3 were for agricultural use; 70% of it was provided by Mekorot, the Israeli national water company. The household use of settlers in the Jordan Valley was 487 liters per capita per day. In the northern area, household water use even reached 727 liters per capita per day. That is three to four times the average use of 165 per capita liters in Israel. The settlers in the eastern parts of the West Bank use nearly all the water for agriculture. All of this water is taken from Palestinian water resources.
Israel is riding roughshod over the Palestinian people's rights that are guaranteed by international law when they use Palestinian natural resources for their own gain. It is through such actions that Israel is trying to annex part of Palestine's resources to Israel, ignore the illegality of the action and maintain the occupation and the settlements.