HeidelbergCement’s transparent excuses for complicity in Israel’s crimes

By quarrying illegally in the occupied West Bank, Germany’s HeidelbergCement ignores Palestinians’ right to self-determination. (Who Profits)

HeidelbergCement has responded to my recent article on The Electronic Intifada about its illegal plunder of Palestinian resources at the Nahal Raba quarry in the occupied West Bank.

The German company’s response came at the invitation of the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre.

But unfortunately, HeidelbergCement offers only transparent excuses and fails to address its role in the denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.

The company’s response reveals a “complete lack of appreciation” for the basic principles underpinning key pieces of international law, the Hague Conventions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, a spokesperson for the human rights group Al-Haq told The Electronic Intifada.

The prohibition on the acquisition of territory by the use or threat of force and the prohibition against the exploitation of occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying power lie at the foundation of international law.

Temporary occupation or colonial project?

In June 1967, Israel invaded the West Bank and Gaza Strip and has occupied them ever since.

Nahal Raba quarry is situated in Area C, 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.

Israel has no authority to grant HeidelbergCement permission to extract Palestinian natural resources for the benefit of Israel or a foreign company.

HeidelbergCement’s argument that only a small quantity of Palestine’s resources are extracted is also beside the point.

The total volume of gravel plundered rose from 12 million tons in 2008 to 17 million tons in 2015, according to human rights group Yesh Din.

Moreover, Israeli-run quarries in the occupied West Bank provide 20 percent of Israel’s consumption of these kinds of materials.

International law considers military occupation to be “only a temporary situation” which needs to be administered according to established norms until the occupation comes to an end.

But after 50 years, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank cannot be considered temporary.

Israel’s use of natural resources stolen from occupied territories for the benefit of its own economy erases the line between occupation and colonization. Administering the occupation then becomes administering the colonization of Palestine.

By carrying the responsibility for Nahal Raba quarry, HeidelbergCement has become an enabler and beneficiary of Israel’s colonial project.

Illegal changes

HeidelbergCement claims that its activities at Nahal Raba quarry are carried out under the Jordanian planning law (Law Number 79 of 1966) – Jordan administered the West Bank prior to the Israeli occupation.

But according to Al-Haq, the company shows a lack of understanding of the legal situation.

The company overlooks Israel’s Military Order 418 of 1971 which purports to amend the Jordanian law. The order removed Palestinian participation in the planning process. All power was handed to Israel through a higher planning council appointed by the Israeli military commander.

As Amnesty International noted in 2015, Military Order 418 “abolished the local and district planning committees in the occupied West Bank established under Jordanian Planning Law Number 79 of 1966.” This move “effectively precluded any meaningful Palestinian participation in Israeli-controlled planning processes.”

Amnesty added that this “formal denial of participation in planning for an entire population, coupled with the establishment of a parallel planning system for Israeli settlements that explicitly discriminates in favor of another population whose very presence living in the territory in question violates international law, is unique globally” and fails to conform with international norms.

An occupying power is required by international law to maintain the existing legal regime in the territory it occupies. Israel’s changing of the rules of the planning process in the West Bank by military order is unlawful. Therefore, HeidelbergCement’s argument that it abides by the law is false.

“In the context of conflict and occupation, it is no longer enough to simply state that your company is playing by the rules of the game while ignoring the fact that the game is rigged with a predetermined outcome intended,” Al-Haq told The Electronic Intifada.

One clear outcome is that while Israeli and foreign companies are allowed to plunder Palestinian resources, Palestinians themselves are systematically denied permits to operate quarries on their own land.

Instead of measuring the propriety of its activities according to the standards set by the occupier with which it is in cahoots, HeidelbergCement should check if its activities are compatible with international law as interpreted by the OECD guidelines on business and human rights and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

Fig leaf

In 2015, the economic and financial committee of the UN General Assembly reaffirmed that the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination includes permanent sovereignty over its natural resources.

HeidelbergCement extracting gravel in the West Bank without permission of the Palestinians undermines this right.

The activity is also harmful because it contributes to protracting the conflict by rewarding Israel for its unlawful policies against the Palestinians.

HeidelbergCement’s claim that Palestinians benefit from its activities, for example through employment at the quarry, becomes a fig leaf because it ignores the collective right to self-determination.

Moreover, as I noted in my previous article, the alleged benefits enjoyed by Palestinians because of HeidelbergCement’s illegal activities are far outweighed by the massive economic losses Palestinians suffer due to Israel’s military occupation, which systematically denies their right to develop their own economy.

Why use BDS?

“We doubt that BDS actions would improve the situation of the local Palestinian population in our case, but on the contrary worsen it considerably,” HeidelbergCement’s response states, referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.

This echoes the arguments companies and governments used in the 1970s and 1980s to defend their activities in apartheid South Africa.

I remember being told countless times that “Black people will suffer.”

I also have second hand experience with the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany during World War II.

It lasted for “only” five years. Having seen the negative impact of the German occupation on my parents, I am deeply disturbed when I try to imagine the effect of 50 years of Israeli occupation on Palestinians.

Israel shows no intention to end the occupation, and its leaders declare openly in word and deed that their intention is to continue colonizing the land and to stay forever.

During the war, allied forces fought to end the German occupation and the countries that fought the Germans remain proud of their resistance.

By contrast, many of the same states that experienced military occupation refuse to hold Israel accountable for the violations of the fundamental rights of Palestinians under occupation.

That is precisely why many civil society organizations and conscientious citizens participate in campaigns of the Palestinian led BDS-movement. They want to hold Israel, their governments and companies like HeidelbergCement to account and finally bring this occupation to an end.

Despite the company’s excuses, the message is getting through: this month one of Denmark’s largest pension funds excluded four companies for their complicity in Israel’s occupation. One of them is HeidelbergCement.


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