Michael Sfard + Yesh Din lose Supreme court case opposing Israeli stone quarries in the West Bank

Michael Sfard, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli lawyer who represents Palestinians aggrieved by the Israeli government and its policies, has been forcing Israeli clarification of its policies.

Even when he loses a case, as happened on Monday in a ruling handed down by Israel’s Supreme Court on Israeli stone quarries operating in the West Bank [which most of the world regards as occupied Palestinian territory], he manages to get incremental new clarification of some of Israel’s heaviest and most obscure policies

In the Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday, Michael Sfard was representing the Israeli non-governmental human rights organization Yesh Din [Volunteers for Human Rights].

An article in Haaretz today by Zafrir Rinat, entitled High Court says Israel can take advantage of West Bank resources, is subtitled: Court adopts state position. The Haaretz story explained that Yesh Din “argued that the 10 Israeli-owned quarries in the West Bank violate international law, which states that an occupier may not exploit an occupied territory’s natural resources for its own economic benefit; it may use such resources only for the benefit of the occupied people or for military purposes”.

According to Haaretz, the Supreme Court ruling, written by Judge Dorit Beinisch, argued “it is necessary to take account of the fact that the West Bank has been under a prolonged and continuing occupation, so the territory’s economic development cannot be put on ice until the occupation ends. The quarries, she noted, supply jobs and training to a non-negligible number of Palestinians; some of their yield is sold to the Palestinians; and the royalties the quarry owners pay the state – almost NIS 30 million a year – are used by the Civil Administration in the territories to fund projects that benefit the Palestinian population. ‘In this situation, it’s hard to accept the petitioner’s unequivocal assertion that the quarries’ operation does nothing to advance the [Palestinian] region, especially in light of the Israeli and Palestinian sides’ mutual economic interests and the prolonged duration’ of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, she concluded”.

By these revelations, it appears that the Israeli owners of the stone quarries pay royalties on their production and sale of Palestinian stones to the Israeli military [Civil Administration] in order to maintain the military occupation of the West Bank.

Haaretz reported the Beinisch examined “what international law has to say, and particularly Article 55 of the Fourth Hague Convention, on which the petition was based. That article requires the occupying power to ‘safeguard the capital’ of the occupied party’s natural resources and ‘administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct’, meaning the rules governing fair usage. But Beinisch accepted the state’s position that Israel’s use of the quarries is limited and does not amount to destroying their ‘capital’, and hence does not violate international law. This position is bolstered, she said, by the state’s decision not to permit any new quarries to open” [see below].

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