How One of Israel's Most Beautiful Wadis Became a Garbage Dump

Just west of Isfiya lies what used to be one of the most splendid wadis on Mount Carmel. Wadi Heik would have remained lovely had it not been turned into a garbage heap. The Carmel municipality and the Ministry for Environmental Protection are trading accusations, but seem to be having little success in restoring the wadi's past beauty.

Hikers passing the natural spring at Wadi Heik can observe dead farm animals sprawled over debris from construction sites and garbage bags from neighboring towns. It is not uncommon to see pickup trucks leaving the main road with loads of garbage and waste meant for the wadi - which is part of the Israel Trail, a scenic route for hikers running the country's full length.

One of the most polluted parts of Wadi Heik is Rom Carmel - the highest point of the mountain chain, towering to some 520 meters. The spot still attracts many hikers, but the Jewish National Fund's chief forester, Jacob Arek, says that the primary polluters are local building contractors and business owners, not vacationers.

Sources in the JNF and the Environment Ministry say that the pollution stems in part from the unreliable garbage removal services in Isfiya and nearby Daliat al-Carmel, which recently merged to form the Carmel municipality.

Another reason for the pollution is the lack of a nearby dump. The municipality is currently drafting plans to set up a regional dump from which garbage would be transported to an authorized disposal facility. But so far, no such dump has been created.

"I believe the polluters aren't too thrilled about what they're doing," said Arek. "They're doing it because they have little choice. The municipality isn't providing them with proper means to dispose of waste."

But the Carmel municipality rejected this claim. "The city has been employing a contractor for the past two years, and that firm disposes of all the garbage within the municipality's borders," the city told Haaretz.

Moreover, the municipal spokesperson said, the city spent NIS 30,000 in February to clean up the wadi.

Mayor Shakr Abu Hamud lays the blame on the Green Police - the Environment Ministry's enforcement agency. According to Abu Hamud, the municipality had arranged for the Green Police to supplement enforcement in Wadi Heik, including by employing undercover inspectors to catch the polluters red-handed. "The Green Police is not doing enough. It is not doing its part, despite prior agreements," he said.

But Environment Ministry officials told Haaretz that the Green Police recently arrested several polluters and stopped vehicles with garbage intended for the wadi.

"The municipality is undergoing a fiscal reform that does not allow it to allocate additional resources, such as guards, inspectors and waste disposal contractors, to solve the problem," Abu Hamud added. "Unless we receive help from the relevant agencies, things will continue to deteriorate."

The ever-growing heaps of waste in Wadi Heik have caused many hikers to visit elsewhere. The JNF says that over the past two years, the number of visitors to the once-spectacular wadi has dropped drastically.

But all that could prove to be the least of the wadi's concerns. "There's another problem with the illegal dump, and that's the possibility of fires," Arek said. "Heaps of organic waste tend to produce internal combustion, and when it bursts to the surface, it could spread to the wadi and through it."

Indeed, the area has seen some large fires in recent years - some natural, and others started by disgruntled individuals who opposed the annexation of forest land to the nearby nature reserve.