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Garbage dump?
Photo: Vagia Kadi
Occupation bad for environment
Human rights group says regardless of politics, Israel should not be turning West Bank into garbage dump
Of all the issues often raised with regards to the occupation's injustices and the attitude of authorities and settlers to the Palestinians, environmental issues are at the margins of the social-political agenda, even in the rare cases where environmental issues in Israel itself are brought up for debate.

 

However, during more than 40 years of Israeli control, the West Bank has become, either consciously or unconsciously, our garbage dump, and particularly that of the settlements and illegal outposts in the area.

 

Toxic sewage from plants and sewage systems pouring into Palestinian agricultural and pasture areas are a routine matter. Local authorities abandon and neglect the handling of their pollutants as long as the result surfaces a few kilometers away, outside their municipal area. On the other end, Palestinian residents are left to deal with the pollution and filth.

 

The essence of the environmental problem in the territories starts, like everything that stinks, from the top. The responsible party – the military commander through the Civil Administration – is not fulfilling his legal duties, which obligate him to actively safeguard local residents' fabric of life and life itself.

 

In certain cases, he goes even further by creating obstacles when it comes to the establishment of garbage dumps for Palestinian residents, thus making it difficult to remove the waste to sites located outside communities. In other cases, Palestinian garbage trucks are confiscated.

 

The Ministry of the Environment does not display the required determination and involvement, unlike what goes on inside Israel. We should add the regrettable fact that Palestinian accessibility to "Green Police" stations is very limited, not to say nonexistent.

 

Irreversible damage

The result of this criminal neglect is catastrophic: Palestinian residents find themselves surrounded by mountains of waste, sewage and garbage, both because their villages and farming land have been turned into illegal waste sites for Israelis and because of strict waste removal policies.

 

The sewage and waste cause irreversible destruction and damage to the natural springs in these areas and to ground water in aquifers. Olive trees and crops belonging to residents in the territories are damaged forever; nature reserves or areas that were supposed to be declared as such are damaged and neglected, along with the direct damage to flora and fauna, and to the entire delicate ecological system that exists there.

 

We are already accustomed to seeing Palestinian territories as the State of Israel's backyard. We are already used to the level of safeguarding human rights across the Green Line not being the same to what we see inside democratic Israel. The environmental issue constitutes yet another link in this patronizing Israeli attitude and reflects reality as it is.

 

However, we would do well to take a broader look and think a few steps ahead: The environmental hazards will not disappear even if we build a fence or define the territories as enemy territory. The area, in and of itself, is homogenous, despite the two peoples living there.

 

The two-state solution will not prevent the destruction of ecological systems, aquifers, and nature reserves that cross political boundaries, and ultimately may lead to immense and irreversible destruction in the entire region, both on our side and on theirs.

 

The Israeli public's growing awareness regarding the need to safeguard the environment is part of a praiseworthy global trend.

 

However, in addition to safeguarding the ozone layer and the concerns over global warming, we should pay attention first of all to what's happening in our vicinity, and particularly where we bear the responsibility for what's going on.

 

Enforcement should not stop within the Green Line, but rather, continue beyond it. Otherwise, we shall all find ourselves in the same dangerous and odious swamp.

 

The writer is an attorney and member of the legal team of the Yesh Din organization of volunteers for human rights.

 

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