Geology of limestone in Palestine
Briefly, the geology of Historic Palestine includes deep Arabian Shield metamorphic rocks, overlain by sedimentary rocks that include sandstone, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, and clay from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic Geologic Eras (Orr 1915; Lowenstam 1942; Hudleston 2013). The outcrops in the West Bank, as being part of Historic Palestine, are mainly composed of limestone, dolomite, and dolomitic limestone rocks of Upper Cretaceous age, underlain by Nubian sandstone of Lower Cretaceous age (Orr 1915), ranging in color from white to pink, yellow, and tawny. Though there are some sandstone and dolomite outcrops, the land’s surface of Palestine is covered mainly by limestone (Fig. 2a).
The outcrops of this rock—limestone—form the backbone of the mountainous and hilly areas, extending from northern to southern West Bank. The geological group of this rock is about 800 m (2625 ft) thick, composed of rich marine fossil assemblages of limestone, intercalated with dolomite, marl, chalk, and claystone, as well as some siliceous rocks in the form of chert nodules and quartz geodes (Snelling 2010). The limestone’s outcrops in Palestine are collectively known as “Jerusalem (Al-Quds) Stone,” “Holy Land Stone,” or “Palestine Stone,” so that any rock excavated in Historic Palestine, used for construction and decoration purposes, bears any of these three names or all of them.
This discussion on the geology of limestone in Palestine helps improve the ambiguity and misunderstanding of the nature of limestone that is used in the SMI in Palestine, and of the nature of marble that was originated as a metamorphic rock, which is not existing in Palestine as an outcrop rock. So, it is believed that to avoid confusion and misunderstanding in terminology, the most appropriate name for this industry should be “Limestone Industry (LSI),” covering all activities and operations related to this industry in Palestine.
Palestinian limestone’s contributions to construction, culture, and heritage
Hundreds of quarries exist in Palestine, particularly in the occupied West Bank, for the purpose of limestone’s excavation (Fig. 2b, c). Quarries in Palestine have traditionally produced blocks, slabs, building stones, decorative stones, and tiles. In northern Palestine, high-quality limestone has been excavated and used for the external cladding of buildings. The quality of limestone found in southern West Bank is comparatively different, so that it has been used in the form of hard polished limestone, which is commercially and wrongly called “marble,” as indicated above.
The glory of the limestone’s industry in Palestine illustrates knowledge, magnificence, creativity, ingeniousness, cultural sophistication, preserved heritage, and architectural wealth of the Palestinian people and their culture and civilizations throughout history (Fig. 3).
The Jerusalem (Al-Quds) Limestone (Fig. 3) is hard and generally pure, white to yellowish in color, durable, and fine-grained rock of good quality that has been used by Palestinians, over three Millennia, in building their homes and some remarkable structures in the country. These include a numerous number of cultural, historic, and heritage sites in the cities of Akko, Jaffa, Nazareth, Nablus, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, and many other Palestinian cities and towns throughout the several civilizations that took place in Palestine. Some examples are shown in Fig. 4a–h.
Economics of SMI
SMI is one of the largest industries in Palestine, as it provides 4% of the global production and generates USD 400–450 million in total revenues, annually. It employs around 15,000–20,000 full-time workers, dispersed in ≈1200–1700 (1500, on average) quarries, stone-cutting facilities, workshops, and crushers, existing in several governorates of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (USM 2011; Paltrade 2013; Hulileh 2017; Ihsheish and Falah 2018) (Fig. 5a, b). Notably, the Gaza Strip has only sand quarries.
According to the National Export Strategy, limestone in Palestine has become, for many years now, as a national reserve with an estimated value of around USD 30 billion, reflecting an enormous export potential, future-wise (USM 2011; Paltrade 2013; Ghattas et al. 2016; Hulileh 2017). SMI is greatly a rewarding sector to the Palestinian gross national product (GNP), as being one of the top exporting industries, with exports reached ≈USD 214 million in value in 2017, accounting for 20–25% of all Palestinian exports, whereas Israel is a major export destination (as indicated above), taking in 75% of the total exports of the industry (PCBS 2018). During the 1990s, SMI’s production grew at an average annual rate of 7.3% to reach an annual sale of USD 450 million. In the following years, SMI has shown, on average, a yearly growth rate of 8.7% (Paltrade 2013; Hulileh 2017). However, despite the fact that the Palestinian economy is currently in a slow decline, investment opportunities continue to exist. These opportunities can be found in real estate development, light manufacturing, agriculture, and agro-industry. Information technology, the stone and marble industry, and tourism also remain promising areas for growth (USDS 2019). Nevertheless, due to the crises of the coronavirus (COVID-19), some of the economic sectors, such as tourism, have completely stopped (PMA 2020), and some others are continuously slowing down, especially SMI, as it has stopped its products’ exportation.
Geopolitics of SMI
The main centers of SMI are in the regions of Nablus and Jenin in the northern parts of the occupied West Bank (OWB), in the regions of Ramallah in the middle of the OWB, and in the regions of Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern parts of the OWB (Fig. 5b), considering the fact that most of the quarries are located in area C. According to the Oslo Agreements signed in 1993/1995 between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, the OWB was divided into area A (forming about 18% of the OWB and is controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), security-wise and administration-wise), area B (forming about 22% of the OWB and is controlled by the PNA, administration-wise and by the Israeli Occupation Authorities (IOA), security-wise), and area C (forming about 60% of the OWB, and is totally controlled by the IOA, administration-wise and security-wise) (Salem 2019a; Salem 2020). Most of the quarrying sites and the major natural rock reserves are located in area C, whereas the PNA presumably imposes a ban on quarrying in densely populated regions located in area A and area B. According to a representative of the union of SMI in Palestine, the industry struggles from a set of different challenges, many of which are common to all Palestinian industries, such as those created by the Israeli Occupation Authorities. The major natural rock reserves are located in the Israeli-controlled area C, where acquiring permits for opening new quarries is extremely difficult and close to impossible. The SMI will soon face severe problems if quarries are unable to expand into area C, because the currently accessible reserves in area A and area B are being depleted (TPT 2019).
SMI’s impacts on public health and the environment
SMI in Palestine has severely and adversely impacted the public health, including health of the workers involved directly in the industry itself, and health of the population living in SMI’s neighborhoods, as well as the well-being of the surrounding environment and ecosystems. These impacts result from rock quarrying and crushing operations in open areas, cutting and polishing of massive rock blocks in stone-cutting plants, pulverization, chemical alteration, and transportation of rocks, as well as from building and construction’s activities. The SMI’s activities result in air, water, soil, and noise pollution, in addition to their negative impacts on the green cover (trees and vegetation). Furthermore, this industry, as largely being an uncontrolled industry, has certainly increased the amounts of the waste generated from its operations, including the limestone waste (LSW).
LSW and its quantity and quality
When dealing with SMI’s environmental impacts, a special attention should be given to the amount of water used during the various processes of SMI. Roughly, half a million cubic meter (500,000 m3 = 0.5 MCM) of fresh water are used in this industry annually (Paltrade 2013). Though this water is used at various stages in the value chain of the SMI’s excavation and production, the main purpose of the water consumed is to cool and lubricate the saws used to cut the massive blocks and large slabs of limestone. This large amount of fresh water is turned into an environmental hazard when mixed with the dust and powder generated from the processes of stone cutting, resulting in heavy, viscous wastewater in the form of wet mud, commonly known as “slurry” generated from the processes of cutting and shaping the limestone, with an annual quantity of around 600,000 t (600 million kg). This is in addition to the dry mud, with an annual amount of around 190,000 t (190 million kg). Additionally, the limestone’s remains, resulting from the manufacturing processes, are estimated at an annual amount of about 450,000 t (450 million kg) (Al-Joulani 2008; Paltrade 2013; Al-Joulani and Salah 2014; Ihsheish and Falah 2018) (Fig. 6a–f). This means that the total solid and fluid waste generated annually from the Palestinian SMI is no less than 1.24 million ton (1.24 billion kg). If this amount of waste is multiplied by 25, it means that we have had approximately 31 million ton (31 billion kg) of waste just in the last 25 years alone. Accordingly, one can imagine the damages caused by such large amounts of waste to the public health, the environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems.
LSW contains suspensions of solids, varying between 5000 and 12,000 mg/l (Al-Joulani 2008), which (solids) consist mainly of high-purity calcium carbonate (CaCO3) of between 94% and 98% (Al-Joulani and Salah 2014). Luckily, the hazardous heavy metals’ concentration in the LSW in Palestine is very low, suggesting an inert waste (JICA 2017). The LSW, in the form of powder generated from the stone-cutting and turned into slurry when mixed with cooling water, is considerably large in volume. Approximately 49 m3 of stone is wasted as powder when 181 m3 of stone blocks were cut into stone slabs of 2 cm thickness, and approximately 78 m3 of stone is wasted as powder when 365 m3 of stone blocks were cut into stone slabs of 3 cm thickness (Alhaj 2013). Accordingly, the quantity of stone, wasted as powder, ranges from about 21% (78/365) to about 27% (49/181) for 3-cm and 2-cm slabs’ thicknesses, respectively. This indicates that an inverse relationship exists between the cutting thickness and the percentage of the generated powder waste, meaning that the less the thickness of the slabs cut, the greater the amount of the powder’s waste generated.
LSW and its impacts on soil and water
The CaCO3, which is the major constituent of LSW, is accumulated in ditches and on the soil surfaces, causing the formation of lime-cemented hard pans that restrict the infiltration of rainwater and the penetration of roots of the plants into the soil’s layer and the underlying layers, as well. The wet LSW either flows in open areas (Fig. 6c–f), causing harm to the soil and green cover, or is dumped in sewerage systems, creating blockage and damage to the pumping stations. LSW (wet and dry), generated through quarrying and cutting operations in Palestine (Fig. 6a–f), reduces soil fertility, due to changes in the pH-value, electric conductivity (EC), salinity, and total dissolved solids (TDS). According to laboratory measurements, the EC of different soil samples, contaminated by LSW, dropped by a range of 30–60%; and by adding more LSW to the soil’s samples, the pH decreased from 6.72 to 6.63, meaning that it became more acidic; the TDS decreased by a range of ≈13–31%; and by adding only 3% (by weight) of LSW to the investigated soil’s samples, the samples’ permeability (hydraulic conductivity) decreased by a range of 46–92% (Al-Joulani 2007; Al-Joulani 2008). Also, as time passing, some of the wet LSW infiltrates, at slow speed, the surface soils and subsurface layers through fissures, ruptures, and cracks, reaching the groundwater aquifer systems and, thus, contaminating their water storage. On the other hand, when LSW becomes highly viscous, thick, and heavy, it prevents rainwater from infiltrating the surface to recharge the aquifer systems, as it considerably disturbs the physical properties of the affected soils and underlying layers and, thus, reduces the drainage system.
LSW and its impacts on air quality and green cover
After LSW got dried, fine dust and powder are blown away by the wind, covering, partially or totally, the agricultural soil and green cover, represented in the leaves and fruits of the plants (vegetation and trees). This can take place over large areas that may include agricultural lands (farms), herds, and people living in neighborhoods of the rock-quarrying sites and stone-cutting facilities. This situation gets even worse, especially in summer times, because of the high temperatures that cause higher rates of evaporation, making the stone’s dust and powder’s particulates go into the air, causing air pollution, and, in turn, resulting in public health and environmental problems, as also reported by researchers in other parts of the world (Table 1).
Results of two previous studies are analyzed in this paper, in relation to the air pollution in two different localities in northern and southern West Bank. Comparisons between the results of both studies, on the one hand, and between them and the WHO guidelines, on the other, are given in Table 2.
The first study was undertaken on the air quality in Beit Fajjar village, south of the city of Bethlehem, southern West Bank (Vieli et al. 2009), and the second study was undertaken on the air quality and green cover in Jammain village, south of the city of Nablus, northern West Bank (Sayara et al. 2016). Both studies carried out measurements for different localities in each of the areas investigated, with respect to rock-quarrying sites and stone-cutting plants in both areas. The ground distance between the operational rock-quarrying sites and the stone-cutting plants, on the one hand, and the air-quality monitoring devices, on the other, is in the range of hundreds of meters. Those in situ monitoring processes included measurements of the particulate matter with all sizes (PMs) and the total suspended particulates (TSP) in μg/m3 (μg = 0.001 mg). The PMs included measurements of 1 μm or less in diameter (≤ PM1), 2.5 μm or less in diameter (≤ PM2.5), 7 μm or less in diameter (≤ PM7), and 10 μm or less in diameter (≤ PM10) (Table 2).
Table 2, summarizing the results of the two studies, indicates that both areas investigated are highly polluted. However, the sites investigated in Beit Fajjar, southern West Bank, are less polluted than those investigated in Jammain, northern West Bank. It is noteworthy to mention that the Beit Fajjar’s study was undertaken in mid-March 2009, while the Jammain’s study is not known when it was undertaken. Furthermore, the measurements’ results for both areas show wide differences, in relation to the WHO guidelines for PM2.5, PM10, and TSP (Table 2). Table 2 also indicates that the emitted particulates from the limestone quarries in both investigated areas are believed to be comparatively big, as the readings increase gradually and obviously from PM1 to PM2.5 to PM7, and to PM10. This could be an indication that the particulates emitted by the investigated rock-quarrying sites and stone-cutting plants are not carried on very long distances. This situation generally depends on the weather conditions, mainly wind speed and humidity, as well as whether it was raining or not at the time of measurements. The results given in Table 2 suggest that the very high concentrations of PMs and TSP in both areas of investigation represent real problems, regarding public health, including the health of workers who are directly working on sites, and the health of population who are living in the near neighborhoods, as well as the well-being of the environment, ecosystems, and green cover.
According to the results obtained from the questionnaire distributed among farmers in the Jammain’s area, 95% of the respondents stated that their yields of crops have decreased by at least 30% annually (Sayara et al. 2016). The adverse impacts of air pollution, resulting from SMI’s activities, might be attributed to several factors, including (1) dust that covers the leaves of plants creates a thick white layer that decreases the total chlorophyll cells exposed to light and, thus, reduces the total photosynthetic activity; (2) dust can also reduce plant’s growth (number of leaves, leaf surface and size, etc.), affecting, therefore, photosynthesis, respiration, and transpiration systems of the affected plants; (3) some released chemical compounds, accompanying the released dust from SMI, are injurious and can be considerably harmful to the plants affected; (4) dust can badly affect leaf trichomes (hairs) and, therefore, decrease the natural defense’ mechanisms of the affected trees and vegetation against pests and diseases; and (5) dust causes considerable degradation of the soil fertility characteristics, including changes in the physical, chemical, biological, and mechanical properties, such as the pore size (porosity), permeability, and electric conductivity of soils (as indicated above), leading to reduction of the water-holding capacity of the affected soils, which results in decreasing crops’ yield over time (e.g., Hirano et al. 1990; Farmer 1993; Naik et al. 2006; Lameed and Ayodele 2010; Matsuki et al. 2016; Sett 2017). Many of these adverse impacts, affecting soils and the green cover (vegetation and trees), appeared in the Jammain area, where the air pollution’s measurements were carried out in northern West Bank (Sayara et al. 2016), and also in the Beit Fajjar area, where the air pollution measurements were carried out in southern West Bank, as discussed below.
Air pollution caused by SMI and its impacts on public health
Regarding the health impacts, air pollution can enter the thorax and cause or exacerbate chronic bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including lower respiratory tract diseases (Salem 2015; Salem 2017; WHO 2018; Salem 2019b; Al Nayeem et al. 2020; Encecopedia.Com 2020). Ambient (outdoor air pollution) in cities and rural areas is estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths, worldwide, in 2016 (WHO 2018). Meanwhile, estimates of the joint effects of ambient and household (outdoor and indoor) air pollution include approximately 7 million premature deaths globally each year, representing 12.5% of the total deaths, worldwide (WHO ROE and OECD 2015), as indicated above.
This mortality is due to chronic exposure to small particulates, namely ≤ PM1 and ≤ PM2.5. While the particulates ≤ PM7 and ≤ PM10 can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs, the even more health-damaging particulates are the finest ones (≤ PM1 and ≤ PM2.5), which can penetrate the lungs’ barrier and enter the blood system, causing various health problems, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cancer diseases. The WHO adduces the particulates ≤ PM1 as the deadliest (group 1 carcinogens) among all sizes of PMs, due to their finest size and ability to penetrate easily the lungs and bloodstream (WHO 2005a; WHO 2005b), and thereby, they cause DNA mutation, heart attack, and even infant mortality (EPA 2004). To reduce the impacts of air pollution, WHO (2005a, 2005b) recommended that by reducing the particulates ≤ PM10 from 70 to 20 μg/m3 (this is by ≈30%), the air pollution-related deaths can be cut by around 15%. Therefore, the lower the air pollution’s levels, the better the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population will be, both on the short run and long run. In view of this, more research should be done in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, regarding the air pollution impacts on public health, resulting, particularly, from SMI.
SMI’s waste and its contributions to acid rain and Khamsin (Khamasini) winds
As quarried limestone may contain layers of oolite, dolomite, chalk, marl, mud, and other kinds of rock deposits, as well as layers of intercalated soils, the waste generated during the rock-quarrying and stone-cutting operations may contain several chemical ingredients. These may have components that include minerals of calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), silicon (Si), aluminum (Al), and others, as well as gases such as sulfur oxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), as happened in other regions of the world (Table 1). The presence of these pollutants in the atmosphere, especially SO2 and NOx, can cause acid rain, resulting from the reaction between these oxides and water, oxygen, and other chemicals in the atmosphere, forming sulfuric and nitric acids that fall to the ground as acid rain (Fig. 7a).
Kalu and Ogbonna (2019) tested some water and soil samples taken from vicinities of quarry sites in Nigeria, and found that the rainwater was acidic, containing many metallic ions. That was attributed to the suspended particulates ≤ PM10 released from quarries’ dust to the air and soil. Compared with the dry season, the analyses indicated that the effect of acid rain was more evident directly at the quarry sites, and the negative environmental effects were more prevalent in the older quarry sites, due to the length of quarrying operations (Kalu and Ogbonna 2019). These observations were also noticed by Peter et al. (2018) through their study on other quarry sites in Nigeria.
Accordingly, acid rain is a form of precipitation that is significantly more acidic than normal rain or neutral water, and is often produced as a result of industrial operations, such as SMIs. If happened, acid rain can cause considerable damages to the environment and biodiversity, including fauna and flora, as well as to surface water and groundwater. As related to the rock’s quarrying and cutting operations (SMI) in Palestine, it is hard to tell if the rain is acid rain (pH = 4.2–4.4) or normal rain (pH = 5.6), because of the lack of measurements and monitoring systems.
The possible presence of the abovementioned chemicals in SMI’s dust that is emitted to the atmosphere may result in further pollution to the air and, hence, it may cause the precipitation of acid rain (Fig. 7a), as already mentioned. Accordingly, it is recommended that rain samples are to be collected from some of the SMI’s sites (rock quarrying and stone cutting) in Palestine, in order to be tested and to determine whether the rain in those sites is acidic or not.
Air pollution may also increase the impacts of the Khamsin (or Khamasini) winds (KWs) (Fig. 7b). However, as much as the SMI’s activities intensify, the amount of SO2, NOx, and CO2 will also increase, especially in the presence of other air-polluting sources. These include other kinds of industrial activities (Salem 2009) and traffic, which can cause acid rain, and also intensify the heavy, adverse impacts of KWs. The term “Khamsin,” derived from the Arabic word for “fifty,” represents a 50-day period of dry, hot, sandy, silty, and dusty winds that originate mainly in the North-African deserts and move towards the Mediterranean Basin and, thus, affecting the region of the entire Basin. This 50-day period of KWs can be divided into two equal sub-periods: one in spring (from March to May) and the other in autumn (from September to November) (Philologos 2003). The KWs usually take place in these two sub-periods, but due to climate change impacts, they sometimes take place in other times of the year. When the KWs blow, causing sand, silt, and dust storms (Fig. 7b), and carrying heavy amounts of PMs, their damages will be much more devastating, especially in the presence of SMI’s activities. The combination of SMI’s activities, KWs, and climate change impacts can result in considerable air pollution that may cause severe damages to public health, the environment, biodiversity, water systems, and ecosystems. Kittipongvises (2017) investigated the impact of SMI (limestone quarries) on climate change in Thailand, by using a life cycle assessment’s approach. The study showed that the amount of process-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the SMI’s operational sites were about 2.76 kg CO2 eq./t. However, the study revealed that the GHGs’ emissions were mainly from the consumption of large amounts of diesel fuel to generate electricity that used to crush and grind limestone rocks. In view of this, more research should be done to investigate the linkage between the environmental pollution caused by SMI, on the one hand, and climate change impacts, on the other.
As mentioned earlier, SMI affects directly two groups of people, namely those who work in the field and in stone-cutting plants, and those who live in neighborhoods close to SMI’s operations (quarrying, drilling, crushing, cutting, polishing, finishing, decorating, transporting, etc.). As a matter of fact, some people lost their lives and others badly injured and became disabled, as being involved in this dangerous business—SMI. The residents of the village of Beit Fajjar, for instance, southern Bethlehem, which is a hub for rock-quarrying and stone-cutting businesses, and for which air pollution measurements were carried out, analyzed, interpreted, and discussed above, cannot forget the story of the three young men who died because of the lack of maintenance of a saw equipment, which caused the plate to slip out of its place and cut them into pieces, causing immediate death (Watan 2014). The other event happened, according to Watan (2014), when a young boy, under the age of 18, fell from the top of a stone-cutting plant, hit the saw machine, and was killed immediately. This happened though the Palestinian Ministry of Labor’s law prevents the work of juveniles. In addition to these and other horrifying SMI’s accidents, the residents of Beit Fajjar keep talking about the extinction of many fruitful trees that Beit Fajjar used to be famous of, such as olives, grapes, almonds, quince, peach, and grains—all of which used to be sold in the markets of the big cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Today, Beit Fajjar’s residents buy vegetables and fruits from other places of the West Bank. In brief, Beit Fajjar and other areas that host rock-quarrying and crushing sites, and stone-cutting facilities have turned into disastrous highly polluted areas, according to Palestinian residents living close to them (Watan 2014).
With reference to the images given in Fig. 8a–g and the accidents provided by Watan (2014) mentioned above, it can be concluded that the status of SMI, including rock-quarrying in the field and stone-cutting in plants or factories, is unprofessional, insecure, and, thus, unsafe. This is because the SMI’s operations lack the very basic and necessary professional standards of security and safety, including devices and equipment, as well as safety regulations, in order to take the necessary cautions to protect SMI’s workers and the residents living in SMI’s neighborhoods. For instance, leaving an individual alone to face death, while handling such large masses of rocks, as seen in Fig. 8c, in the lack of proper machinery and equipment, in addition to the lack of alarming systems and minimum conditions for safety against air pollution, as seen in the images (a–g) given in Fig. 8, are wrong practices that need to be critically, seriously, and effectively addressed, and immediately fixed.
The adverse health and environmental impacts of SMI in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are related to, among other things, the lack and weakness of laws and regulations that should control and monitor the industry. This is in addition to the lack of adequate techniques and equipment, and the lack of environmental waste management’s system. This means that proper laws and regulations should be legislated and enforced. Also, penalties should be applied against those who violate the laws and regulations in effect, in order to protect SMI’s workers, public health, and the environment; to manage, in a sustainable manner, the natural resources, including limestone, as being a precious resource; and also to manage all kinds of waste generated from this industry—SMI. The lack of certain laws and regulations or the weakness in applying them, in relation to SMI in the OPT, has encouraged some people to seize lands that do not belong to them (especially in area A and area B) and to establish on those lands new quarries, crushers and/or stone-cutting plants, and also to expand the areas that they already use for their SMI’s operations, without being questioned. The other problem is the irresolute governmental control over the industry—SMI—even in area A and area B, which are, as discussed above, under direct administration of the Palestinian National Authority. The provisions, concerning the licensing of quarrying activities and permitting the operations of quarrying and excavation of rocks, are expressly stipulated in the “Natural Resources Law No. 1/1999” (BZU 1999). For instance, the Fourth Chapter, Article (13) of the Natural Resources Law No. 1/1999 states, under “Search and Exploration of Natural Resources,” the following: “No person may search, excavate, extract or exploit any natural or mineral source from the ground within the Palestinian lands, regional waters and its exclusive economic zone, except after obtaining a license to do so from the Ministry in return for a fee determined by the Ministry under a special system issued by the Ministry” (BZU 1999).
Challenges facing SMI in palestine
Though the Palestinian SMI has entered the international market, as its products have been exported to many countries around the world, including the GCC states (as mentioned above), the industry has been facing big challenges, geopolitically, environmentally, and technically, as well as with respect to the lack of research and development’s programs. These challenges and others have considerably hindered the development of SMI; weakened its strength and competitiveness (particularly since the Oslo Agreements were signed in 1993/1995 between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, as indicated above); and worsened the industry’s circumstances and conditions.
The Palestinian SMI has been facing many restrictions imposed by the Israeli Occupation Authorities (IOA), which represent the most impeding challenge facing SMI in the OPT. This is due to the fact that most of the quarrying sites are located in area C, which forms more than 60% of the occupied West Bank’s total area and is entirely controlled by the IOA, administration-wise and security-wise, as mentioned earlier. So, under these circumstances, this challenge forms a strategic threat that has been, actually, materialized and greatly realized since 1993/1995. The Israeli restrictions on SMI also include acquiring of new excavation’s permits or renewal of the existing ones. These include heavy restrictions on excavation’s facilities, tools, and equipment needed for SMI. According to the Palestinian Union of Stone and Marble (USM), acquiring permits from the IOA for excavation in new quarries is not an easy task at all (USM 2011; TPT 2019). The Palestinian owners of quarries, existing in area C, have to endure arbitrary procedures and continuous raids by the IOA, which result in heavy fines on them and confiscation of their equipment. Meanwhile, the Israeli companies, operating in area C, can quarry large amounts of rocks, freely, easily, and all the time (Ghattas et al. 2016), as well as without facing any of the IOA restrictions that are enforced on the Palestinian owners of quarries in the same area—area C.
In addition, an endogenous, national challenge facing SMI is the fact that the Israeli settlements built illegally on lands of the occupied West Bank are built with stones taken from Palestinian quarries and stone-cutting plants in the West Bank. This, in turn, prolongs the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and strengthens the occupation’s economy at the expense of the Palestinian economy which is already weak and fragile, in comparison with the Israeli economy (Khalidi and Taghdisi-Rad 2009; Kubala 2015; DAAR 2020). Moreover, SMI faces other challenges, including more predicaments and difficulties at the Israeli crossings. For instance, the process of back-to-back truck’s loading and unloading impedes the transfer of products to the Israeli market and the exports to foreign destinations, and, thus, increasing shipping costs (Ihsheish and Falah 2018). By doing so, Israel strongly violates international law and treaties. It is prohibited, according to international law, to operate any kind of industries, such as the Israeli quarries existing in area C, which is due to the fact that this area is part of the West Bank occupied militarily by the Israeli Occupation Authorities in 1967. Paragraph 1 of the Principle of Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources (UNGA Res. 1803 (XVII)) states “The right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources must be exercised in the interest of their national development and of the well-being of the people of the State concerned” (UN 1962).
The use of comparatively less advanced technologies to operate SMI usually results in more accidents to workers and in higher production costs, which eventually weaken the reputation and competitiveness of the industry. Pit miners still use traditional methods of quarrying, which can lead to great losses, due to drilling in wrong places that include sites of rocks of bad quality. In addition, most, if not all, quarries and stone-cutting plants, as well as stone crushers lack modern equipment required to properly treat waste and, thus, suitable waste collection’s sites are very scarce. Also, equally challenging is the lack of skilled labor with good management, planning, and marketing skills. In an effort to enhance capacity building, the Palestinian Stone and Marble Center (PSMC) was established in 2009 at the Palestine Polytechnic University (PPU), Hebron, West Bank, in cooperation with the Ministry of National Economy and the Union of Stone and Marble (USM). The PSMC aims at supplying SMI with skilled labor, and also aims at conducting the required tests for export-oriented stone products. The Center’s deliverables are, unfortunately, still below expectations, according to Ihsheish and Falah (2018).
SMI is a great source of polluting the environment, resulting in considerable levels of air, water, soil, and noise pollution, and it also harms the landscape and the green cover (vegetation and trees), biodiversity, and ecosystems, in general, as clearly discussed above. The noise and dust impacts have adversely affected the health of people, dwelling next to rock-quarrying sites and stone-cutting plants, let alone the hazards that result from the quarries that were left without restoration once the ore of limestone runs out, or if were found that the quarry site has bad quality of rocks and, thus, it was shut down at early stages of operation. For instance, a total of 87% of the studied quarries in Lebanon represents serious hazards to groundwater quality, and approximately 62% of the quarries are located in a highly unsuitable environment (Darwish et al. 2011). The situation in Lebanon, however, is not much different than that in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, though there is no data available about such issue in Palestine. Accordingly, the Palestinian governmental institutions in charge should pay attention to this issue—the rock-quarries and stone-cutting plants that are out of business—and, thus, should make every effort to rehabilitate and reuse them, effectively, for different purposes.
Lack of research and development’s programs
The absence of comprehensive studies on the distribution of quarries and their excavation’s suitability, in terms of their physical, chemical, mechanical, and biological properties, as well as their geological, geophysical, hydrological, and hydrogeological settings and ecological dimensions, as stipulated in the Natural Resources Law (BZU 1999), has led to the deterioration of SMI over time.
Potential mechanisms to improve SMI
In view of the damages and dangers caused by the Stone and Marble Industry in Palestine, as discussed above in some detail, the following mechanisms are suggested to improve the industry:
(1) Make SMI a sustainable industry to benefit future generations, which may include the necessity to increase the production items and to decrease the consumption ones (Abu Hanieh et al. 2014); (2) legislate new laws and regulations and activate the existing ones, in order to control and monitor SMI, and work on law enforcement against those who violate the law; (3) reclaim the dumped areas, including the soils of SMI’s neighborhoods that should be frequently reclaimed; (4) apply adequate soil conservational methods, like provision of garland, drains, bunds, and plantations; (5) build capacities to manage and deal with SMI’s byproducts, including wet and dry waste, dust, powder, debris, etc.; (6) recycle and reuse efficiently SMI’s by-products; (7) undertake geological, geophysical, hydrological, hydrogeological, biological, ecological, and archeological mapping and surveys to investigate the quality and quantity of the rocks and their sites before being excavated, as well as their surroundings’ suitability; (8) perform environmental impact’s assessment of SMI’s operations, with respect to air, soil, water, and noise pollution, limestone’s slurry waste (dry and wet), and solid waste management; (9) check regularly the machines (small, medium, and heavy) used in SMI’s operations for the sake of safety of the workers and protection of the environment; (10) provide efficient safety programs, as well as health and life insurance programs to the workers involved in SMI’s businesses; (11) conduct quarry restoration and rehabilitation mapping and surveys before the start of any quarrying operations, and also after the closure of the quarries and stone-cutting facilities when becoming abandoned, which pose hazardous effects to humans, animals, biodiversity, soils, surface water and groundwater, the environment, and ecosystems; (12) reduce over-extraction of ore rocks (particularly limestone in the West Bank, and sandstone in the Gaza Strip); (13) stop the delays in paying electricity and water bills that should be paid by SMI; and (14) reuse treated wastewater in SMI’s operations (Salem et al. 2021), instead of using and wasting large amounts of freshwater, as indicated above.
The SMI in Palestine, as being not well-monitored, adjusted, controlled, and regulated, has already caused a great deal of problems, including damage to the public health and destruction of the environment, and has already put workers, local communities, and wildlife at risk. The Palestinian Government has shown disregard of Article (3) of the Natural Resources Law, which calls for carrying out research and conducting geological mapping and surveying of natural resources, including limestone that is heavily extracted by the Palestinian private sector. Limestone is also extracted by Israeli companies in the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law. Therefore, careful use of natural resources; more monitoring, adjustment, and control of SMI’s activities and operations; and effective laws and regulations are needed to be enforced, in order to make this industry less harmful to humans, animals, and biodiversity; more friendly to the environment; and more productive, durable, and sustainable. This means less water and energy consumption during operations, less pollution caused to the environment and ecological systems, more effective waste’s (fluid and solid) management, and also efficient restoration and rehabilitation efforts of the quarrying sites and stone-cutting facilities after becoming exhausted, abandoned, and out of business. All of these acts can help limit the adverse impacts of SMI on humans’ health and the environment, and can also lead to sustainable development of the industry and other related industries, as well.
Also, based on the studies carried out by researchers in other parts of the world and presented in this paper, the following points are recommended to be taken into account when dealing with SMI in Palestine: (1) Dust emissions from SMI represent considerable damage to the environment and health risks to the workers involved in the industry, as well as to the residents of local communities. Accordingly, a combination of extensive air quality assessment and public health assessment indicates a pressing requirement for a comprehensive occupational and environmental health management’s strategy that is urgently needed for SMI. (2) There is strong scientific evidence that high concentrations of nanoparticulates (≤ PM1) and microparticulates (≤ PM2.5) pose greater health risks than other particulate matter, such as ≤ PM7 and ≤ PM10. It is noteworthy to mention that particulate matter is a term referring to airborne particles, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Systematic monitoring procedures of the particulates ≤ PM1 and ≤ PM2.5, specifically, should be regularly carried out at the SMI’s sites. (3) Questionnaires should be distributed among SMI’s workers and residents of SMI’s neighborhoods to know the occupational safety, health risks, and the workers’ awareness levels of those risks. (4) Based on the fact that SMI pollutes, not only the air, but also water and soil, samples of surface water, groundwater, and soil should be frequently collected at different locations in and around the SMI’s sites, and laboratory analyses should be undertaken to find out the level of SMI’s pollution affecting water and soil. (5) SMI’s workers should be educated and well-trained on how to use protective clothing while working. Hence, there is an urgent need to provide them with training programs and personal protective equipment to reduce health impacts and safety risks affecting SMI’s workers. (6) Clinical research should be carried out on SMI’s workers to confirm any development of SMI’s related diseases. (7) A multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, health care specialists, environmentalists, industrialists, economists, and other professionals concerned must be formed to conduct annual surveying on the SMI’s sites, in order to check the licensing processes, and monitor the mitigation measures related to the safety and health of the SMI’s workers, the well-being of the environment and the residents living in the SMI’s neighborhoods. (8) Occupational safety and awareness programs, as well as medical and workers’ screening must be implemented. (9) Research must be conducted to study SMI’s waste management and the feasibility of utilizing it in several industries. (10) Attempts should be done to model the socioeconomic, environmental, and health impacts, regarding SMI, in general, and the abandoned quarries and stone-cutting sites, in particular. (11) Such actions should be regularly undertaken to ensure strict adherence to the mitigation measures and the WHO guidelines. These steps, if taken, will certainly help improve SMI in Palestine and globally, and will also increase the industry’s production and competitiveness in the national, regional, and global markets, which should lead to sustainable development of the industry—SMI.