Israel freezes expansion of West Bank quarries following High Court petition

The government has frozen the expansion of Israeli-operated quarries in the West Bank and has banned the establishment of new quarries for six months, following a High Court petition challenging the legality of the excavations. In March, the Yesh Din human rights organization filed the petition, which demanded a freeze on mining activity in the West Bank by 10 Israeli companies. "Under international law, this type of activity constitutes a violation of the laws of occupation and hence of human rights, and in some cases is even defined as pillage," the petition said. Attorney Michael Sfard, Yesh Din's legal counsel, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Israeli companies had been illegally quarrying gravel and stones from the West Bank for 35 years. According to Sfard, the fact that the majority (74 percent) of the gravel mined from these quarries end up being used in construction within Israel, as well as in settlements, means that the quarries are in breach of international law. "According to international law, so long as the West Bank is not annexed to Israel, it is forbidden for Israel to exploit the natural resources there for non-security related purposes," he said. So while land in the West Bank could be used to set up military bases, Sfard explained, quarries were off limits. According to Yesh Din, international law says an "occupying power cannot make use of nonrenewable resources on occupied land." In its reply to the High Court, submitted on Tuesday, attorney Avi Dicht of the State Attorney's Office wrote, "A thorough legal examination of the dictates of international law is under way, and it is already clear that the dictates of international law are not as one-dimensional as Yesh Din presents it." Dicht added that "it is possible that the examination could result in the issue being raised before the political echelon," adding that six months were needed to complete the examination. In the meantime, he said, "no new lands will be allocated for quarries," and "all plans for new quarries have been frozen." Furthermore, existing quarries will not be permitted to expand, though their operations will continue for the time being, he added. "The state is hinting that the Palestinians may have agreed to the quarries under the Oslo interim agreements," Sfard said. "But it is clear that interim agreements cannot overcome Geneva and The Hague. The interim agreements only talk about the transfer of quarries to Palestinian control gradually, which hasn't happened." Sfard said existing quarries should also be discontinued.