Israel Snubs Court With Plan To Open West Bank Quarry

State to permit stone mining at a Jordan Valley site in violation of a five-year-old promise to the High Court.

Illustration: An Israeli quarry in the West Bank.
Illustration: An Israeli quarry in the West Bank. Dror Atkes, Yesh Din

The state plans to allow another Israeli-owned quarry to open in the West Bank, despite having promised the High Court of Justice five years ago it would not sanction further Israeli-owned rock mining companies in the territories.

Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank says the Jordan Valley site was approved for quarrying long before this commitment was made.

The plan for the quarry came to light during hearings about another High Court petition, filed by residents of the West Bank village of Aqraba, demanding the return of land seized by the army and against it being allocated to settlers in nearby Gitit or to be used for other purposes such as quarrying.

In a brief submitted two weeks ago, the state said a small parcel of the land had served in the past as a quarry that was later shut when the operator failed to meet his payments to the state.

The state now plans, however, to permit the quarry to be reopened, saying most of the quarry is on state land, though acknowledging that “a small portion” is located on land expropriated from Aqraba. The plan calls for Gitit to be involved in the quarry’s operation.

About 10 Israeli-owned quarries operate in the West Bank. They supply about a quarter of mined stone and marble used for Israeli construction. Six years ago, the Yesh Din organization asked the court to order Israeli-owned quarries to cease operations in the West Bank, arguing that using natural resources in occupied territory for the benefit of the occupying power violates international law.

The court ruled that the quarries could continue operating. But the state promised not to open any new mining sites for the Israeli market.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that the Civil Administration gave Gitit a temporary license to operate the quarry “back in 2001, eight years before the petition was submitted,” in compliance with a master plan then in force.

The spokesperson said the state’s commitment was only to refrain from opening any new quarries.

Dror Etkes, a researcher who monitors West Bank settlement activity and was involved in the original petition, said the latest development “reminds us that the jungle prevailing in the West Bank isn’t just a paradise for Amona-style land thieves who are making a nice exit at the public’s expense, but also for wealthy corporations that already operate quarries in the territories and see the West Bank as fertile territory for enriching their coffers to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels.”

The government recently promised tens of millions of shekels in compensation to residents of Amona, an illegal settlement outpost the court has ordered evacuated.

Last year, the Civil Administration acknowledged that two Israeli-owned quarries had conducted mining beyond the boundaries specified in their permits.

According to Etkes, these violations involved 500 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land.