Illegal and unregulated production of charcoal, in some cases on government
land, is causing severe health consequences for our children. It is illegal due
to the fact that the businesses are not registered and take place on land zoned
for agriculture. Most disturbing is that the government and the Supreme Court
don’t seem to care.
Most of us, when grilling the meat on our BBQs, have
no idea what it takes to make the charcoal fuel used to achieve that perfect
steak. We would be surprised to find out that our insatiable appetite to BBQ is
feeding an NIS 50 million a year underground charcoal industry that is totally
illegal, unregulated and terribly damaging to the environment.
massive amounts of air pollution released into the environment during the
production of the charcoal has ruined the lives of many families whose only wish
was to live in the pastoral northern Sharon region.
We do know that air
quality is a high priority of the Environmental Protection Ministry. One only
has to recall the hullabaloo caused by the smell of chlorine in the Dan region
recently. Months ago, the smell of chlorine in the streets of Tel Aviv drew
dozens of vehicles specially equipped to test the air quality out on to the
The sight of the white-suited scientists doing their tests was
proof of the seriousness with which the issue is dealt.
But this level of
care is not being applied equally.
FOR THE past five years the residents
of the northern Sharon region have complained of the smell of acrid smoke and
soot. They complain that their children have higher incidents of breathing
disorders and that any belongings left outside their homes are covered by
At 5 p.m. each day they have to bring their belongings in from
outside and lock themselves in their homes so as to escape the smoke.
ministry undertook special checks in the region. It found that the air breathed
by the residents of the kibbutzim and moshavim of the northern Sharon region as
well as Pardess Hanna, and even the eastern neighborhoods of Hadera, contains
very high concentrations of dangerous poisons – the source of which are illegal
Not only are these kilns, located on agricultural land,
pumping enormous volumes of poison into nearby towns and villages, some of the
kilns are built on state land. The damage done by the noxious fumes is not
limited to one geographical area. Unlike borders, fences or barriers when it
comes to pollution whatever direction the wind is blowing that day so too blows
the damaging smoke.
THE METHOD of creating the charcoal is cheap and
archaic; keeping giant piles of tree cuttings smoldering over the course of some
weeks. Due to the cheaper production costs of doing it "the old way" any
business using modern methods, that reduces dramatically the pollution, is
forced out of business. During the whole process poisonous gases and particles
including methane and tar are released into the air. The wind then spreads this
indiscriminately for kilometers around.
Two years ago, due to complaints
by Regavim on behalf of the residents of Kibbutz Metzar and Mitzpe Ilan, the
Environmental Protection Ministry initiated a joint operation with the civil
administration to eliminate the phenomenon.
Stop work and closure orders
were issued against dozens of charcoal kilns.
However, the kiln owners
rushed to file multiple petitions with the Supreme Court in which they claimed
that closure of the charcoal kilns would badly harm their livelihoods. Anyone
brought up on good mafia movies can immediately imagine Al Capone suing the city
of Chicago for closing his moonshine operation because it deprived him of his
FOLLOWING THE petitions of the kiln owners, the Supreme Court
issued prevention orders against the closure of the kilns and since then they
have been operating at full capacity. Meanwhile the air pollution continues, and
with it the harm to the quality of life and health of the area’s
Last week, in a follow-up suit by Regavim on behalf of the
residents of the various kibbutzim and moshavim in the northern Sharon region,
in conjunction with the towns of Hadera and Pardess Hanna, the Supreme Court was
asked to rule on the closure of the charcoal kilns.
It sounds like it
should be a clear-cut case of the residents’ health and welfare versus the
livelihood of the owners of an illegal industry operating on agricultural and
state-owned lands, and thus an easy decision for the Supreme Court in favor of
the residents. But that is not the case.
The kilns are located in
northern Samaria (the West Bank) and their owners are local Arab residents. As
such, in our post-Zionist world, their livelihood, apparently, is of more
importance than the health of thousands of residents affected by the air
pollution, not to mention the detrimental affect of noxious fumes on the
charcoal kiln workers themselves and the residents of northern
Leading the defense for the owners of the illegal kilns was none
other than Michael Sfard, the attorney of choice for so-called human rights
organizations such as B’tselem, Peace Now and Yesh Din.
head of research at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based organization that reviews the
work of human rights organizations, commented: “Michael Sfard is at the center
of the NGO industry that exploits the rhetoric of human rights in the context of
the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that the
government needs to explain to the charcoal makers why they would want them
closed and at the same time explain to Regavim their intentions. What makes it
worse is the fact that the enforcement of environmental laws is not just lax or
non-existent due to the fact that it is occurring in the West Bank. Our
organization has also exposed serious environmental damage to the land in the
Negev due to illegal gas stations in Beduin towns and damage to the Mount Meron
Nature Reserve in the Gallil due to illegal building in the nature reserve
We can all imagine that had the polluters been Jews, the full
force of the law would have been used to close down such nefarious and illegal
But when it comes to the enforcement of
environmental laws against Arabs, it seems equal enforcement of the law is not
to be assumed.
The writer works for Regavim, an independent professional
research institute and policy-planning think tank.