MKs to Initiate Bill to Evacuate Area Near Negev Industrial Zone

Panel seeks to clear out 5-km radius of Ramat Hovav zone, site of toxic chemical blast; area includes 7 Bedouin villages.

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee intends to initiate a bill that, if passed, would bring about the evacuation of territory within a five-kilometer radius of the Ramat Hovav industrial zone in the Negev.

Committee Chairman MK Ophir Pines-Paz announced during a tour of the zone for committee members on Wednesday that hazardous materials render the area unsafe.

Should the initiative become law, it would mean that seven unrecognized Bedouin villages would need to be demolished. According to Pines-Paz, such an evacuation could only take place with the consent of the Bedouin residents.

Members of the Interior and Environment Committee toured several sites in the south known for their environmental questionability. At Ramat Hovav, they were given an in-depth briefing on the toxic explosion that occurred at the Makhteshim Agan chemical plant, which is located in the industrial zone.

The committee members were shown a slide detailing the area around Ramat Hovav deemed hazardous. According to the slide, the training complex the Israel Defense Forces plans to construct near the Negev Junction is located on the edge of the lower-intensity danger zone. However, seven Bedouin villages are scattered throughout the prime danger zone.

The deputy director general of the Environmental Protection Ministry, Moshe Inbar, lamented the existence of a Bedouin school located within the danger zone. A ministry spokesperson said that it was a matter of "luck that the incident at Makhteshim took place during summer break."

Committee members also criticized government inaction in the wake of the explosion, and in particular the fact that a committee has not been established to investigate the incident, and only the factory itself has conducted such a probe.

The head of the Ramat Hovav industrial council, Giora Meyuhas, said that in the last several years, some NIS 1.5 billion has been invested in improving the safety of the zone's factories, which is currently amongst the "best in the world." He says that homes and villages can be built alongside Ramat Hovav fence, and said the IDF should not hesitate to build a base there.

The committee members also criticized the fact that the Ramat Hovav council is represented by three Jewish local council and no Bedouin ones. They demanded the council bring in a representative from the Abu Basma regional council, saying that if they were left with no choice, they would impose such representation through the law.

Later on, the committee members held a discussion on establishing the training grounds on Yeruham local council land. Dr. Ilana Balmeker told the participants that research on air pollution caused by Ramat Hovav has been held up due to budgetary issues, despite the fact that the government called for the research in the framework of its decision to build the IDF base.