By Jad Isaac
14 March 2000’Part of the ‘Fertile Crescent,’ historic Palestine is positioned at the crossroads between Eurasia and Africa. It hosts over 2,500 species of wild plants, 800 of which are rare, and some 140 of which are limited to particular areas; at least 80 species of wild mammals, and 380 species of birds are native to Palestine. This rich biodiversity is supported by tremendous climatic variation within a small area.
Unfortunately, it is now difficult to recognize the land that was described by early visitors as ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Barren hills have replaced once-rolling woodland covered with thickets and forests, and grasslands have turned into deserts. A fetid trickle of sewage now runs where the Jordan River once flowed. The water level in the Dead Sea is so low that it is now divided into two separate seas. In short, the land is degraded, suffering from years of environmental mismanagement and neglect that has only worsened during the past 33 years of Israeli occupation.
Since the June 1967 war, Israel has colonized the Occupied Territories by building settlements in Gaza (housing 5,000-7,000 settlers) and in the West Bank (housing 380,000 settlers, 190,000 of them in and around East Jerusalem). The settlements are commonly positioned on hilltops overlooking Palestinian communities, and the wastewater from many is discharged into nearby valleys without treatment, polluting adjacent Palestinian communities’among them Wadi Qana, Qatanna, Nahhalin, Al-Khader, Al-Jania, Al-Walajeh, Dura, and Bani Na’im.
Moreover, solid waste generated in Israel is dumped without restriction in the Occupied Territories. Solid waste from West Jerusalem, for example, is transferred to the unsanitary West Bank dumping site at Abu Dis, which overlays the infiltration area of the Eastern Aquifer. Similarly, the Jewish settlements of Ariel, Innab, Homesh Alon Morieh, Qarna Shamron, Kadumim, and many others dump their solid waste in the West Bank, as do many military camps and communities located inside Israel.
Relocation of Israeli Industries:
Israel has moved many of its polluting industries from Israel to the Occupied Territories. For example, Geshuri Industries, a manufacturer of pesticides and fertilizers originally located in Kfar Saba in Israel, was closed down by Israeli court order in 1982 for pollution violations. In 1987, it relocated to an area adjacent to Tulkarm inside the West Bank, where its waste has damaged citrus trees, polluted the soil, and possibly poisoned the groundwater. The Dixon industrial gas factory, formerly located in Netanya inside Israel, has also moved into the same area.
The Israeli government has constructed at least seven industrial zones in the West Bank. Located mainly on hilltops and occupying a total area of approximately 746 acres, these industries produce industrial wastewater and solid waste that often pollute adjacent Palestinian lands.
Information about industries in the Israeli industrial zones’including the amount and types of goods they produce, the labor they employ, and the waste they generate’is not available to Palestinians. The wastewater and solid waste these industries produce, however, provide important clues about the type and extent of industrial activity. At least 200 factories are located in the West Bank, notably aluminum, leather-tanning, textile-dyeing, battery, fiberglass, plastic, and other chemical factories.
Clear evidence that Israeli factories operating in the Occupied Territories do not follow pollution prevention measures is provided by the Barqan industrial zone, which houses factories producing aluminum, fiberglass, plastic, electroplating, and military items. Industrial wastewater from this zone flows untreated to the nearby valley, damaging agricultural land belonging to the Palestinian villages of Sarta, Kufr Al-Deek, and Burqin, and polluting the groundwater with heavy metals. In the central part of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom releases sewage and chemical waste from its industrial plants to the Al-Saqa valley.
Illegal Movement of Hazardous Waste:
Despite the fact that Israel is a signatory of the 1992 Basel Convention, which bans the illegal movement of hazardous waste, it transfers such waste, generated inside Israel, to the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has discovered several violations:
1. In 1998, Israel illegally dumped several truckloads of toxic and hazardous waste near the eastern border of the Tulkarm municipality and near the residential area of the ‘Azzoun municipality’50 meters from its well for drinking water;
2. An Israeli company, Telbar, moved its medical waste disposal site from Afulla inside Israel to a site close to the Jewish settlement of Yafit in the Jordan valley;
3. A paint factory located in the Israeli settlement of Ganim has dumped its hazardous and toxic wastes in the Palestinian village of Umm Al-Tut.
Moreover, according to a study published by The Center for Development Work in Ramallah, Israeli companies are flooding the Palestinian market with internationally banned pesticides. Their Israeli manufacturers are also using Palestinian land to test new pesticides.
Military Areas, Bases, and ‘Nature Reserves':
Israel has declared 290,970 acres of the West Bank (20.2 percent of its total area), mostly in the Jordan valley, as closed military areas, and has created an additional 29 closed military areas in Gaza (420 acres). Moreover, Israel maintains 71 military bases in the West Bank (totaling some 9,563 acres). Although most of these areas have low agricultural value, they constitute the major grazing areas in the West Bank. Since Palestinian pastoralists are denied access to these areas, the remaining grazing areas suffer from severe overgrazing and are under threat of permanent desertification.
Furthermore, the wildlife and rich biodiversity that characterize these areas are harmed by the use of heavy military vehicles and tanks.
Israel has also created 48 West Bank ‘nature reserves’ (covering 5.68 percent of the West Bank), mostly on the Eastern Slopes and in the Jordan valley. Palestinians question the ecological value of these reserves, which they view as another method used by Israel to deny Palestinians access to their land.
Deforestation and Uprooting of Trees:
According to a recent study by the PA Ministry of Agriculture, the total area in the West Bank and Gaza officially designated as forest land decreased from 300,736 dunums in 1971 to 231,586 dunums in 1999 (one dunum is 1,000 square meters). More than half of the affected areas are in Gaza, where 95 percent of the forests have disappeared (from 42,000 dunums in 1971 to 2,000 dunums in 1999).
About 80 percent of this deforestation is attributable to the Israeli occupation: to the establishment of military bases (two percent), to settlements (78 percent), and to bypass roads (less than one percent). Local Palestinians are responsible for deforesting 14 percent of the land, while the remaining six percent is privately owned.
Moreover, the Israeli army and Jewish settlers have uprooted more than half-a-million fruit trees, mainly olive trees, on privately owned land. While the British Mandate government, and later the Jordanian Administration, first implemented and later accelerated afforestation programs in the West Bank and Gaza, all afforestation programs ended with the Israeli occupation.
Approximately 2.18 million dunums (35 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip) are natural grazing areas. Only 47 percent of the total grazing area is accessible to Palestinian livestock owners, while the remainder has been confiscated for Israeli settlements, nature reserves and closed military areas. Overuse of the accessible areas has resulted in progressive desertification.
Jad Issac is Director-General of the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem. The above text may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the author and to the Palestine Center. This Information Brief does not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund or the Palestine Center.
This information first appeared in Information Brief No. 27, 14 March 2000.