Week 12: Natural Resources
The West Bank is rich in natural resources. However, due to Israel’s occupation and control over the occupied Palestinian territory, access to and use of Palestinians’ natural resources is obstructed. Rampant throughout the occupied territory, this practice is at its worst around the Dead Sea, where Israel exploits the land for its water and minerals. As the United Nations and the world observe World Water Day on March 22, the Kumi Now community is focusing on this environmental exploitation. Here’s what you need to know about this crisis and what you can do so that together we can rise up.
Topic: Natural Resources
Former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali once famously warned, “The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics.” While wars have come and gone in the Middle East since that time, the water crisis has only grown, and in 2015 NASA found that 21 of the world’s 37 large aquifers are severely water-stressed. As such, Rajendra Singh has warned, “The third world war is at our gate, and it will be about water, if we don’t do something about this crisis.” Steven Solomon echoes this warning, writing in his book Water:
The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization that, “An impending global crisis of freshwater scarcity is fast emerging as a defining fulcrum of world politics and human civilization. For the first time in history, modern society’s unquenchable thirst … is significantly outstripping the sustainable supply of fresh, clean water … Just as oil conflicts were central to twentieth-century history, the struggle over freshwater is set to shape a new turning point in the world order and the destiny of civilization.”
Al-Haq wrote about this water scarcity in Palestine in their first entry for Kumi Now, observing that while Palestine is generally rich in water resources, those water resources are being exploited by Israeli interests while being denied to the Palestinians on the land. And they note that “around 600,000 Israeli settlers consume six times as much water as the entire Palestinian population of about 2.8 million in the West Bank. This discriminatory and inequitable allocation of water resources between Palestinians and Israelis has been described as creating a situation of Water-Apartheid.
Al-Haq now goes further, specifically looking at how Israel is exploiting the resources of the occupied Dead Sea, utilizing these stolen resources for the production of beauty products:
The Dead Sea area in the occupied West Bank, Palestine falls under Area C, a very resource-rich area that makes up about 60 per cent of the West Bank, and is under Israeli civil and military control. For more than five decades, Israel has exploited Palestinian natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in Area C, including water, minerals, and mud from the occupied Dead Sea area. They do so by imposing movement and access restrictions on Palestinians and by expanding its unlawful settlement enterprise, which runs contrary to international law.
The Dead Sea is a salt lake that lies between the oPt, Israel, and Jordan, and is one of many natural treasures in the West Bank, renowned for its distinctive geographic, mineral, climatic, and archaeological characteristics. The Dead Sea is rich in mud and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, bromine, salt, sodium, and calcium, as well as silt, sand, and gravel. Lucrative Dead Sea minerals and mud are used in the treatment of several skin diseases and disorders, such as psoriasis and arthritis, and are known for their cosmetic value. The area that surrounds the Dead Sea is also abundant with ground and surface water and natural springs.
The Dead Sea area is therefore significant for economic development and investments, including in the fields of tourism, cosmetic industry, and agriculture. For this reason, in 1967, following Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, the Israeli military appropriated Palestinian lands in the occupied Dead Sea area by declaring them “state land,” and instituted an Israeli takeover of Palestinian land and property. Israel then turned the occupied Dead Sea area into an important investment destination for its benefit, through the establishment of seven Israeli settlements throughout the area. The Israeli military forcibly prevents the Palestinian population from accessing the area.
The army has restricted Palestinian access under the pretext that the Dead Sea area comprises closed military zones, natural reserves or abandoned property, and by means of Israeli-established checkpoints, such as Beit Ha’arava, as well as residential, agricultural and industrial settlements in the area. Meanwhile, access to and utilization of land in the occupied Dead Sea area is encouraged and facilitated by Israel and its military, for Israelis and Israeli settlers, including businessmen and corporations. Restrictions imposed on Palestinian access and developments in the area have negatively impacted the overall Palestinian economy at an estimated loss of US$144 million per year. If Palestinians were able to access resources in the Dead Sea area, the Palestinian economy could increase by one billion dollars annually, with a total of 10 percent of value added to the Palestinian GDP.
The Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem, situated on the western shore of the occupied Dead Sea, was developed in 1970 on land belonging to the Palestinian Bedouin village of ‘Ein Tribah. The land was first declared state land and used for military and agricultural purposes. On April 19, 1977, the Israeli government approved the conversion of the Israeli military settlement to an Israeli civilian settlement. The settlement currently boasts a population of 200 Israeli settlers and is part of the Megilot Regional Council, comprised of seven settlements. Approximately 40 percent of the Megilot Regional Council population depend on Dead Sea area tourism meanwhile 20 percent are exclusively employed at AHAVA. AHAVA, an Israeli cosmetics company, was established in 1988 in the settlement of Mitzpe Shalem and extracts minerals, salt, mud, and plants from the occupied Dead Sea for the production of beauty products. The settlement also hosts the company’s visitor centre, attracting tourists and creating job opportunities for Israeli settlers.
Between 2004 and 2016, AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. was the only company to hold a license to extract Dead Sea mud. Although the Israeli Civil Administration did confirm the suspension of AHAVA’s license, Al-Haq’s field research in 2018 documented the continuity of the process of mud extraction through the visibility of mud barrels at the packaging plant at Mitzpe Shalem. AHAVA not only appropriates Palestinian natural resources, but also falsifies labeling requirements in order to avoid backlash from consumers, who do not want to buy illegal goods. For example, European Union law, requires the labeling of settlement produce as “West Bank” rather than Israel. The mud extracted by AHAVA is used in the production of cosmetic and skin-care products sold in European, American, and Asian markets, labeled as “Mitzpe Shalem 8698300, Dead Sea, West Bank by AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. Airport City, 7019900 Israel.” AHAVA has also resorted to rebranding its products following protests in the UK and Europe to “Skin Evolution,” and now products from AHAVA are exported under the brand names AHAVA or Skin Evolution.
Incentives provided by the Israeli government attract more settlers to Mitzpe Shalem and the surrounding settlements, thus contributing to the transfer in of Israeli civilians into occupied territory—a recognized international war crime. Israel’s unrestricted and unilateral exploitation of Palestinian Dead Sea natural resources will eventually lead to the depletion of Palestinian natural resources, to the detriment of the Palestinian occupied population. The exploitation of the Dead Sea, an environmentally vulnerable area, its water and minerals by Israeli companies has led to the creation of sink holes, its depletion and potentially to the destruction of a natural heritage, and the environment. By doing so, Israel has disregarded its obligations as an occupying power to safeguard the capital of these resources in the occupied territory. This has infringed on social, economic, and environmental rights of Palestinians, most importantly the fundamental right to self-determination, which encompasses sovereignty over natural resources.
Throughout the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring this topic and highlighting what they are doing to stop Israel’s exploitation of Palestine’s natural resources.
Story: Fa’iq Ahmad Sbeih, farmer
On 10 March 2008, Fa’iq Ahmad Sbeih received a visit from an Israeli army patrol at his farm in al-Farisya, a few kilometers north of Jiftlik, in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The soldiers confiscated 1,500 meters of rubber hose which brought water to his farm from a spring on a hill above his land, and crushed the small metal pipe which was connected to the hose. The confiscation order delivered by the army stated that the hose was confiscated “due to lack of permit.” The army considers the spring water as “state property.”
In the past, local farmers had tried to build a water cistern to collect water from the spring and to harvest the rain water but the army prevented them, because they did not possess, and could not obtain from the army, a permit to do so. When an Amnesty International delegate visited the farm on March 11, 2008 Fa’iq Sbeih was beside himself with worry: “This is my family’s livelihood. We work day and night and we need water; and the weather is getting hotter every day. Already the situation is difficult this year because we have had so little rain; you can see how little water there is in the stream and we only took a bit of it. I can’t buy another pipe; and if I do the army may come and take it again.”
The army subsequently returned the rubber hose to Fa’iq Sbeih, though it was damaged and no longer usable, and reiterated the ban on him using the water from the spring. With the onset of the hot season he tried to keep some of his crops alive by buying water from other areas, delivered by tanker, but he still lost most of the crop.
Without access to water from the spring Palestinian farmers like Fa’iq Sbeih have no option but to travel several kilometers to buy small quantities of water that they then transport to their orchards by tanker. This is the most expensive way to obtain water, the more so because the restrictions imposed by the Israeli army require the water tankers to take long detours and circuitous routes to make their deliveries. The unlawful Israeli settlements which surround al-Farisiya face no such problems. Their residents have free access to the water from the spring which Fa’iq Sbeih and his family are not permitted to use, and which forms a small stream that flows down towards the Israeli settlements. As well, they have ready access to an abundant supply of water from nearby wells to which Fa’iq Sbeih and other Palestinian farmers have no access.
The nearby Israeli settlement of Shadmot Mechola advertises on its website: “Breathtaking tours to amaryllis bulb hot houses which are harvested, packed, and shipped to Europe and USA and potted in time to bloom during the winter holiday season. Short tours of our ‘Hi-tec’ dairy farm, vineyards and orchards. Tours of farms in the Jordan Valley who specialize in crops of vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices for export in hot dry climate.”
Published as “Not Even a Drop: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water” by Amnesty International in their report “Troubled Waters.”
Consumer due diligence: look out for Dead Sea products in your local shops and request more information from the shop regarding the products’ origin to ensure that products are not originating from or linked to Israeli settlements.
Raise awareness about AHAVA products and their illegality in your local community, for example by sharing “Virtual Field Visit: Natural Resource Exploitation in the Dead Sea Area – The Case of AHAVA” from Al-Haq: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKIC7q8WXlo.
You can also email Fosun International Ltd. (the current owners of AHAVA) requesting they halt operations in the occupied Palestinian territory via firstname.lastname@example.org, PR@fosun.com, HR@fosun.com, and IR@fosun.com.
Share the video and any emails you send on social media. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #DeadSea, #KumiNow, and #Kumi12.
Literature: “A river dies of thirst” and “The wall” by Mahmoud Darwish
From “A river dies of thirst”
A river was here
and it had two banks
and a heavenly mother who nursed it on drops from the clouds
A small river moving slowly
descending from the mountain peaks
visiting villages and tents like a charming lively guest
bringing oleander trees and date palms to the valley
and laughing to the nocturnal revelers on its banks:
“Drink the milk of the clouds
and water the horses
and fly to Jerusalem and Damascus”
From “The wall”
A huge metal snake coils around us, swallowing up the little walls that separate our bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. A snake that does not move in a straight line, to avoid resembling us as we look straight on. It twists and turns, a nightmare of cement segments reinforced with pliant metal, making it easy for it to move into the fragmented bits of land and beds of mint that are left to us. A snake eager to lay its eggs between our inhalations and exhalations so that we say for once, because we are nearly choking to death, “We are the strangers.”
“A River Dies of Thirst” and “The wall” are both by Mahmoud Darwish, regarded as the Palestinian national poet. The poems are published, together, in A River Dies of Thirst.
- Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment by Mazin Qumsiyeh
- Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle by Mazin Qumsiyeh
- “The Conflict and Sustainable Development”: http://qumsiyeh.org/chapter10/
- “The Segregation Wall Impacts on Palestinian Environment” from Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem: https://www.arij.org/files/arijadmin/2016/The_Segregation_Wall_impacts_on_Palestinian_Environment.pdf
- “Status of the Environment in the State of Palestine 2015” from Applied Resetch Institute – Jerusalem: https://www.arij.org/files/arijadmin/2016/SOER_2015_final.pdf
- “The Environmental Impact of Israeli Settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territories” by Sawsan Ramahi for Middle East Monitor: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/factsheets/the-environmental-impact-of-israeli-settlements-on-the-occupied-palestinian-territories.pdf
- “Israeli Violations Against the Palestinian Environment” by Dr. Jad Isaac https://www.fosna.org/files/fosna/CornerstoneIssue45.pdf
- “The Impact of the Israeli Occupation on Palestine’s Environment” by Simon Awad https://www.fosna.org/files/fosna/CornerstoneIssue45.pdf
- “’Agricultural terrorism’: Palestinian crops face destruction by Israeli settlers” by Yumna Patel for Middle East Eye: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/agricultural-terrorism-palestinian-crops-face-destruction-israeli-settlers-1562802280
- Scarred Lands & Wounded Lives: The Environmental Impacts of War: http://www.scarredlandsfilm.com/watch-feature-film/
- “Existence is Resistance: Occupation and the Environment” from Innovative Minds: https://youtu.be/EyFAzEvfx8o
We have a YouTube playlist with videos about natural resources of Palestine.
And our previous entry with the Palestine Museum of Natural History addressed natural resources:
Stream and photo of Dr. Mazin used with permission of PMNR.
Flower photo by unbluebass used under Creative Common license, from Flickr.
Countryside photo by Eyad Abutaha used under Creative Commons license, from Flickr