In rejecting a petition regarding Israeli-owned quarries in the West Bank, the court rules that they benefit the Palestinians as well
Who owns and is allowed to use the sand and rocks of the West Bank? This question was at the center of a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, submitted by Israeli human rights NGO Yesh Din in 2009. Yesh Din asked the court to stop the operations of eight quarries under Israeli ownership, claming that they take away valuable resources from the Palestinian people and from a future Palestinian state.
Some 94 percent of the materials produced in the Israeli quarries in the West Bank is transported to Israel, accounting for the needs of more than a quarter of the market.
The petition relied on an article in the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, allowing an occupier to use the resources in the occupied land only for the needs and benefits of the occupied people.
Art. 55. The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.
Here is a link to the full ruling [Hebrew only]
Some of the arguments the court gives are very strange, if not entirely corrupt: The court accepts, for example, the claim that since Palestinians are employed in mining work for the Israeli companies who own the quarries, one could say that Israel is actually helping the local economy. It also notes the fact that the quarries pay (low) taxes to the army’s administrative authority in the West Bank, which uses the money for its daily operations in the area.
In other words, the quarries not only take advantage of the the Palestinians’ natural resources, they are also used to cover the expenses of maintaining the occupation, which makes them even more profitable for Israel.
The court also cites previous cases, in which it declared the circumstances of the Israeli occupation “unique,” in a way that demands certain “adjustments” to the rights and duties of the occupiers. What is the reason for this unique situation? Among other things, that the Israeli occupation has been going on for so long. Israel, the court says, “is responsible for the development and growth of the area, in various ways” (article 10 in the ruling). Only in the Orwellian language of the occupation can developing the area be interpreted to mean profits through the shipping of its natural resources to Israel.
Addressing these arguments, Attorney Michael Sfard, legal advisor for Yes Din, said of the ruling, “Quarrying natural resources in an occupied territory for the economic benefit of the occupying state is pillage, and the court’s reasoning that a long-term occupation should be treated differently cannot legalize an economic activity that harms the local residents.”
Finally, the verdict also quotes the fact that in the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians agreed to let the quarries operate until the final agreement on the status of the land. The court fails to mention that the final agreement should have been signed, according to the Oslo Accords, by 1999. Still, this rationale demonstrates the destructive role the Palestinian Authority currently plays by allowing Israel to avoid the full legal implications and political consequences of its policies in the territories it occupied in 1967.
The Court concludes that the petition should be rejected for the reasons above, in addition to a few others. The head of the court, Dorit Beinisch, wrote the ruling herself. It was accepted unanimously by the two other justices hearing the case.
The Israeli High Court is often praised as a liberal institution and a unique model of judicial supervision in the toughest of circumstances. The Court has in fact registered some achievements in Israeli society and even with regards to the Arab minority of Israeli citizens, but in the West Bank and Gaza, it has done nothing but provide Israel with a cover of legitimacy for its activities.
The High Court’s track record is very clear: It never questions or stops Israeli policies. At best, it asks for some adjustments to be made.
In the late seventies, the High Court approved the settlements, only adding limits to the State’s ability to confiscate private land belonging to Palestinian individuals; a decade later, the court sanctioned torture (but also issued some vague rules over the circumstances in which it could be used); it allowed targeted assassinations; and it approved the construction of the separation wall deep inside Palestinian territory, only demanding it be moved it in a few cases.
In short, the High Court has never been a venue to challenge the occupation, but quite the opposite – it is one of the branches that institutionalized it, by setting rules and providing a legal cover to colonial policies, for political persecution and for oppression. One can only conclude that in the context of the West Bank, the High Court has been and still is a fundamental element in the construction and maintenance of what is, in essence, apartheid.