UN gives Gaza pullout 'green' praise

Report rejects PA claims of Israeli harm to Gaza environment.

UN building 88 (photo credit: )
UN building 88
(photo credit: )
A United Nations agency has now made it official: The Jews are not poisoning gentile wells - at least not in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) issued a report Thursday that gave "the Gaza pullout an environmental clean bill of health." "Any further Israeli pullouts from the West Bank now have an important ecological benchmark by which they can be judged," UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer said in a statement accompanying the release of the report. "The general clean bill of health on this aspect of Gaza's environment is welcome news for everyone concerned with the environment, long-term stability and economic progress of the region." The study, "Environmental Assessment of the Areas Disengaged by Israel in the Gaza Strip," was conducted at the request of the Palestinian Authority, with Israel's cooperation. It looked at water quality, soil/land contamination, hazardous waste, asbestos and coastal zone issues. In July, just before disengagement, Yousef Abu Safiyya, head of the PA's Environment Quality Authority, accused Israel of committing "atrocities against the environment" in the territories, including the Gaza Strip. He charged that Israel buried 50,000 tons of waste in Gush Katif. At a press conference in Gaza, he said Israel had three sewage collection pools inside Gush Katif, and that one of these pools had spilled 15,000 cubic meters of waste onto arable land in an area known as the Mawasi, "polluting three main water wells, four greenhouses and spoiling the crops of dozens of dunams of arable lands, which drowned in concentrated sewage water." He also said that the "Mawasi area contains one of the largest aquifer water reservoirs in Palestine, and it is near the surface, so this disaster might contaminate a large part of this reservoir." The UNEP report, however, disputed these allegations. "Other than some localized pollution and issues associated with asbestos, the assessment did not find contamination of water, land or buildings that pose a significant risk to the environment or public health," it said. According to the report, "As long as recommendations concerned with the necessary clean-up are implemented, there are no environmental constraints to Palestinian settlement in the area." After disengagement, 1.2 million tons of rubble from the destroyed homes and community buildings were left behind, the report said. Removal and disposal of the rubble, some of which was laced with asbestos, must be done carefully to ensure that workers are not exposed to unnecessary harm, it concluded. J3ust prior to disengagement, Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn brokered a deal whereby Israel would demolish the settlements, and move the asbestos and hazardous material inside Israel. The Palestinians were to dispose of the rest of the rubble, recycling what they could for their own construction purposes, at a cost to Israel of some $30 million. The removal of the rubble has not yet been completed.