|Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem|
Court addresses fumes, moving Palestinians
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
Palestinians claim wood-burning operations crucial for livelihood, settlers complain of resulting environmental, health damage.
The High Court of Justice held another hearing Monday in which settlers say
Palestinians around Wadi Ara are harming them with the fumes created through
coal production, while the Palestinians say that the settlers are just trying to
force them off their land.
The Palestinians in the area, located in Area
C of the West Bank (under full Israeli control under the Oslo Accords), burn
large woodpiles in order to produce coal. According to human rights lawyer
Michael Sfard, the community has been working in this type of coal production
for the last 150 years, and rely on it for their livelihood. Nearby settler
communities, on the other hand, claim that the wood-burning processes damage not
only the environment but also the health of those living in the area. The issue
has been the subject of a series of court hearings.
About 18 months ago,
the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, which has jurisdiction over the
West Bank and is part of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government
Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit, issued orders to destroy any
residential and other structures in the area, including those used in the
At the time Sfard told The Jerusalem Post that
COGAT made no attempt to justify the demolition orders based on environmental
concerns or to explain the basis for the order at all.
filed a petition, represented by Sfard and other attorneys, to block the
Sfard said the court criticized the demolition orders
from the start, to the point that the civil administration almost immediately
abandoned its initial demolition plans.
However, Regavim, an organization
which monitors Palestinian construction and other issues in the West Bank,
claimed that approximately four months ago the court did issue an order calling
for the cessation of the coal-producing operations and the confiscation of the
wood, on the basis of complaints that the operations were causing environmental
damage and even physical harm to settlers nearby.
According to Sfard,
this was a conditional order that, at most, applied to the state, and was not an
order requiring immediate or final action. He noted that the environmental
argument was questionable, as the same wood-burning operations are continuing,
regardless of this case, in Area B (Israeli security, Palestinian Authority
civil control) of the West Bank, which Israel has no power to curb.
lawyer noted that as a result, even if the Area C wood-burning operations were
halted, it would not solve any alleged environmental problem or eliminate
complaints of fumes impacting settlers in the area.
Sfard said this could
raise questions about the ultimate purpose of the legal actions against the
Palestinians in the area, in light of the fact that an end to the wood-burning
operations could end their livelihood and force them to
Nevertheless, to address the environmental problems, Sfard said
that the Palestinians in the area offered to meet with the environmental
authorities and to invest funds for altering the coalproducing process to be
Regavim, along with other organizations representing
the settlers at the hearing, complained that the Palestinians had violated the
court order by continuing their wood-burning operations.
representatives said the court’s conduct in not immediately ending the coal
production was highly problematic because the woodburning operations continued
to expose local children to the fumes. They also complained that the fumes had
ruined Simhat Torah celebrations, as they made outdoor dancing
Sfard responded that the state had generally refused
overtures to learn about resolving any of the environmental issues at
The state refused to meet with him, noted Sfard, until
approximately two months ago, when the court ordered the state to discuss the
While the state presented a partial list of
issues needing to be addressed, Sfard said that the state refused to commit to
any “endgame” where the Palestinians could continue their operations and remain
on their land if they fulfilled a concrete checklist of environmental
The state responded by saying that it had been difficult to
produce such a foolproof commitment.
According to the state, this
specific type of wood-burning operation is highly unusual for Israel and there
is no real system set up to review or enforce regulations regarding such
Thus, the state preferred to address issues on a case-by-case
basis as matters developed and the consequences of different environmental
impacts became clearer.
Sfard in turn claimed that the Palestinians could
not be expected to invest money in improving their operations without knowing
beforehand that they could eventually gain approval from the environmental
The court has yet to render a decision.