'Mining in W. Bank violates international law'

Yesh Din files court petition claiming Israel violating int'l law by exploiting natural resources.

quarry west bank 24 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
quarry west bank 24 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Israel's practice of transferring 75 percent of the rock and gravel it mines in the West Bank into areas within the Green Line is illegal, argued the left-wing group Yesh Din in a petition it filed Monday before the Supreme Court. "Israel's mining activity constitutes blatant infringement of international humanitarian law and the laws of occupation, and may even constitute pillage and/or war crimes," the group said in its petition, aimed at halting such activity. Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said the petition was the first of its kind to deal with the issue of how Israel exploits the natural resources of the West Bank. Such activity, he said, is illegal under both Israeli and international law. IDF spokesman Miki Galin said the approval procedures for quarries were in line with "the relevant directives of international law" and Israel's interim accords with the Palestinians. "At this time, the Civil Administration is carrying out staff work to evaluate the up-to-date policy regarding the operation of the quarries," he said. Legal representatives for the Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip could not be reached for comment. The attorneys representing the organization, Sfard and Avisar Lev, wrote in their petition that continued quarrying was "a practice reminiscent of occupation patterns in ancient times, days in which there were no rules or laws in war, and the winner was entitled, by the power of his victory, to plunder the occupied territory, enslave its economy and citizens for its own purposes, and transfer their treasures to his own land." They added, "Exploitation of the natural resources of an occupied territory by an occupying power to serve its economic needs is banned by the Rules of Occupation. Such acts give rise to suspicion that the alleged felony of looting of an occupied territory has been perpetrated." The petition noted that Yesh Din had contacted the military authorities responsible for the appointment of the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration in January of this year, and requested that they put an end to mining activities in the West Bank. Judea and Samaria legal adviser (JSLA) Lt. Shalev Branc responded to the Yesh Din missive by confirming that such mining activities did take place, that most of the product was taken across the Green Line for use and that the relevant authorities needed to examine the relevant international law precedents for continuing the mining. The Civil Administration - one of 13 respondents in the case - is responsible for issuing mining licenses for the 11 companies currently engaged in quarrying in the West Bank. Those companies include Shapir Engineering, which operates Natuf quarry; Ashtrom Engineering & Construction, which partially owns the Netivei Beitar quarry; the international company Hanson, which operates the Nahal Raba quarry; Bnei Hasharon, which operates the Barkan quarry; Mordechai Binyamin and Sons, which operates the Kochav Hashahar quarry; as well as Meitarim Quarries, Kfar Giladi Quarries, HGI House, Medan General Contracting, and Elyakim Ben Ari, which operates the Adora quarry. Yesh Din argued that such activity was illegal under Hague Regulation 55, which states that "the occupying state shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile state and situated in the occupied country." "It must safeguard the capital of these properties and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct," Yesh Din said. Under that regulation, the organization claimed, the civil administration is not legally qualified to license exploitation of the area's natural resources - in this case, mainly gravel. The High Court of Justice has repeatedly upheld claims that the Hague Regulations are applicable to the West Bank, according to Sfard. "We could have submitted this petition 20 years ago," said Sfard, "but in recent years, the scale of the mining has grown and the percentage of the product that is taken to Israel has also increased." He added that "the petition is legally very strong. You would need to carry out massive interpretive virtuosity in order to not accept its arguments. Judicially it is strong, but publicly it is less so. The economic implications are very serious." Sfard estimated that between 20% and 25% of the gravel used in Israel comes from these West Bank quarries. According to international law, he explained, "there is no disagreement that as soon as there is occupation, it is the occupier that has the authority to decide what to do with property in the occupied areas. The occupier can use the property, can benefit from the produce of it, but cannot destroy it or sell it to another property. The authorities can decide how to use a particular building, but they cannot change its status permanently by selling it. Natural resources - in this case the gravel - are an unrenewable resource, so it should not be considered similar to selling the fruit of the tree, but the tree itself. "What if this were not gravel, but gold or diamonds? Nobody would think that it was legitimate to allow Israeli companies the right to take it out of the ground and sell it in Israel for their own benefit," Sfard asserted. He added that the implications of the petition extended beyond the question of the quarries and touched on more complex issues of land use throughout the West Bank. The implications, he argued, extended to questions of allocating land for settlements. While the court has repeatedly refrained from ruling on the question of legality of settlements - a fact that makes petitions on their legality extremely complex - Sfard said that "the transfer of raw materials is very straightforward because the legal issues are very simple." The petition could, however, "open a door" to a later case on the legality of land allocation for settlements, but Sfard said it would not necessarily create a complete stepping stone to an argument that settlement building was illegal. Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to this report.