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Environment Ministry establishes unit to curb garbage smuggling to West Bank
By SHARON UDASIN
02/12/2013
New unit will sit near border crossing areas to prevent massive waste transfers often bound for pirate landfills.
 
Aiming to curb a lucratively malodorous phenomenon of trash smuggling from Israel into the West Bank, a new Environmental Protection Ministry unit is on guard to enforce such illegal activity – for the first time in 46 years.

Beginning this week, the Environment Ministry unit has been situated along border-crossing areas in order to prevent the massive waste transfers, from which debris often ends up in pirate West Bank landfills. The trash filling these pirate landfills pollutes both the soil and the water in the area, with a complete disregard for the surrounding environment and residents of the region, the Environment Ministry stressed.

In addition to the pollution that seeps into the ground and water from pirate piles of trash, the region faces a severe problem of air pollution as a result of smuggling. Israeli farmers often sell wood chips to middlemen interested in transporting them over the border, after which the recipients burn the wood chips into charcoal.

As a result, clouds of contaminated soot rise from the burning waste and harm the lives of residents in nearby urban areas – in Palestinian villages and even across the Green Line in Pardess Hanna, Binyamina and Zichron Ya’acov, according to the ministry. However, because the trash burning occurs in Area B, Israel has no authority to stop the process, it explained.

“This week we begin a struggle without compromise against the insufferable ease with which the territories beyond the Green Line have become a city of refuge for environmental offenders,” said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.

“These offenders pollute indiscriminately and only due to greed, while all of the pollutants return like a boomerang to the State of Israel through water sources, predominantly by way of streams, and through air pollution, predominantly by way of soot.”

In the first stage of its activity, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s new unit has appointed 10 inspectors who received training by both the ministry and by the Civil Administration, the ministry explained. Another three inspectors will join the unit in the next stage.

The inspectors are authorized to prevent the entrance of waste that has not received prior approval from the required government bodies, the ministry said. For example, the unit members will now be able to stop, delay and confiscate any illegal waste on its way to Judea and Samaria, as well as initiate legal proceedings against the offenders. Their responsibilities apply to all types of waste, including construction debris, agricultural waste, wood and hazardous materials, the ministry explained.

All activity of the unit will occur in partnership with and under the supervision of the Civil Administration, the Environment Ministry said. Managing the unit will be environmental staff officer Beni Elbaz, the district manager for Judea and Samaria, Gaza and the border crossings.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the regional environmental organization Friends of the Earth Middle East, praised the Environment Ministry’s decision to launch the unit.

“This is an important step toward preventing the pollution that crosses borders, and we must welcome it, and the important emphasis of the Environmental Protection Ministry on the subject should receive the full attention of the public,” Bromberg said.

The Sharon-Carmel Association of Towns for Environmental Protection has been working since 2010 to combat the issue of charcoal soot entering the region’s airspace from across the Green Line. Following numerous requests and reports from the association, the Civil Administration removed 11 of the coal-burning sites in June 2011 following the receipt of a court demolition order, according to the association.

After a brief respite from the soot, however, residents began complaining of the phenomenon once again just a month later.

In October 2011, association officials met with the environmental protection minister, during which the parties discussed the idea of enforcing regulations on the sales of wood chips across the border, the association said.

During the following year, the Agriculture Ministry began the process of initiating regulations to prevent the transfer of timber from Israel to the West Bank and to impose fines on farmers who do so, the association added.

This program, however, was discontinued after the change of government, a spokesman for the association said.

At the beginning of 2013, the complaints of the charcoal burning decreased substantially, and by the beginning of the second half of the year, the complaints were nearly zero.

However, residents resumed smelling the soot again about two or three months ago, the spokesman confirmed.

Nir Sahar, the CEO of the Sharon- Carmel Association of Towns for Environmental Protection, praised the Environmental Protection Ministry’s contribution as an initial step toward solving the problem.

“This is the beginning of process of preventing the transfer of wood chips to the PA,” Sahar said. “I intend to initiate a meeting among the government ministries to resolve the issue of subsidizing the purchase of wood chips from farmers, in order to find a solution to the second part of the equation.”

In early November Ilan Sadeh, the head of the Menashe Regional Council, announced that his council would be submitting a petition to the High Court of Justice, stressing that the State of Israel allows severe air pollution from charcoal burning to compromise the health and daily lives of residents in the region.

For Sadeh, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s choice to establish the unit is not sufficient. Like Sahar, Sadeh stressed that it is crucial to implement a solution for purchasing wood chips from farmers, so that they are not tempted to smuggle their leftover timber into the PA.

“This solution is not enough because our residents are still suffering,” Sadeh said. “We will continue to fight against this hazard, until the subject will be resolved. Council and area residents are being exposed to an injurious health hazard. It is our intention to petition the High Court of Justice in the near future against the government ministries that are not regulating this issue.”
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