Friday 16 February 2024

Good, Old-Fashioned Piracy

The great Paul Knaggs writes:

Forget the quaint notion of “war crimes” for a moment. Let’s talk about good, old-fashioned piracy. Not swashbuckling pirates on the high seas, mind you, but corporate buccaneers plundering the very seabed of besieged Gaza.

While the world’s attention is diverted by this latest “conflict” (a euphemism so threadbare it deserves sainthood), Israel’s Ministry of Energy, in its usual display of arrogance, handed out exploration licences for gas reserves off Gaza’s coast.

Without hesitation, the corporate vultures began circling, and energy giants swooped in, – companies like Italian energy giant Eni, UK-based Dana Energy and Israel’s Ratio Petroleum – wasted no time, just three weeks into the war on Gaza they began to hover, without even waiting for the carcass they got to work. seemingly oblivious to the stench of illegality clinging to the deal.

But even in the deaths of despair some resemblance of international law, that much-mocked relic, has dared raise its head from the ashes. Palestinian NGOs, armed with legal eagles and righteous fury, are sending tremors through the boardrooms of these gas guzzlers.

The accusations are damning: Israel, a rogue state that walked roughshod over UN convention, Israel is carving up Palestinian maritime territory with the finesse of a sushi chef.

David vs. Corporate Goliaths: Legal Challenges Mount Against Gas Exploration in Besieged Gaza

In doing so Israel has argued that the boundaries declared by Palestinians are not valid, saying that only sovereign states can delimit their maritime borders.

But Larry Martin, senior counsel with the US-based law firm Foley Hoag, which is representing the NGOs that wrote to the gas-guzzling companies, said Palestine is a territory recognised by the international community, including as an observer state by the UN.

“So it should have the rights to claim sovereign rights and jurisdiction over maritime resources to the same extent as any other state.”

“The fact that Israel is continuing to illegally occupy it shouldn’t impede it from having that right.”

Suhad Bishara, Adalah’s legal director, told MEE that Israel is skirting its obligations under international law, “illegally applying their interests and their law in an area that does not fall within their jurisdiction.”

And what of these corporate vultures? They claim ignorance, pleading that Israel assured them the boundaries were, “undetermined”. As if that’s an excuse for pillaging a war-torn territory! It’s like claiming you didn’t know the Rolex you bought on a street corner was hot because the seller didn’t declare it so.

The gall of it all is enough to make a cynic weep. While Palestinians are under siege, their resources are being plundered by corporations more interested in profit than principles. This isn’t just about gas, it’s about power, about asserting dominance through resource theft. It’s David and Goliath, except Goliath has a drilling rig and a legal team that would make Machiavelli blush.

But here’s the beauty of it all: the law, that much-derided invention, is fighting back. Legal challenges are mounting, the stench of illegality is spreading, and the vultures might just find themselves with a taste of their own bitter medicine.

The Oslo Accords of 1995 granted the Palestinian Authority the ‘right to exercise sovereignty’ over its maritime territory. Four years later, In 1999, British Gas (BG) discovered the existence of natural gas in the Gaza Marine fields, 20 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza.

Lawyers working on behalf of three Palestinian NGOs – Al Haq, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights – notified energy companies in letters this month that they would use “all legal mechanisms to the fullest extent” if they proceeded and called on them to desist from any activities relating to the licences.

The organisations contend that over half of the zone for which the companies were awarded licences lies within Palestine’s maritime boundaries.

Those boundaries were declared in 2015 when the Palestinians acceded to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the international agreement providing the legal framework for all marine and maritime activities.

Further, in 2019, the Palestinians provided full coordinates and maps of the area.

“Because of the overlap, Israel cannot have validly awarded you any exploration rights and you cannot validly have acquired such rights,” the letter says.

Meanwhile, the Haifa-based Adalah legal centre has petitioned the Israeli Ministry of Energy and attorney general to revoke the licenses awarded to the companies.

In a letter also sent this month, Adalah says that the tendering and awarding of licenses for the zone, as well as two others included in the tender, violates international humanitarian law and the law of the sea.

The organisations have not had responses from the Israeli government or the companies, but Larry Martin said he is hopeful that the letters, along with public concern, will stop any activity in the licensed area. “If not, we are ready to keep going,” he said.

To his knowledge, there has not been any legal action taken over areas within Palestinian maritime boundaries that Israel has previously demarcated as its own gas reservoir or awarded licenses for exploration or development.

“We are also considering potential claims related to those,” Martin stated.

So, let this be a warning to all corporate buccaneers: international law, despite its wrinkles and occasional toothlessness, international law still has bite. And when it comes to plundering the weak, the bite can be particularly nasty.

As for Israel, well, let’s just say the world is watching, and the tide of public opinion is turning. As our eyes are open to Israel’s crimes of genocide so to the days of unchecked gas-grabbing might just be numbered.

Of course, for many, this is a reminder of the good old days of colonialism, where resource-rich colonies were plundered for the benefit of the motherland. One can already hear propagandists decrying such comparisons as just another “antisemitic trope”. But the facts speak for themselves – Gaza’s gas and Israel’s land grabs follow a familiar colonial pattern.

This is merely the opening salvo in the battle for Gaza’s pillaged wealth. As we anxiously wait to see what remains of Gaza itself after this genocidal war, its surviving people may yet find voice to legally defend their rights, however impaired by conflict.

For now, we applaud the brave lawyers and activists striving against the odds for principle and Palestinian dignity. Their efforts give hope that law and ethics can challenge raw power. This struggle is not yet lost.