Israeli Gas Exploration Licenses in Palestine’s Maritime Areas Are Illegal and Violate International Law

Palestinian human rights groups challenge illegal Israeli gas exploration licenses off Gaza’s coast: Adalah demands that Israel revoke the tenders which violate international law; Al Mezan, Al-Haq, and PCHR appeal to licensed companies to immediately refrain from participating in acts of pillage of the sovereign natural resources of the Palestinian people.



On 29 October 2023, amidst Israel’s brutal military offensive against Gaza characterized by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as plausibly constituting genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza, the Israeli Ministry of Energy announced that it has awarded licenses to six Israeli and international companies to explore for natural gas in areas that are considered Palestinian maritime areas under international law. The companies include Eni S.p.A (Italy), Dana Petroleum (UK, a subsidiary of the South Korean National Petroleum Company), and Ratio Petroleum (an Israeli company). The licenses come after the Fourth Offshore Bid Round ("OBR4"), which the Israeli Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure launched in December 2022.


Israel awarded gas exploration licenses for Zone G, a maritime area adjacent to the shores of Gaza as depicted in the green area of Map 2 above. Notably, 62 percent of Zone G falls within  the maritime boundaries declared by the State of Palestine in 2019, in accordance with provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which Palestine is a signatory. In addition to the licenses already awarded in Zone G, Israel has also issued tenders for Zones H and E (as depicted in pink on Map 2); 73 percent of Zone H falls within Palestine's declared maritime boundaries, along with five percent of Zone E. Despite not being a party to UNCLOS, Israel has responded to the Palestinian declaration by maintaining that, since Israel does not recognize Palestine as a sovereign state, Palestine lacks the authority to declare its maritime boundaries and waters. This argument stands in direct contradiction to established principles of international law, as outlined below.


Israel is the Occupying Power in the Gaza Strip, and exercises full effective control over Palestine's maritime areas. The issuance of the tender and the subsequent granting of licenses for exploration in this area constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and customary international law. The tenders, issued in accordance with Israeli domestic law, effectively amount to the de facto and de jure annexation of the Palestinian maritime areas claimed by Palestine, as it seeks to supersede applicable IHL norms by instead applying Israeli domestic law to the area, in the context of managing and exploiting natural resources. Under the applicable international law, Israel is prohibited from exploiting the finite non-renewable resources of the occupied territory, for commercial gain and for the benefit of the Occupying Power, under the rules of usufruct, as referred to in Article 55 of the Hague Regulations. Instead, Israel as a de facto administrative authority in the occupied territory cannot deplete natural resources for commercial purposes which are not for the benefit of the occupied population.


On 5 February 2024, Adalah sent a letter to the Israeli Minister of Energy as well as Israel’s Attorney General, demanding:  (i) the revocation of licenses for gas exploration granted in Zone G; (ii) the cancellation of any pending tenders in areas that fall in Palestine’s maritime boundaries; and (iii) an immediate halt to any activity involving the exploitation of gas resources in Palestine’s maritime boundaries, as these areas do not belong to the State of Israel, and Israel does not possess any sovereign rights over them, including exclusive economic rights. Moreover, gas exploration and exploitation in Palestine's maritime areas flagrantly violate the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which encompasses the management of its natural resources.


On 6 February 2024, the law firm of Foley Hoag LLP, representing Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) sent notices to the companies Eni S.p.ADana Petroleum Limited, and Ratio Petroleum to desist from undertaking any activities in areas of Zone G that fall within the maritime areas of the State of Palestine, emphasizing that such activities would constitute a flagrant violation of international law.


The organizations notified the companies that any attempt to explore for and exploit natural resources claimed by the State of Palestine without its consent will inevitably breach IHL, including the laws of occupation. The organizations warned that complicity in war crimes such as pillage is a serious criminal offense, exposing corporate actors to individual criminal liability. Importantly, they stressed that the International Criminal Court currently has an active investigation open into international crimes committed in the territory of the State of Palestinian, and thereby holds jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute any individual deemed responsible for the commission of the war crime of pillage. Furthermore, engaging in the tender and carrying out gas exploration in Palestine’s maritime areas, in violation of IHL, exposes the companies to the risk of civil actions for damages. The organizations declared that they are prepared to use all available legal mechanisms to the fullest extent unless the companies refrain from activities in contravention of international law in the occupied territory, including in Palestinian waters.


As viewed by the organizations, Israel's unilateral demarcation of its maritime boundaries to include Palestine’s maritime areas and lucrative natural resources not only violates international law but also perpetuates a longstanding pattern of exploiting Palestinians' natural resources for its own financial and colonial gains. Israel seeks to pillage Palestine's resources, exploiting what is already a mere fraction of Palestinians' rightful natural resources.


Photo by Flash90