Israel Is Exploiting the Resources of the Occupied West Bank

Hague Conventions say that an occupying state is entitled to reap some of the fruits of the occupied territory's assets, it must not deplete their 'capital' by harming the assets themselves.

Aeyal Gross
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Aeyal Gross

Israeli quarries that sell 94 percent of their produce to Israel operate in the West Bank on land allocated by the state specifically for this purpose. What this means is that Israel is treating Palestinian resources as its own. And it is doing so even though it holds the West Bank under military occupation - a situation in which the occupying state is not sovereign, but rather serves as a kind of trustee that is supposed to manage the territory for the benefit of the local population until the occupation ends.

So how did the High Court of Justice square this circle to reject a petition against the quarries' operation? The Hague Conventions say that though an occupying state is entitled to reap some of the fruits of the occupied territory's assets, it must not deplete their "capital" by harming the assets themselves. But by opening quarries and sending the mined produce to Israel, the state isn't reaping the "fruits" of these assets (as it would by, say, collecting rent ), but depleting them for its own benefit.

The court recognized that there are serious doubts as to whether quarrying can be construed merely as reaping the fruits of assets. But the sheer length of the Israeli occupation, it ruled, makes it necessary to "adapt the law to the reality on the ground," and opening the quarries was part of the military administration's development efforts. It also relied on the fact that under the Oslo Accords, the quarries' future is due to be decided in talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Nevertheless, this verdict violates the rules of occupation laid down by international law. To say, as the court did, that the occupation's duration requires a "broad and dynamic" view of the military governor's obligations begs the question, "Shall you kill and also inherit?" A prolonged occupation cannot, under cover of "developing the territory" and providing jobs for its residents, justify quarries run by Israeli companies that send most of their produce to Israel - even if the royalties they pay go to the territory's military government, and especially when most of this government's activity nowadays doesn't benefit the Palestinian population.

When an occupying state exploits an occupied territory's natural resources for its own benefit rather than that of the local population, it smacks more of colonialism than occupation. The fact that the court itself welcomed the state's pledge not to allow new quarries to open lays bare the inherent contradiction in its ruling: If the quarries are legal, why not permit new ones?

Moreover, its reliance on the Oslo Accords ignores the facts that under the interim agreement, authority over mining was supposed to be gradually transferred to the Palestinians, and that in the absence of final-status negotiations, the Oslo Accords cannot justify perpetuating Israeli rule. Additionally, international law does not allow the rights of residents of occupied territory to be curtailed via agreements signed with the occupying state.

These quarries, and the court's ruling on them, clearly reveal how under the cover of a temporary occupation, Israel is conducting a creeping annexation of the West Bank and its resources: Under the pretext of "development," it is exploiting the occupied population's natural resources - in this case, stone and gravel - for its own benefit.



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