quarry - Alex Levac - January 31 2011
A quarry in the West Bank (illustrative only). Photo by Alex Levac
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The High Court of Justice has authorized Israel to exploit the West Bank's natural resources for its own economic needs by rejecting a petition against the operation of Israeli-owned quarries in the territory.

In its ruling, issued on Monday, the court adopted the state's position: that no new Israeli-owned quarries should be established in the West Bank, but existing ones should be allowed to continue operating.

The petition was filed two years ago by the Yesh Din organization. It argued that the 10 Israeli-owned quarries in the West Bank violate international law, which states that an occupier may not exploit an occupied territory's natural resources for its own economic benefit; it may use such resources only for the benefit of the occupied people or for military purposes.

The Israeli quarries sell 94 percent of their yield to Israel and supply almost 25 percent of Israel's total consumption of the raw materials in question. But until the petition was filed, the state had never seen any problem with this.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who wrote the ruling, began by accepting the state's view that the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement permits the quarries to operate in their present manner until a final-status agreement is signed.

She then moved on to discuss what international law has to say, and particularly Article 55 of the Fourth Hague Convention, on which the petition was based. That article requires the occupying power to "safeguard the capital" of the occupied party's natural resources and "administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct," meaning the rules governing fair usage.

But Beinisch accepted the state's position that Israel's use of the quarries is limited and does not amount to destroying their "capital," and hence does not violate international law. This position is bolstered, she said, by the state's decision not to permit any new quarries to open.

Moreover, she said, it is necessary to take account of the fact that the West Bank has been under a prolonged and continuing occupation, so the territory's economic development cannot be put on ice until the occupation ends. The quarries, she noted, supply jobs and training to a non-negligible number of Palestinians; some of their yield is sold to the Palestinians; and the royalties the quarry owners pay the state - almost NIS 30 million a year - are used by the Civil Administration in the territories to fund projects that benefit the Palestinian population.

"In this situation, it's hard to accept the petitioner's unequivocal assertion that the quarries' operation does nothing to advance the [Palestinian] region, especially in light of the Israeli and Palestinian sides' mutual economic interests and the prolonged duration" of Israel's presence in the West Bank, she concluded.

The petition was not a total loss for Yesh Din: Both the decision not to open new quarries and the decision to allocate all the royalties to the Civil Administration were made only after it was filed.

Nevertheless, attorney Michael Sfard, who represented Yesh Din, was disappointed.

"Mining natural resources in occupied territory for the economic needs of the occupying state is looting," he said. "The High Court's argument, that one should relate differently to a long-term occupation, cannot legitimate economic activity like this, which harms the local residents."