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From the field

22 September 2010: Following court petition, Israel will reduce prohibited mining in the West Bank

According to a report in Ha'aretz, Israel will stop Israeli mining activity in the West Bank, which breaches the prohibition in international law on exploiting the natural resources of an occupied territory. The decision was made following Yesh Din's petition, in March 2009, to the High Court of Justice, demanding that the mining work cease.

Natof-Shapir quarry. Photo: Dror Etkes, Yesh Din, 3.11.08.
Natof-Shapir quarry. Photo: Dror Etkes, Yesh Din, 3.11.08.

In Area C of the West Bank, there are some ten Israeli quarries, which are located near construction centers and popular residential areas in central Israel. These quarries annually provide 12 million tons of stone, gravel, and dolomite, 75 percent of which is used for construction inside Israel. The rest goes for construction in the settlements and for Israeli infrastructure in the West Bank.

The quarries began operation after Israel occupied the West Bank, in 1967. It is estimated that they provide 20-30 percent of Israel's construction consumption. Palestinian quarries also operate in Area C, and most of their production is used for construction in Israel./>

In 2008, Israel prepared a national mining and excavation outline plan to provide for Israel's construction needs for the next thirty years. According to the Ha'aretz report, due to the difficulty in legally justifying the operation of the quarries to benefit Israel, it was decided to amend the plan and to rely on “independent sources only.”

Israel has never regulated the operation of the Israeli quarries in the West Bank. They are operated without environmental supervision, without a plan for allocation of resources for restoring the landscape when the mining is completed, and without allocating to Palestinians part of the enormous revenues. An examination conducted by the State Comptroller's Office revealed that the royalties, which were to be transferred to the Civil Administration for the benefit of the Palestinian population, were paid into the state's treasury.

In March 2009, Yesh Din petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding cessation of “the brutal economic exploitation of occupied territory for the exclusive economic needs” of Israel. The petition claims that exploitation of the natural resources of the area breaches the laws of occupation (the Hague Regulations) and human rights law (the UN's Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), and might, in some instances, be deemed pillage. The petition quotes a previous High Court judgment holding that the Israeli military commander in the West Bank may not take into account, in his actions, the national, economic, and social interests of Israel, if they do not have an effect on the security interest in the region or on the interest of the local population, and that occupied territory “is not an open field for economic or other exploitation.”

The High Court did not grant Yesh Din's application for an order temporarily enjoining all mining activity in Israeli quarries in the West Bank and issuing of new mining concessions, and has, so far, only requested the response of the parties involved in the petition. Following filing of the petition, the state announced, in May 2009, that it would freeze the existing situation, including the planning of new Israeli quarries, and that the Civil Administration would not allocate additional land to expand the existing quarries. The state's response indicated that the Israeli quarries in Area C would be arranged in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Yesh Din's petition focused on the actions of Israeli quarries in the West Bank, but any decision on the petition is liable to affect other aspects of Israeli exploitation of natural resources in the West Bank. This exploitation includes, among other things, the allocation of 42.8 percent of West Bank land to the control of the settlements, Israeli water drilling in the West Bank, and the use of areas there for burying Israeli waste./>

B'Tselem calls on Israel to cease exploitation of the West Bank's resources for its benefit, and to make these resources available for the benefit of the Palestinians.