CEMEX tries to reason away complicity in Israeli violations of international law

In May, The Electronic Intifada documented the illegal mining and the transportation of construction material from Yatir and Nahal Raba quarries in the occupied West Bank into Israel. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in London published the article and invited CEMEX and Heidelberg Cement to respond. Heidelberg Cement remained silent, but CEMEX tried to reason away its complicity in Israel’s violations of international law.

Illegal mining of Palestinian natural resources

In a statement of 28 June, CEMEX confirms that its subsidiary Lime & Stone is “in a partnership with Kfar Giladi Quarries which operates the Yatir quarry”. The Yatir quarry is located in the south Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank. CEMEX clarifies that the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria issued the permits and receives the royalties for Yatir quarry. However, this arrangement is contrary to international law.

The video below documents the transport of construction material from Yatir quarry into Israel on 16 May 2011.

The International Court of Justice reaffirmed the Palestinian people’s right of self-determination and Israel’s status as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 2004. As the occupier, Israel is bound by the Hague Regulations of 1907. According to an interpretation of Article 55 that is clearly applicable to quarrying by Julius Stone, a former Professor of Jurisprudence and International Law at the University of Sydney, the article “forbids wasteful or negligent destruction of the capital value, whether by excessive cutting or mining or other abusive exploitation, contrary to the rules of good husbandry”. UN General Assembly Resolution 1803, passed in 1962, states that permanent sovereignty over natural wealth and resources is a “basic constituent of the right to self-determination.” The Palestinian people own the natural wealth in the OPT.

In its statement, CEMEX claims that the operations “including those in Israel strictly comply with all relevant legal requirements.” I asked Israeli attorney Shlomy Zachary for a comment. He said that “the West Bank is not Israel and the laws applicable there are different”. Zachary was involved in legal action by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din in 2009 to halt illegal mining activity in the West Bank. Zachary clarified: “Yesh Din’s petition argues that the whole mechanism and permits to dig in this land are illegal. Therefore, any acts committed based on illegal permits can be allegedly illegal as well.”

Recently, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, addressed the issue on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, “Many States maintain contradictory or antiquated laws on mining and land acquisition for development. These laws must be re-assessed to determine if they are consistent with international human rights standards and principles.”

CEMEX’s presence in the West Bank

In its reply to Business & Human Rights, CEMEX confirms the operation of three ready-mix concrete plants in the settlements of Mishor Adumim, Mevoh Horon and Atarot by its Israeli subsidiary Ready Mix. In 2004, the International Court of Justice determined that Israel’s wall and settlement construction in occupied territory were illegal under international law. An occupying power is not allowed to transfer its population to the territory it occupies. The same applies to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

Again, CEMEX claims that the plants have “all the permits and licenses necessary according to applicable laws”. The company states that according to the Oslo Accords the plants are in “areas under the control and responsibility of Israel, until a permanent agreement is reached between the parties”. Zachary’s comment: “But the land for itself and the land in area C are still under occupation, and first and foremost the laws governing the area are the laws of occupation, including Article 55 of the Hague Regulations. The fact that there are other agreements between the parties does not matter and cannot nullify the international laws of occupation or to substitute them.“

CEMEX does not try to justify its operations in the occupied Golan Heights in its statement. The same applies to the provision of concrete elements for the construction of Israel’s wall and military checkpoints in the West Bank and of concrete for the construction of Israel’s controversial Jerusalem Light Rail project. The project strengthens Israel’s grip on the greater Jerusalem area by connecting West Jerusalem with several settlements in or surrounding occupied East Jerusalem.

CEMEX continues to violate UN Global Compact principles

CEMEX has endorsed the principles of the UN Global Compact. The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices.

The first two principles of the Global Compact state that businesses should support and respect the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Although CEMEX is fully aware of its involvement in Israel’s violations of international law in the occupied West Bank and the Golan Heights, it shows no sign of changing its policy. At present, CEMEX acts like Veolia did when it learned about the illegality of the Jerusalem Light Rail project in 2005. Veolia did not take criticism seriously and refused a dialogue with public investors. That is why the international BDS movement has been holding Veolia to account for years by calling on investors to divest from and local authorities to do no business with the company.


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh