An official from the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, who traveled recently to the Palestinian villages Rantis and Shuqba, near Ramallah, saw a familiar face. It belonged to a Palestinian who had operated an unauthorized garbage dump but promised to stop using it some time ago. He had apparently gone back to work, bringing in refuse from Israeli territory. While administration officials were impounding vehicles at that site, a vehicle passed by on a parallel road, bringing scrap metal to yet another unauthorized dump.
Three years ago, the IDF Central Command issued an order banning the unauthorized transport of garbage into Judea and Samaria, and to that end its officials began monitoring crossing points between the territories and Israel proper. However, at present, operators of waste-disposal facilities in Israel complain that while they themselves run orderly, authorized dumps at high cost, large quantities of refuse from construction sites, in particular, are still being smuggled frequently and illegally across the Green Line and discarded in the territories on an ongoing basis.
"Recently, the volume of garbage reaching us has dropped by 50 percent, because of the smuggling," declares Yigdal Ach, who runs the legitimate Bareket waste-disposal and recycling facility, near Shoham.
Officials at the Civil Administration claim the "export" of waste to the West Bank has declined from previous levels, but acknowledge that the problem is still serious and also causes serious environmental damage; indeed seepage from such sites pollutes water sources, mainly those used by Palestinians.
An example of the illegal dumping and of the administration's inadequate monitoring operations can be seen a short distance away from the Qalandiyah checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. Officials from the administration's supervision unit sit in a small room and watch filmed images of garbage trucks as they pass through, and pursue those who break the law. Not long ago, three trucks filled with scrap metal and other refuse were caught by those officials as they emptied waste at a new unauthorized site. The drivers were fined, and their trucks brought to a compound run by the Civil Administration in Beit El, where they joined a fleet of similarly impounded vehicles.
"There are two main focal points for the import of waste and scrap metal: in the region surrounding Jerusalem, and in villages such as Rantis and Shuqba, outside Modi'in," says Marko Ben-Shabbat, head of the Civil Administration's supervision unit. "These areas are close to some large cities, where the most intensive construction activity takes place. For truck drivers, it is profitable to use the unauthorized sites, where dumping fees range from NIS 30 to NIS 40 per truck, as compared to NIS 300 at an authorized waste site within Israel proper."
During one recent incident, administration officials stopped a truck that was trying to smuggle into the West Bank an old tank turret that had been used in IDF training exercises, with the goal of extracting and selling the metal. There have also been instances of truck drivers trying to run the vehicles of the monitors who try to block their path off the road. Another driver whose truck was impounded tried to bribe the official who stopped him. Another time, two vehicles used to smuggle garbage into the village of Idna were impounded; local residents went to the army site where the vehicles were parked - and stole them.
Garbage smugglers apparently take advantage of the fact that at many checkpoints, soldiers do not stop vehicles traveling into the West Bank from Israel. They also step up their activity on Saturdays, when members of the Civil Administration supervision department do not work.
"We don't have the authority to make arrests," explains Ben-Shabbat. "Furthermore, we have many other tasks to do, including monitoring illegal construction [in the West Bank]. The most we can do is impound trucks that are stopped; the fines and loss of money the driver suffers over time when his vehicle is seized is a deterrent: The sums sometimes reach tens of thousands of shekels."
Salah Abed al-Fatah lives in a village in the northwestern part of the West Bank. The lot next door to his small house had become an unauthorized dump site, but Civil Administration officials blocked access to it recently. "Now I watch trucks that come from Israel going to other areas," Abed al-Fatah says. "They burn the garbage there, in order to extract metal." When Civil Administration officials left Shuqba, at the end of one recent monitoring operation, piles of waste were still discernible on the sides of hills in the area.
"There are sites here that continue to operate, and that's definitely a failure on our part," Ben-Shabbat admits. "But I believe that our continuing pressure has stopped this phenomenon from expanding. What's clear is that if our activities were not taking place, the situation would be much worse."
A key way to limit illicit dumping of garbage is to address the first link in the chain: the initial removal of waste materials from construction sites. Responsibility for this usually lies with the contractor, who is required by law to take all refuse to an authorized site, but apparently the temptation to save money by dumping it at an illegal site is strong - while supervision and enforcement of the regulations by the authorities are limited.
Currently the Environmental Protection Ministry is sponsoring a bill that would impose responsibility for construction waste removal on local municipalities. The latter will levy a fee on the parties that produce the waste within their jurisdiction, and use the money to remove it themselves. It is hoped that the direct involvement of local municipalities will guarantee that the waste is brought to official dumping sites.
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