A dirty business?

According to human rights NGO B'Tselem, 16 illegal dumping sites have yet to be cleaned up, despite the city's promises.

garbage 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
garbage 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Three years ago, privately owned garbage trucks from west Jerusalem began dumping their loads in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Dahiyat a-Salam to avoid paying for designated dumping sites near Abu Dis. Today Dahiyat a-Salam is home to a giant, illegal garbage dump, hundreds of meters wide, where one can find anything from construction materials to medical lab supplies and dead animals. Local air quality has been affected as dust and fumes are swept upward into the residential area that borders the site, with apartment buildings and houses dotting its perimeter. At times children can be seen playing in the refuse. In total, there are 16 sites in east Jerusalem that have been used for illegal dumping - Dahiyat a-Salam is the biggest. While area residents have managed to stop the dumping there, the city has yet to begin a promised clean-up. Human rights organizations say the problem is illustrative of an overall neglect of east Jerusalem by the municipality, noting that Dahiyat a-Salam is not even on the list of illegal dumping sites slated to be cleaned up. Furthermore, human rights groups and residents say, the municipality has said debris from the dump will be used to help level land to facilitate construction of the West Bank security fence in the area. However, on a visit to the site, workers constructing the fence said they had heard of no such plans. Instead, they said that their impression was that the vast majority of the dump site was to fall on the Palestinian side of the security fence and was not to be used in its construction. The Jerusalem Municipality has stated that it will still oversee services on the Palestinian side of the security fence in east Jerusalem. Therefore, the dump site at Dahiyat a-Salam will still fall under its jurisdiction even after the fence is constructed. When human rights organization B'Tselem initially approached the municipality about the illegal dumping at Dahiyat a-Salam, the municipality said that the area was too dangerous to send city employees to stop the trucks. Yet on the same visit to the site, human rights organization B'Tselem pointed out to In Jerusalem that the city had sent its workers right next to the site to demolish homes it said lacked proper permits. In March the municipal Environmental Department was invited by B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to visit the site. According to B'Tselem, after the visit the officials said that while it was still too dangerous for municipal employees to stop the trucks from dumping, if residents were to do so themselves, the city would clean the area. "They started talking about cleaning it all up, putting in trees and making it a garden and park for the children in the neighborhood. Some locals laughed; some believed them," says Kareem Jubran, a B'Tselem field researcher who was at the site with the officials in March. After the visit, residents formed watch groups to confront the dump trucks, and in time succeeded in stopping them. But in May, two months after the municipality promised to clean the area and with the dump trucks finally stopped, word came that there would be no clean-up of the site. According to Jubran, the sites the city has promised to clean are all smaller sites, long since abandoned by the illegal dumpers, and all within proximity to areas he believes the municipality deems important or visible. In Hizma, on the outskirts of Pisgat Ze'ev, for example, the municipality has promised to remove garbage from a small stretch of land, formerly a construction site, with Jewish homes overlooking it. Garbage is also slated to be cleared away from a small site in Beit Hanina where the refuse is more noticeable than at the illegal dumping site in Hizma. The site at Beit Hanina is being cleared, says Jubran, because it is in the way of a new road being constructed that will connect Pisgat Ze'ev with Road 443 to connect it to Tel Aviv, and Road 45 to connect it to west Jerusalem. In response to In Jerusalem's queries about how and why the illegal dumping sites were allowed to be used for so many years, how it was determined which sites would be cleaned, and why none of the promised clean-ups had begun, the municipality responded by sending out a previously published press release about a program to spend NIS 21 million on cleaning up construction debris in the city. "Areas affected by construction debris will be cleaned up and rejuvenated, enforcement [measures] against those who litter unauthorized sites will be increased and supervision of garbage trucks will be stepped up. The project will include activities in Hebrew and Arabic in educational institutions and community centers on the seam line, and a Hebrew and Arabic campaign with the aim of exposing the population to the plan and its goals, to increase public involvement in the project," reads the press release. " "To clean anything at this point would be a good step," says Jubran, referring to the municipality's inaction. "I hope it [cleaning Dahiyat a-Salam] will be the first step."