White Oil

White Oil
Judy Price

This field research examines the extraction and expropriation of stone from the quarries in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank. Moving image is employed to explore the lived experiences of people and address the way in which the quarries are not just industrial spaces but also lived spaces.

This web version of White Oil relates to a sixty-five minute single screen film, which explores the quarries as multilayered spaces where conflicts over land, excavation, ownership and identity and statehood take place.

White Oil is field research that draws on observational cinema, visual ethnology and dialogical aesthetics.  My method has been to form intimate encounters with the quarries, their locality and the geopolitical and spatial relations of the West Bank. Spending time in these spaces, through repeated visits and building relationships with my co-participants over a three-year period, with an emphasis on listening has been absolutely vital to the project in which knowledge unfolds.

Derek Gregory’s work exemplifies the value of post-structuralist geography in my methodologies, in his book Geographical Imaginations. (1) Gregory argues that in the searching out of spaces we must address the way meanings are ‘spun around the topoi of different lifeworlds and threaded into social practices and woven into relations of power’. (2) In exploring the spatial dynamics of the West Bank this is highly resonant. The West Bank is a space of fragmentation and enclaves where relations between Israeli settlers, Israel’s Occupying Force, Israeli entrepreneurs and Palestinians are as conflicted as they are dependant on each other. They produce a geographic space in which any over view of how these different forces interact is exceedingly complex and always inevitably incomplete.

We can perceive the quarries as a ‘meeting place’ (3) of different forces and dynamics to explore how the physical, human, economic and political landscapes are folded into these quarry spaces, and both produce and are produced as a result. As such the research engages with: the quarry spaces, their proximity to residential areas, the environmental effects, the importance of the quarries as providing a livelihood for Palestinians, the use of the material excavated and Israel’s investment in the quarries, the arduous labour needed for excavation of the stone (Palestinians are not allowed to use explosives), the way the West Bank is divided into different zones by the Occupation and how this impacts on how Palestinians use their land, and issues of mobility and lack of other available work.

(1) Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Blackwell, 1994).

(2) Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Blackwell, 1994), p.76.

(3) Doreen Massey, ‘A Global Sense of Place’, Marxism Today (June 1991), pp. 24–9.


As well as causing huge environmental damage to the landscape many of the quarries are located in close proximity to residential areas.

Artist/Author: Judy Price

The decomposition of space in the West Bank means that quarries and their associated businesses come second only to olive production. As the West Bank lacks any other major natural raw materials, limestone and sandstone are considered to be the ‘white oil’ of Palestine and the only raw material available to support the Palestinian economy providing a livelihoodfor thousands of workers.

The quarries fall within Area A, B and C and are situated around Hebron in the south of the West Bank, Nablus and Jam’een in the North, and an increasing number of quarries around Ramallah and the periphery of Jerusalem. 

Many of the quarries in the West Bank are located in close proximity to residential areas where a high concentration of particles with hazardous effects can be found. In recent years there has been an increased level of asthma, particularly amongst children in the environs of the mining. (1) The quarries are also destroying the ecological balance and biodiversity of the West Bank’s flora and fauna, as well as damaging what little agricultural land there is, as it takes time to rehabilitate land in and around the quarried areas. 

Palestinian quarries operating in Area C, under Israeli administration and security are completely unregulated. As well as conditions in the quarries for workers not monitored there is also no regulation of the environmental hazards of quarries in close proximity to, sometimes even inside, residential areas. In the case of a town near Nablus called Jama’een, where I spent a considerable amount of time filming and speaking with local residents about the impact of the quarries, the air is so polluted with dust that many of the elderly people find it difficult to leave their homes. There is a continuous source of traffic from the quarries through the town, which has only one main road, full of lorries laden with stone and debris.

There are a number of Palestinian entrepreneurs who are now working with some of the quarry owners in setting up factories that transform the debris into aggregate and concrete. However permits are required from Israel in a majority of the quarries and have been largely declined. Most of the quarries are not gated or fenced off and with many of them in close proximity to residential areas they become a dangerous adventure playground for children and youth. Many of the people I met in the towns and villages nearby had devastating stories about children and youth who had fallen to their death in the quarries or been maimed for life. A community in a small town Bani Naim, near Hebron in the south of the West Bank, has been pro-active in protesting against the quarries being in such close proximity to the town. They have been successful in securing regulations that prevent quarrying in the town and have had all disbanded quarries fenced off. In 2008 one of the disused quarries in the town was transformed into a small park and animal sanctuary for the local community. 


(1) Barli Vieli, Particulate Matter Emission in the West Bank (Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, 2009).