The issue of illegally dumped rubbish in the West Bank, which is threatening the environment and people's health, is bringing together Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents, environmentalists say.
According to Isaac Meyer, director-general of the Israeli Environmental Protection Association (IEPA) in the West Bank, a forum for the settlement authorities, there are hundreds of illegal dumping sites in the territory. "We did a survey in 1996 and found about 450 sites. The number has only risen since then," he told IRIN.
He said he maintains technical and logistical cooperation with Palestinian mayors who are also interested in cracking down on pollution.
Building companies illegally dump their waste, which frequently contains toxins. The smell extends over several kilometres, especially when the rubbish is burned. That smoke may also contain toxins such as ammonia and dioxins.
Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Ministry, said he too was worried about illegal dumping in the West Bank and the administration was acting to improve the situation: "Take Jenin District. There were 60 dumps in the area. We cut that down to six and are working to ultimately have only one," he said, adding: "We all live in the same area. Israelis and Palestinians suffer in the end."
Jamil Mtour, manager of the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority in the West Bank, said he was happy about Israeli cooperation in the Jenin area and hoped for more joint efforts.
The main problem with illegal dumping, he said, is that it creates pollution which seeps into the ground, reaching vital water sources. "The pollution is very dangerous. These water sources are essential for us, our life depends on them," said Mtour.
"The dumping sites pollute everything, including the air, soil and agriculture products. It is dangerous for our health," he added, saying insects, including mosquitoes, were attracted to the sites and then carried diseases back to populated areas.
According to Friends of the Earth Middle East, chloride and arsenic, as well as heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, seep into the groundwater resources from the dump sites.
Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
|Isaac Meyer in his office in Ariel settlement in the West Bank|
New programmes, conducted together with German donors and the World Bank, will allow Mtour to build new landfills according to international standards. "This will be an important step in stopping illegal dumping." Israelis as well as Palestinians were responsible, he added.
In many cases, Palestinians, strapped for cash, allow Israeli and Palestinian rubbish trucks to dump rubbish on their land in exchange for small fees.
Meyer of the IEPA agreed and believed that joint efforts were needed to effect change. However, until people were motivated, the illegal dumping would continue: "Right now, it costs 50 shekels [about US$12] to dump an entire truck in an illegal landfill… To dump in a legal, maintained site, it costs 50 shekels a tonne." Since each truck, he estimated, carried about 16 metric tonnes, it was 16 times more expensive to get rid of rubbish legally.
"We need more enforcement, higher fines on illegal dumpers, to stop making it worth their while to damage the environment and ruin our water supplies," Meyer said.
Israel's Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz recently passed regulations making it easier for the authorities to press criminal charges against polluters, including those responsible for fly tipping.
The issue of Israelis using the West Bank for landfill also touches on international law. The Israeli environmental non-governmental organisation Adam Teva V'Din filed a petition in June 2005 against building a landfill near the Israeli settlement of Kedumim in the northern West Bank.
Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
|An Israeli truck en route to dump garbabge illegally near the Palestinian village of Dir Balout|
Attorney Linor Sagi, who represented the group, said "according to the Geneva Convention, an occupying force cannot use resources in the occupied territory in a harmful manner."
The proposed plan would harm the environment and the occupants, she claimed, and it was eventually scrapped.
However, Mtour of the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority in the West Bank feels the Israeli military is not doing enough.
He complained that the "restrictions on movement prevent us from being able to enforce environmental codes. And certainly we can't stop illegal Israeli dumping."
Meyer, here too, agrees. He thinks that if there are already dozens of manned checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the officers there should check not only for security threats, but environmental ones as well.
"Forget politics. We need to make sure the aquifer is not damaged," he said.
Mtour, speaking from Ramallah, echoed his sentiments: "We hope Israel sees the environment as an issue in itself, without politics."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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