German firm whitewashes its plunder of Palestinian resources

HeidelbergCement’s Nahal Raba quarry in the occupied West Bank plunders Palestinian resources in violation of international law. 

Who Profits

HeidelbergCement is trying to present its theft of Palestinian natural resources under the cover of Israeli military occupation as a force for good.

For a decade, the German company has operated without permission of the Palestinians a quarry on land stolen from the village of al-Zawiya, in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities gave HeidelbergCement’s subsidiary Hanson Israel permission to exploit Nahal Raba, one of a number of Israeli and internationally run quarries in Area C.

Area C is the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under complete Israeli military control under the terms of the Oslo accords of the early 1990s.

But Israel has no authority to grant such permission, as the Nahal Raba quarry was opened after the June 1967 war in which Israel occupied the West Bank, the human rights group Al-Haq told The Electronic Intifada.

Companies like HeidelbergCement that extract natural resources through Israeli licensing may be engaging in the war crime of pillage, according to Al-Haq.

The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination includes permanent sovereignty over natural resources, even under occupation, the group states.

Illegal quarry

“From HeidelbergCement’s perspective, the quarrying activity at Nahal Raba is compatible with international humanitarian law as it produces substantial advantages for the local Palestinian population,” company spokesperson Andreas Schaller wrote The Electronic Intifada.

But legal scholar Tom Moerenhout rejects this, citing long-established international law on armed conflict and military occupation that says an occupying power can only use “movable and immovable” property in an occupied territory to meet its military or security needs.

Human Rights Watch highlighted HeidelbergCement and other Israeli and internationally operated quarries in a 2016 report on corporate complicity in Israeli occupation and settlements.

“These businesses sell nearly all of the quarried stone in the Israeli or settlement markets,” Human Rights Watch said. “This is in violation of international humanitarian law which requires that such natural resources should only be used for the benefit of the (Palestinian) population of the occupied territory.”

By contrast with HeidelbergCement, Israel has consistently refused to give permits to Palestinians who hoped to utilize their West Bank natural resources for their own development.

This badly damages the Palestinian economy and increases unemployment.

The World Bank estimated in 2013 that if Palestinians were allowed to develop new mining and quarrying operations in Area C, it would contribute $240 million to their economy.

Overall, the World Bank estimated annual Palestinian losses from Israel’s restrictions on their economic activity in Area C at a staggering $3.4 billion.

Whitewashing international crime

But HeidelbergCement is attempting to whitewash its plunder of Palestinian resources.

“Royalties and leasing fees are used by Israel for local projects, for example infrastructure projects, in Area C,” company spokesperson Schaller claimed.

According to the UN, Israel has allocated most of Area C for the benefit of its military and its settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

In 2014, HeidelbergCement’s subsidiary reportedly paid $467,000 in taxes directly to the Samaria Regional Council, a settler body that would use the funds for the benefit of the illegal settlements.

It paid another $3.5 million in royalties to Israel’s so-called Civil Administration, the military body that runs the occupation ruling over millions of Palestinians.

There is no evidence that Israel is spending this money to benefit Palestinians who live in Area C, who have faced some of the worst poverty anywhere in the West Bank.

And rather than fostering development, Israel’s demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures in the West Bank, especially Area C, hit a new record in 2016.

In any case, even if they did benefit Palestinians, the sums paid by HeidelbergCement’s subsidiary are minuscule compared with the billions in economic losses the World Bank says Palestinians suffer due to Israel’s economic restrictions.

Preaching “equality”

Another strategy HeidelbergCement uses to mask its complicity in this devastating occupation is to deploy the language of “equality.”

The company says that more than half of the employees and contractors at its quarry are local Palestinians.

“Palestinian and Israeli employees are treated the same and receive equal payment,” the company claims, parroting the line SodaStream once used to defend its factory in the Mishor Adumim settlement.

But arguments about allegedly positive employment effects hold no sway under international law, according to Moerenhout.

The main issue is the illegality of commercial activity in settlements that benefit the occupying power. “Any positive spillovers like employment are just used to legitimize and maintain the illegal occupation,” Moerenhout said.

Claims about employment benefits for Palestinians because of the settlements are also economic nonsense, since – as the World Bank estimates – Palestinians would see a huge boost in jobs and a 35 percent surge in GDP if Israel lifted its restrictions on their economy.

Palestinians don’t need companies like HeidelbergCement. They need to be free of the Israeli occupation and colonization from which the firm is profiting.

“Intercultural” occupation?

HeidelbergCement also reveals a political agenda to legitimize the occupation, claiming that “contact between the different ethnic groups has become very limited, if not nonexistent, throughout the last decade with increasing anti-normalization campaigns worsening the situation.”

In Nahal Raba quarry, the company claims, “Palestinian and Israeli employees work together in intercultural teams, which also open up informal channels of cultural exchange that foster mutual understanding.”

This language deceitfully masks the illegal economic exploitation of Palestinian land and labor by colonial settlers and an occupying army as fostering peace and harmony. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Moreover, by providing work opportunities for Israelis in illegal settlements, HeidelbergCement may be facilitating the war crime of transfer of civilians from Israel into the occupied West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, according to Al-Haq.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigners should increase the pressure on HeidelbergCement to withdraw from its illegal settlement business activities.

Dutch pension funds ABP and PFZW should dump their unethical investments in the company.

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Tough on the hapless indigenous people when two thermonuclear bomb states decide they can plunder you.. All states need deterence against the gang of five plus two or three of them.....

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Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh