German firm whitewashes its plunder of Palestinian resources

By Adri Nieuwhof, Electronic Intifada, 14 September
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.