Supreme Court Hears Petition against Phosphate Mine in Negev

The Israeli Supreme Court began on Wednesday, February 27, its deliberations on a joint petition submitted by the municipality of Arad, the Arab-Bedouin residents of the village of Al-Fura’a, and human and environmental rights organizations against a planned phosphate mine in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

The petition contends that construction of the mine will result in the immediate evacuation of thousands of Arab-Bedouin residents – citizens of Israel – and the exposure of thousands more to serious health hazards. The petition against the mine project was filed with the Supreme Court on January 21 by the municipality of Arad together with 168 Al-Fura’a residents, the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages of Negev, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

A call to residents of Arad to demonstrate outside the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the Sde Barir phosphate mine at the commencement of the hearing of the petition, February 27, 2019.

A call to residents of Arad to demonstrate outside the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the Sde Barir phosphate mine at the commencement of the hearing of the petition, February 27, 2019.

The authorization for the planned Sde Barir phosphate mine was previously given based on an environmental impact assessment survey that ignored the existence of the area’s 15,000 Bedouin residents, including those who live in Al-Fura’a, the Bedouin village most directly impacted by such a mine. The petition was filed against the Israeli government, the National Planning and Building Council, and Rotem-Amfert Negev Ltd., the latter being a company owned by the privatized Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL), a multi-national manufacturing concern owned by the expatriate Israeli tycoon Idan Ofer.

The Sde Barir phosphate mine project is just one part of a plan Israel announced on January 28 to forcibly transfer 36,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel living in unrecognized villages in the country’s southern region in order to expand military training areas and implement what it called “economic development projects.”

The implementation of the plan is slated to commence in the coming year and will be carried out over the course of several years. “The plan provides clear confirmation that Israel’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of the Bedouins in the Negev overtly discriminates against the Arab-Bedouin population, and considers them an obstacle that must be removed from the landscape in order to clear a path for Jewish settlement and ‘development,'” said Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. In March 2018, the Israeli government approved National Master Plan 14B, which opens up 26,000 dunums (approximately 6,400 acres) of the Barir and Zohar South fields to phosphate mining.

The Israeli Health Ministry and world-renowned health experts strongly oppose the plan because of the anticipated increase in mortality rates due to the mining. The city of Arad and the Arab-Bedouin residents living near the mine would be exposed to the inhalation of dangerous particulate matter known to cause heart and lung diseases.

The petition submitted to the Supreme Court stresses that Israeli authorities failed to examine the impact of the mine on the residents of Al-Fura’a. Partial data gathered by the state and included in its environmental impact assessment survey relates only to the residents of the nearby towns of Arad and Keseife, but ignores the existence of approximately 15,000 Arab-Bedouin citizens living in and around the area designated for construction of the mine.

In an expert opinion accompanying the petition, Israeli public health experts Nadav Davidovitch and Maya Negev highlighted the flaws in the use of an environmental impact assessment survey to examine human health concerns. Despite the health-related objections to the plan expressed by the Planning and Building Committee for the district of the Negev, Israel’s National Planning and Building Council approved it, as subsequently did the Israeli cabinet, thereby paving the way for the plan’s implementation unless halted by the petition now before the Supreme Court.

Related: Posts on the proposed phosphate mine