More on Israeli Stone Quarries in the West Bank: Yesh Din asks for wider review

The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has just filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court [High Court of Justice] asking for a further hearing in the case of Israeli-owned stone quarries operating in the West Bank.

Yesh Din first challenged the legality of Israeli quarrying activities in the occupied West Bank in a petition filed in March 2009.

The petition focuses on the specific case of the stone quarries, but it exposes many of the incongruencies and the quite deliberate ambiguities of the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

On 26 December 2011, after almost two years of deliberation, a panel of judges of Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ), chaired by Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, “dismissed the petition and held that the quarrying activities are legal and do not violate the provisions of international law”.

Yesh Din has said that it considers that ruling “in our view both factually and legally mistaken”.

Yesh Din’s legal adviser, Attorney Michael Sfard indicated strong disagreement with the Supreme Court’s ruling by stating that ‘Quarrying natural resources in an occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying state is pillage”.

Yesh Din’s has posted its reaction to the Israeli High Court ruling on 26 December here.

Yesh Din has challenged, in the petition, the legality of Israeli actions during its prolonged occupation of a territory on which Israel evidently has an as-yet-unspecified claim.

Though Israel officially deals with the situation as an occupation, it avoids to the maximum extent possible using the word, or discussing the consequences.

Israeli arguments of ideological position generally say that the Palestinian territory is “disputed” rather than “occupied”.

Israel does not dispute, however, that its Ministry of Defense administers the West Bank.

And, the Israeli Ministry of Defense has installed a “Civil Administration” which restrictively regulates most aspects of Palestinian life in the West Bank. Israeli life in the West Bank, by contrast, is governed by Israeli law — in effect, creating a slow, partial, unclear and unofficial, but progressive, annexation.

While “facts on the ground” are proceeding apace, there has not yet been an official Israeli act of annexation. If and when annexation is declared, an international uproar can be expected.

Meanwhile, Palestinians argue that the Israeli creation of facts on the ground — particularly, though not exclusively, Israeli settlement-building — is intended to make the situation irreversible.

The exact nature of Israel’s claims to the Israeli/Jewish settlements that that the government has overtly and officially facilitated is still unstated.

It has become apparent that Israel does not want to evacuate not only the three or four major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, but also isolated settlements, and now even what have been called “unauthorized outposts”.

The new Yesh Din petition filed on January 10 asks for further Supreme Court review of the Israeli quarries’ continued exploitation of a Palestinian natural resource — by an expanded panel of judges.

In its new request, Yesh Din argues that “Relaxing the prohibition on harm to the capital of properties of the occupied territory lays the legal foundation for irreversible economic exploitation of occupied territory by an Occupying Power, despite the fact that the prohibition on such exploitation is amongst the primary objectives (and therefore amongst the primary principles) of the international law of occupation”

In fact, Yesh Din argues, the recent Supreme Court decision “permits the Occupier (in a prolonged occupation) to make use, for its own purposes, of plunder found in the occupied territory: to pump water found there, to transfer archeological findings out of the occupied territory, to exploit open spaces for waste disposal, to sell public property and other such irreversible acts which harm or alter the capital of public properties.”

To clarify the matter, Yesh Din said it is specifically requesting the High Court of Justice to hold a further hearing with a broader panel of judges, on the following questions:

  • What are the boundaries of the State of Israel’s authority in relation to its administration of the natural resources belonging to the territories occupied by Israel in ‘belligerent occupation’, and in this context, what is the relationship between Article 55 and Article 43 of the Annex to the fourth Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907)?
  • Specifically, does an Occupying Power, in a prolonged occupation, have the authority to grant its citizens, or corporations owned by its citizens and/or registered in the Occupying Power, rights to quarry natural resources in occupied territory in general, and in quarries which did not exist prior to the occupation, in particular?
  • In as far as an Occupying Power is permitted to grant rights to quarry natural resources in occupied territory, is this authority subordinate to the principle of ‘continuity’ or to the principle of ‘reasonableness’?
  • Does the fact that Israeli quarries provide employment opportunities for Palestinians and pay royalties to the Civil Administration make granting these rights an act which should be considered, from a legal perspective, “for the benefit of the local population”?

The full request [in Hebrew, for those who read Hebrew] is posted here.

We have written earlier posts about the Supreme Court ruling on the Yesh Din petition, here and here.

Some three months ago, the Palestinians filed their “UN bid” — an application for full membership of the State of Palestine that was proclaimed by Yasser Arafat and endorsed by the Palestine National Council in November 1988 — on 23 September 2011.

This “UN bid” specifies that the Palestinian State was declared within the lines that existed before 4 June 1967.

Israel has vigorously opposed this “UN bid”, saying it is a “unilateral” act that is forbidden by the Oslo Accords agreed between Israel and the PLO in the mid-1990s. Following the Palestinian “UN bid”, financial and other sanctions have been threatened, and in some cases enacted — and in some of these cases rescinded, at least for as long as the Palestinians don’t do anything further.

Palestinian officials say they won’t do anything further until 26 January — the end of the three-month period specified by the Quartet for first steps to be taken by both sides to indicate what they want to see in a final settlement.

Jordan has recently begun to act as a mediator, with the apparent full backing of the United States, and two meetings have been held in Amman between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

The Oslo Accords never mentioned a Palestinian state, but they did envisage a transition from “Autonomy” [sort of] within five years — that is, by 1999 — and that never happened.

Instead, a second Palestinian Intifada which broke out in late September 2000 caused a full Israeli military re-invasion of major Palestinian urban areas. Acts of resistance from armed Palestinian security forces, fighting by various Palestinian factions, and Palestinian suicide bombing missions of murky authorization conducted in Israeli urban areas led to a breathtaking decision to build a Wall [“Security Barrier”] around the West Bank which in significant ways does not conform to the 1967 “Green Line” [where Israeli and Jordanian forces stood on the eve of the 1967 “Six-Day” War.

Meanwhile, most of the countries who are member states of the UN continue regard the West Bank, including “East Jerusalem” as occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion on The Wall, formulated in response to a request from the UN General Assembly, stated that the West Bank [and Gaza] — territory described consistently in important agreements signed by Israel and the P.L.O. under the Oslo Accords as constituting a single political unit — are under belligerent military occupation by Israel.

Yesh Din has posted information about the original filing of the petition in March 2009 here. It says:

    The petition demanded “a halt to all quarrying and mining activities by Israeli companies in the West Bank. The petition also demanded that no new concessions for quarries be issued, and that existing quarrying licenses not be extended. The petition relied on research conducted by the Coalition of Women for Peace and published on the site, showing the extent of Israeli mining activities in the West Bank, and the companies involved. In the petition, served against the State as well as 11 Israeli corporations operating quarries in the West Bank, Yesh Din claimed that Israeli mining activity in West Bank quarries is illegal and executed through brutal economic exploitation of occupied territory for the economic needs of the State of Israel, the occupying power. In addition, Yesh Din presented a document prepared for the Interior Ministry that it obtained showing that 75% of output from Israeli quarrying in the West Bank is transferred into Israel for consumption by the Israeli construction industry, in spite of Israel’s duties under international law to protect public property in the occupied territories, including natural resources”.

In the Supreme Court proceedings, the State of Israel filed the following responses, according to Yesh Din, here

    “…the Government of Israel (GOI) informed the HCJ in May 2009 that the GOI would freeze processes of land allocation for Israeli quarrying purposes in the West Bank, and will cease to approve any expansion of existing quarries there as well. In addition, the GOI stated that it has begun an examination of the legality of quarrying operations by Israeli companies in the occupied territories, and therefore asked the HCJ to delay the hearing on the issue by 6 months. In its statement, the GOI emphasized that it does not intend to stop mining activity in existing quarries, as demanded by Yesh Din in its petition. In its response the GOI affirms that most of the yield from Israeli quarries operating in the West Bank is transferred into Israel and even admits that of the rest, most is used by settlements. In the statement the GOI says that in light of the legal claims Yesh Din has raised, it is ‘conducting extensive work … to examine the issue of Israeli-owned quarries operations in Area C’. Following the 6 month delay, in September 2009 the GOI filed its second response to the Court and clarified that it would expand its original halt from May 2009 to additional quarries. In May 2010 the GOI released a comprehensive document on its quarrying policy in the West Bank. The report claimed that in the past the GOI had acted properly in regards to quarry activity in the West Bank, but that the State would, here on out, begin to freeze out new quarries. This report signified the first time the GOI has publicly questioned the legality of its quarrying operations in the West Bank, as previously it had acted without legal considerations”.

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