Multinational companies mining occupied Palestinian land

17 May 2011

HeidelbergCement and Cemex, two building materials industries from Germany and Mexico, respectively, are involved in the operation of quarries in the occupied West Bank. The Electronic Intifada has obtained documentation showing loaded trucks leaving the illegal quarries and traveling into Israel.





International law prohibits Israel’s exploitation of natural resources in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syrian Golan Heights for its own benefit.

Meanwhile, Israeli run-quarries in the West Bank — including Nahal Raba and Yatir quarries, which are operated by subsidiaries of HeidelbergCement and Cemex — supply almost a quarter of Israel’s construction material.

HeidelbergCement’s subsidiary Hanson Israel operates the Nahal Raba quarry in the West Bank near the green line — Israel’s internationally-recognized boundary with the occupied West Bank — and Kfar Qasim, a Palestinian village in Israel.

Cemex owns fifty percent of Yatir Quarry through its subsidiary ReadyMix Industries. The Yatir quarry lies next to the Israeli settlement of Teneh Omarim in the south Hebron hills of the West Bank.

Invested in the settlements

Who Profits? — a research project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace — has documented the illegal activities of the two companies in the West Bank.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights are illegal under international law.

According to the research project, Hanson Israel owns two concrete plants in the West Bank settlements of Modiin Illit and Atarot, and an asphalt plant south of the Elqana settlement.

Meanwhile, ReadyMix owns plants in various Israeli settlements. This includes Mevo Horon, the Atarot industrial zone and the Mishor Edomim industrial zone, all in the occupied West Bank, and Katzerin in the occupied Golan Heights.

ReadyMix also provides concrete elements for the construction of Israel’s wall and military checkpoints in the West Bank and provides concrete for the construction of Israel’s controversial 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.

The activities of HeidelbergCement and Cemex subsidiaries in Nahal Raba and Yatir quarry are contrary to international law.

Article 55 of The Hague Regulations of 1907 explicitly stipulates on quarrying that it “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.”

In 2004, 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 West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The court also determined that Israel’s wall and settlement construction in occupied territory were illegal under international law.

According to an Israeli Ministry of Interior report, the quarries in the occupied West Bank provide 12 million tons of construction material annually. Seventy-five percent of this material is used inside Israel and the rest is used for Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank (the report was referenced in a petition to the Israeli high court filed by attorney Michael Sfard on behalf of Yesh Din).

The Israeli daily Haaretz reports that in its annual report for 2005, Israel’s state comptroller revealed that although any royalties from the quarries should be used for the benefit of the Palestinian population, they were paid into the Israeli state treasury instead (“Digging up the dirt,”3 September 2010).

Photo taken by a human rights researcher documents a truck loaded with material from Yatir quarry entering Israel via Meitar checkpoint, 1 May 2011.

Mining companies taken to court

In 2009, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din filed a petition with the Israeli high court, demanding a halt to illegal mining activity in West Bank quarries, including those operated by Hanson Israel and ReadyMix.

In Yesh Din’s petition to the court, attorney Michael Sfard wrote: “Indeed, we are committing a crime on the West Bank’s land when we extract deposits of gravel and rock from its soil and take them by the truckload to the sovereign territory of the State of Israel to serve the Israeli economy.”

The Israeli high court refused to order a temporary halt to mining activities or stop new mining concessions from being issued. Instead, it requested the response of the parties involved in the petition, which meant that it was business as usual for the companies operating the 11 quarries identified in Yesh Din’s report.

In response, in May 2009 Avi Dicht of the state attorney’s office wrote that the state would freeze the existing situation, including the planning of new quarries, recommending a six-month review (“Israel freezes expansion of West Bank quarries following high court petition,” The Jerusalem Post, 21 May 2009).

There has been no court action since then.

Meanwhile, the mining at both Nahal Raba and Yatir quarry continues. Dror Etkes, a human rights researcher who initiated and collected the data for the Yesh Din petition, documented how a Volvo truck loaded with construction material left Yatir quarry and entered Israel via Meitar checkpoint on 1 May.

According to Etkes, trucks transport construction material from the quarry into Israel several times per day. WhoProfits? also filmed a truck leaving the Nahal Raba quarry with gravel on 1 May. A video produced by the group indicates where the truck crosses the green line (“Hanson Quarry of HeidelbergCement in the West Bank”).

Mining contravenes corporate responsibility conventions

The involvement of multinational companies HeidelbergCement and Cemex in the plundering of the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights’ natural resources are not only in violation of international law, but also contravene commitments to codes of conduct and conventions which regulate the activities of multinational corporations.

These rules governing corporate responsibility include the 2000 UN Global Compact, the 2003 UN norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises adopted in 2000.

Both Heidelberg Cement and Cemex have 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.

While HeidelbergCement was listed as a participant in the Global Compact in February 2004, today, the company no longer appears as a participant. Nevertheless, the company has developed a sustainability strategy and on its website, it claims that “The fair distribution of natural resources to current and future generations is one of the fundamental goals of sustainable development.”

Meanwhile Cemex continues to be registered as a participant in the Global Compact.

Institutional investors are increasingly wary of investing in companies that openly flout international law and corporate codes of conduct, including the importing of natural resources.

Meanwhile, the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has exposed the complicity of a number of multinational corporations in the Israeli occupation, leading investors to divest from those companies. It is unlikely that HeidelbergCement and Cemex will be immune to this scrutiny.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.

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