Students protest planned Ramat Hovav training base

Protest outside Defense Ministry calls planned site a "death sentence" for soldiers.

ramat hovav protest 224  (photo credit: Eva Cohen)
ramat hovav protest 224
(photo credit: Eva Cohen)
After the Defense Ministry's plans to build a training compound near the Ramat Hovav industrial site in the Negev were postponed, but not cancelled, Wednesday, volunteers from Green Course - a nationwide student environmental organization - gathered in front of the ministry Thursday to protest the proposed Ramat Hovav construction. The plans to build a base near the industrial zone have raised concern over a potential threat to soldiers' health if they were to be exposed to the extreme levels of pollution around the site. During the demonstration, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was meeting with mayors and representatives from Israel's South, including Ramat Hanegev Regional Council head Shmuel Riffman. About thirty activists had equipped themselves with an array of banners and signs bearing slogans like, "Wake up, Ehud - soldiers are not dispensable." Some protesters dressed up as Knesset members, and there were life-size cutouts of officials holding signs with similar slogans. The most vivid of the posters depicted bald soldiers standing in line, invoking images of cancer patients. The Green Course students shouted, "This is a death sentence, for my son, for my brother." Both young IDF recruits and career soldiers flocked by the protesters. While none joined in, many could be seen subtly clenching their fists in a sign of solidarity as they walked by. Nobody who participated in the meeting with Barak came out to address the media, but Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin arrived halfway through. Beilin heads the Knesset committee responsible for following up on government decisions made regarding the planned Ramat Hovav military compound. The chants stopped for a few minutes as Beilin stood and addressed the crowd. "There are so many other places they could build, why does it have to be here?" Beilin stressed. "There is so much pollution. Ramat Hovav is a terrible place to build this [base.] We need to push for the government to build it be somewhere else." Originally, the government had several options for the location of the base. Due to what some claim was pressure exerted by influential local figures, a decision was made to establish the base near Ramat Hovav. Members of Green Course say this decision was completely irresponsible. "There are no binding agreements on improving the environmental effects of Ramat Hovav on the surrounding area," said Green Course director Gil Yaakov. "As long as Ramat Hovav is the most polluted part of country, bringing such a large population into it would be a problem... Government health reports show that the population already there suffers from various diseases and cancer at an accelerated rate from the rest of the country." Health Ministry data show a 26 percent rise in the incidence of cancer among Negev residents. In addition, the Beduin population in the area near Ramat Hovav has been experiencing increased rates of still births and birth defects. Judge Sarah Dovrat, who decided to postpone the construction, has called for the court to reconvene on Monday. The goal of Green Course and other environmental organizations, is to cancel the construction completely and have the location moved to another Negev location. "This is a significant achievement of the green movement," says Nadav Gordon, head of Green Course at Haifa University, who traveled to Tel Aviv with several students for the protest. "We will continue to pressure the government to be responsible for all of its civilians and soldiers."