Israeli authorities’ closure of 35 Palestinian quarries in the occupied West Bank since March is threatening the livelihoods of 3,500 workers and may constitute “collective punishment,” a Human Rights Watch report revealed on Thursday.
The Civil Administration, a subsection of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) that handles Israeli bureaucratic functions in the occupied Palestinian territory, closed down the quarries in late March and confiscated millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, a move which HRW said highlighted “the discriminatory nature of Israeli rules for Palestinian quarries.”
A COGAT spokesperson told Ma’an that the Civil Administration had approved “temporary licenses” for the planning of four Palestinian quarries last February pending proof of land ownership over the desired location.
“Beit Fajar quarries are illegal so long as they face demolishing orders since they are a nature hazard following unsystematic activity,” the spokesperson said. “The Civil Administration positively considers the regulation of the illegal activities of the quarries and calls their owners to regulate their quarries’ legal status. Unfortunately, they have decided not to do so.”
HRW said it believed the move was in retaliation for Palestinian attacks against Israelis undertaken by residents of towns near the quarries. It notably cited the closure of quarries near the village of Beit Fajjar on March 21, days after two village residents were killed after stabbing an Israeli soldier.
Previous raids on Palestinian quarries took place in November, after a Beit Fajjar resident stabbed and killed an Israeli woman near the illegal Israeli settlement bloc of Gush Etzion.
“The timing of the closures and their multiple nature also raise concerns that it may be an act of collective punishment, which international law forbids,” the report read.
HRW estimated that the Palestinian stone industry in the Beit Fajjar area was worth $25 million per year, and expressed concerns that the closures constituted a serious blow to the Palestinian economy in a way which would benefit industry in illegal settlements in the West Bank.