Israel’s exploitation of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory for its own use is in direct violation of its legal responsibilities as an occupying power, says UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk.
“For nearly five million Palestinians living under occupation, the degradation of their water supply, the exploitation of their natural resources and the defacing of their environment, are symptomatic of the lack of any meaningful control they have over their daily lives,” Lynk said presenting a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“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.
“Its approach to the natural resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been to use them as a sovereign country would use its own assets, with vastly discriminatory consequences.”
The report, focusing on the impact of the occupation on the environment and natural resources, said people living under occupation should be able to enjoy the full panoply of human rights enshrined in international law, in order to protect their sovereignty over their natural wealth.
“However, Israeli practices in relation to water, extraction of other resources, and environmental protection, raise serious concerns.
“With the collapse of natural sources of drinking water in Gaza and the inability of Palestinians to access most of their water sources in the West Bank, water has become a potent symbol of the systematic violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“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. The reasons include over-extraction because of Gaza’s extremely dense population, contamination with sewage and seawater, Israel’s 12-year old blockade, and asymmetrical wars which has left Gaza’s infrastructure severely crippled and with a near-constant electricity shortage.
The Rapporteur said natural and mineral wealth from the Dead Sea, which is partly within the occupied West Bank, were being extracted by Israel 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.
There are serious concerns about Israel’s practice of disposing of hazardous waste in so-called “sacrifice zones” in the West Bank. The impact of Israel’s practices may be felt not only by Palestinians, but also by Israelis and others in the region, the Rapporteur said.
The report also questioned the ongoing use of excessive force by Israeli security forces against demonstrators in Gaza, and the near humanitarian catastrophe in the territory caused by the blockade.
Lynk also expressed fears about the fate of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem – nearly 200 of whom are at risk of forced eviction – and concern for human rights defenders facing increasing attacks on their credibility and pressure on funding.
“We must understand that these issues and violations block any visible path to Palestinian self-determination, and are instead leading to a darker future that heralds danger to both peoples,” he said.