Israel stripping West Bank quarries

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din is taking the Israeli military, the Israeli civil administration and a number of Israeli mining companies to court.

The rights group alleges they are illegally stripping Palestinian West Bank quarries of raw construction material for the benefit of the Israeli construction industry and the building of illegal Israeli settlements.

Yesh Din has lodged a petition against the commander of the Israeli army, the Israeli civil administration and the mining companies with the Israeli high court.

The Israeli mining companies involved operate under the jurisdiction of the military and the civil administration, which issue the requisite mining permits.

In its petition the rights group accuses them of the “illegal practice of brutal economic exploitation of a conquered territory to serve the exclusive economic needs of the occupying power that bluntly and directly violates basic principles of customary international law.”

“Israel is transferring natural resources from the West Bank for Israeli benefit, and this is absolutely prohibited not only under international law but according to Israeli Supreme Court rulings,” says Michael Sfard, lawyer for Yesh Din, which brought the case to Israel’s high court.

“This is illegal transfer of land in the most literal of senses.”

International law as outlined by the Hague Regulation 55 states that an occupying power is only permitted to administer public buildings, real estate, forest and the agricultural estates of the state it is occupying.

The Hague Conventions were international treaties negotiated at the First and Second Peace Conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1899 and 1907, respectively.

Together with the Geneva Conventions, these were among the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes.

International law further stipulates that an occupying power has to pay the occupied territory a lease should it profit from operations on its land, as well as a percentage of the profits reaped there from.

“The profits from the quarries should be going back into the Palestinian economy and Palestinian businesses should be benefiting from them, not Israeli companies. This is not happening,” said Jamil Mtoor, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Environmental Authority (PEA) in Ramallah.

“Israel’s removal of rocks, sand and gravel from the West Bank quarries is negatively impacting the West Bank in other ways as well,” Mtoor told IPS.

“The quarries are damaging the ecological balance and biodiversity of the area’s flora and fauna. They are also causing damage to agricultural land as it takes time to rehabilitate the land at the quarried areas to the point where it is fit again for agricultural use,” said Mtoor.

“Furthermore, the pollution levels associated with the quarries are adversely affecting the health of Palestinians, with increased levels of asthma, particularly amongst children, in the vicinity of the mining.”

Israel has strict laws governing noise and dust levels associated with quarries inside Israel. This is one of the reasons that makes operating in the West Bank attractive for Israeli mining companies, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is unable to enforce environmental laws on Israel which controls the territory.

Israel has long argued that its occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is primarily for security reasons.

However, the international community counters that the occupation enables the continued expropriation of Palestinian resources such as land, water and raw construction material, primarily for the expansion and establishment of new illegal Israeli settlements.

A significant portion of the settlements are built from stones carved out of the West Bank landscape. But the bulk of the raw construction material goes back for use within the green line, the internationally recognized border which divides Israel proper from the West Bank.

Israel has a shortage of construction material such as sand, gravel and boulders. An Israeli government study last year predicted a serious shortage of raw building materials within a decade. A number of building constructors have been caught stealing truckloads of building material from the Negev desert in the middle of the night.

The ten West Bank quarries that are the focus of Yesh Din’s lawsuit provide Israel with a quarter, or 12 million tons, of its annual needs of 44 million tons of construction material.

Furthermore, three-quarters of what is quarried in the West Bank goes to Israel. The Palestinian market purchases the remainder. Further research by Yesh Din indicates that the Israeli government plans to continue such operations for at least the next three decades.

According to a 2003 assessment by Palestinian officials, the main debtors, including the Israeli Defense Ministry, the World Zionist Organization, the mining companies and Israeli gas stations owe the Palestinians millions of dollars.

“The Israelis are stealing our natural resources, and this is against the Oslo Agreement,” says Raed Abed Rabbo from the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), which researches and documents the effects of the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories.

ARIJ will be working alongside Yesh Din as their Palestinian partner in the fight against the continued exploitation of the West Bank’s quarries.

“It is imperative that the implications of this continued mining is made public. Up till now the full impact of this has not been fully assessed and studied, and there is not enough awareness about the problem at governmental levels. We intend to change this,” Abed Rabbo told IPS.

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