Mittwoch, 5. Dezember 2007

Amira Hass: A bad odor

This is most definitely not a pastoral picture: Two village council heads are standing in front of the garbage dump of one of the villages, Beit Liqia, and counting, one by one, all of the environmental hazards. The village's houses are 200 meters away. There are people who burn garbage (mainly to separate metal from old cables or the iron from tires) and then black smoke forms and wafts around the windows of the crowded homes. Around the garbage dump are olive groves. Nobody harvests the olives there any more. At the garbage dump in the village of Beit Anan they burn the waste. Though it is situated relatively far from the village houses, it is also located among olive groves and alongside the narrow road. The smoke and the smell of burning plastic and organic waste accompany travelers.

It is impossible to accuse the two council heads - Hassan Mfarja of Beit Liqia and Naji Jamhur of Beit Anan - of lacking awareness of the importance of preserving the environment. They have participated in workshops and training courses, learned about advanced waste disposal sites in Japan, and know all there is to know about sorting refuse and what happens to groundwater. They had a dream: to open an orderly dump site far from the built-up area that would serve seven villages in the area and enable more stringent environmental protection. But the Civil Administration blocked the route they paved to the site and confiscated the truck. This is Area C, they were told. And the Civil Administration is the master in Area C (which is under complete Israeli control) and in those villages, which are close to the Green Line, 95 percent or more of the lands are included in Area C. Area C (60 percent of the West Bank, as determined in the Oslo years) is exactly the territory that Israel has its eye on in the hope of annexing a large piece of it in the context of the "permanent status agreement." Palestinian development of the territory endangers its chances of becoming Judaized. Therefore, Israel is not allowing Palestinians to build on their own lands, to expand the master plan (which explains why Beit Liqia looks like a refugee camp) or to connect villages to the water grid.

For a period of four years, the Palestinians conducted exhausting negotiations with the Israel Defense Forces and the Civil Administration over establishment of a central and very advanced waste disposal site, with German funding, in the Ramallah district. Finally, the army and Civil Administration authorities agreed that it would be established in a part of Area C that is not built up and not in Area B (under Palestinian administrative control and Israeli security control), right between the villages. This site will not open before 2010, maybe even 2011. And what will happen until then? In the Ramallah district, an area of 960 square kilometers, there are about 85 similar waste dumps: authorized but unfriendly to the environment. Prior to September 2000, there were 45 local dump sites. The number has nearly doubled because of the multiplicity of roadblocks and barriers.

Getting to the overflowing dump in Ramallah, or the waste site in Al Azariyya east of Jerusalem, is financial suicide for the Palestinian local councils. Nearly all of them have no income (because of the prohibition on building in Area C and the absence of income from municipal taxes, due to the residents' accumulating debts, who default mainly on paying water bills, and because of the general impoverishment as a result of the closure policy). Nowadays a local council cannot afford to pay for a garbage truck journey of more than 10 kilometers, says Mafarja. And this is without taking into account the fact that at least five military roadblocks in each direction ensure that the driver will not be able to make several trips in a single day. It emerges that the lust to take over Palestinian lands is even stronger than the logic of preserving the quality of the environment.

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