Court rejects petition to halt Israeli mining in W. Bank

At heart of petition is legal question of whether Israel has a right to mine, use natural resources in Area C territories.

truck in quarry 311 (photo credit: Regavim)
truck in quarry 311
(photo credit: Regavim)
The High Court of Justice ruled late Monday evening to reject a petition against quarrying and mining natural resources in West Bank Area C territories.
The panel of justices, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Miriam Naor and Esther Hayut, said that Israel’s long-term occupation of the area meant it had a duty to maintain quarry infrastructure and that ceasing operations could harm the economic interests of the local population.
However, the court recommended that the state refrain from opening new mines and quarries in the region, noting that the Civil Administration had recommended that no new permits be granted for additional quarrying operations.
Human rights NGO Yesh Din filed the petition against the state and 11 Israeli mining companies in 2009, asking the court to halt all existing quarrying and mining operations in Area C of the West Bank and to prevent the state from granting new mining concessions in the region, on the grounds that the mines were illegal and were exploiting Palestinian natural resources.
On Tuesday, Yesh Din legal adviser attorney Michael Sfard slammed the court’s decision, saying it “raised concerns about Israel’s involvement in serious violations of international law.”
“Quarrying natural resources in an occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying state is pillage,” Sfard said.
“The court’s reasoning that a long-term occupation should be treated differently cannot legalize an economic activity that harms the occupied residents.”
At the heart of the petition is the legal question of whether Israel has a right to mine and use natural resources in Israeli-controlled Area C territories, which comprise around 60 percent of the West Bank, and which according to the 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel has full security and civil control.
Israel began quarrying and mining operations in West Bank Area C territories in the 1970s, and current operations provide around a quarter of Israel’s quarried raw materials. According to data provided to the court by the Civil Administration, approximately 94% of all raw material extracted from Israeli-operated quarries and 80% of material from Palestinian quarries in Area C are transported from the West Bank to Israel.
Currently, there are 10 Israeli-operated quarries on Area C land, of which eight are operational. All these quarries were established on state land (land not privately owned by Palestinians), and are in line with statutory planning regulations.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said that because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is longstanding, it has a responsibility to maintain normal living conditions in the region, including in terms of economic relations.
“As has already been determined many times in our case law, Israel’s military rule in the area has unique characteristics,” said Beinisch in the ruling. “Adopting the position that the military commander should cease quarry activity may result in damage to the infrastructure and industry, and could therefore harm the local population.”
Significantly, the High Court also accepted the state’s argument that Israel’s continued operation of quarries in Area C territories had been agreed with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the 1995 Interim Agreement. This, the state argued, was a political agreement and therefore the court ought not to intervene.
Yesh Din legal adviser Sfard told The Jerusalem Post that he was “surprised” by Beinisch’s assertion that the PA agreed to quarrying and mining, saying that he believed the relevant clause in the Interim Agreement did not indicate the PA’s consent.
The High Court also accepted the state’s argument that by maintaining quarry activity in Area C, it provided employment for the local Palestinian population, and was therefore not in violation of international law. Area C quarries employ around 200 Palestinian workers, while the number of Palestinians employed in activities related to the quarries is still higher, the state said.
The state also argued that the mining and quarrying corporations paid franchising fees to use the land, which also benefited the local population, although a 2009 State Comptroller’s report criticized Israeli corporations in the West Bank for failing to pay franchising fees for use of the land, running up debts of around NIS 4.5 million.