Germany must end HeidelbergCement role in Israeli war crimes

A man and woman shake hands

Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for Holocaust Memorial Day at the Chancellery in Berlin, 28 January. German leaders have not learned the lessons of their country’s horrific crimes.

ZUMA Press

German firm HeidelbergCement is aiding and abetting Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

Instead of acting to stop it, the German government is sending signals that it supports war crimes against Palestinians: Berlin is telling the International Criminal Court it has no jurisdiction to investigate Israeli abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

HeidelbergCement illegally plunders natural resources that belong to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Materials that the company pillages are then used by Israel to build colonies on occupied Palestinian land, itself a war crime.

The Palestinian communities of al-Zawiya and Rafat suffer from pollution from gravel crushing at the Nahal Raba quarry, which is owned and operated by HeidelbergCement in violation of international law.

The quarry sits on, or is planned to be expanded onto, the villages’ land.

The company’s violations of Palestinian rights are documented in a new report by the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq and SOMO, the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations in the Netherlands.

Heidelberg Cement “should immediately and responsibly cease all its activities on appropriated Palestinian land and in illegal Israeli settlements,” Al-Haq spokesperson Maha Abdallah said.

She added that the company should make reparations to Palestinians affected by the quarry.

Plundering Palestinian resources

HeidelbergCement took control of Nahal Raba quarry in 2007 when it acquired the British firm Hanson, along with its Israeli subsidiary Hanson Israel.

The quarry is situated on land belonging to the Palestinian village of al-Zawiya and was confiscated by Israeli occupation forces in the early 1980s. Residents had used the land for agriculture and livestock.

Now several stone crushers on the site produce about 4,000 tons of gravel daily, which is used for producing concrete and asphalt.

With exhaustion of the quarry in sight, the company requested permission for expansion.

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

Who Profits

Last year, The Electronic Intifada reported that Israel granted planning permission to expand Nahal Raba by an additional 25 acres, citing a letter from the Civil Administration, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation.

The expansion includes land stolen from the Palestinian village of Rafat.

HeidelbergCement told the researchers that it was awaiting a final decision on the expansion from Israeli occupation authorities.

In May last year, the company announced its decision to sell the Nahal Raba quarry and that a “disposal process” had begun at the end of the year.

It said that the permit was “a prerequisite” for the sale.

There were reports a decade ago that HeidelbergCement was trying to sell the Nahal Raba quarry. But that sale apparently fell through.

This raises the question of whether HeidelbergCement has used a possible sale as a way to deflect criticism while continuing to profiteer from Israel’s occupation and illegal colonization.

Another possibility is that no company is interested in buying the dirty business.

Even if the quarry is sold, the company would still have obligations to make reparations to Palestinians for the past harm it has caused, the report underlines.

Complicit in rights violations

HeidelbergCement’s illegal quarrying in the occupied West Bank comes with serious violations of international law.

It undermines the Palestinian people’s internationally recognized right to self-determination, which includes permanent sovereignty over natural resources.

The company refuses to take responsibility for its role in Israel’s violations of international law.

It simply denies that Nahal Raba quarry is situated on confiscated Palestinian land, hiding behind Israeli licenses and a 2011 Israeli high court ruling.

But that ruling “legalized” the plunder of Palestinian natural resources under Israeli law.

That doesn’t alter the position under international law, where pillage and plunder of occupied territories remain serious crimes.

Moreover, the license fees and royalties for the quarried stone are paid to the Israeli state. Under international law, the funds should benefit the Palestinians and not the occupying power.

Although numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion declared Israel’s settlements illegal, HeidelbergCement’s stolen gravel has been used for settlement construction.

German responsibility

Al-Haq and SOMO call on Germany to ensure that HeidelbergCement ends its involvement in illegal activities and rights violations.

It is a call I firmly support.

This year the Netherlands celebrates 75 years since liberation from German government occupation. The Nazis committed horrible crimes in my country which are hard to comprehend.

They deported some 100,000 Dutch Jews to German government killing centers and concentration camps.

They thoroughly plundered the country, stealing loads of metal objects to be used in the war industry. Farmers’ milk cans, industrial machines and even medieval church bells were melted down and never returned.

My father and father-in-law were forced to work for the Nazis because the occupier lacked labor in Germany.

The occupiers blockaded the Netherlands in retaliation for a Dutch railway strike, causing a famine that inflicted suffering on millions and killed an estimated 20,000 people.

My mother experienced the “hunger winter” of 1944-45 and had to stand in the cold queuing for hours to fetch food from the soup kitchen. Such stories had a strong impact on me.

Germany backs impunity for Israel

Last month, during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, I heard many German officials acknowledge the past and express their commitment to “never again.”

Germany should live up to those words.

But instead it seems that the basic lesson, that the rights of all human beings must be respected and protected, have not been learned.

In December, the International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda finally announced that she would open an investigation into war crimes, including Israeli settlement construction, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But Bensouda said the investigation would be delayed pending a decision by ICC judges about the extent of the court’s jurisdiction.

Now comes the news that Germany is intervening in the ICC case to back Israel’s argument that the court has no jurisdiction.

If the German argument is successful, it will send a clear message to Israel that Berlin fully supports ongoing Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

It is deeply disturbing that Germany, the state that occupied my country from 1940-45, is now supporting and profiting from Israeli occupation of another people.

There must be no impunity for war crimes.




Germany has managed the neat trick of being immunised by virtue of its history of colossal crimes against humanity. If anything, this feat of legerdemain eclipses Zionism's own stunt, that of using the European Holocaust as a rationale for crimes against the Palestinians. Germany hectors anyone who objects to Israel's actions, with a reminder of Nazi atrocities- which somehow is held to provide unique authority to the Germans' qualification in judging others. What a truly disgusting spectacle.

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