Dozens Protest Israeli Construction in Unique West Bank Ecosystem

Israel Police detained eight One Climate activists after direct action aimed at disrupting ongoing construction work in ecologically and politically sensitive area

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Activists chained to one another during a protest against Israeli construction plans on a unique West Bank ecosystem, November 22, 2020.
Activists chained to one another during a protest against Israeli construction plans on a unique West Bank ecosystem, November 22, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Some 50 climate activists chained themselves to one another and blocked the access road to the Nahal Raba quarry in the West Bank on Sunday morning, protesting against the advancement of large construction plans in an area home to a unique sustainable ecological system that sits on either side of the border between Israel and the West Bank.

The protest was dispersed after a few hours and eight activists were detained and brought in for questioning at the Rosh Ha’ayin police station.

The activists are members of the One Climate movement, a group that organizes actions on issues at the nexus between the climate crisis and the Israeli occupation. They are protesting against three construction plans for the area: Building an industrial park on about 2,700 dunams (675 acres), expansion of the quarry and the construction of a cemetery.

The area of the proposed industrial zone.

The construction plans cover almost 3,000 dunams east of Kafr Qasem and Rosh Ha’ayin, on both sides of Route 5, the road that links Israel's coastal areas with the West bank settlement of Ariel. The area is state-owned land in Area C of the West Bank, but to the west of Israel’s separation barrier. The quarry, located in the Sha’ar Shomron area, is owned by Hanson Israel, a cement company that is a subsidiary of the German conglomerate HeidelbergCement Group. According to the activists, the concrete industry is responsible for 8 percent of the greenhouse gases emissions in the world.

“This is a story of crazy environmental injustice,” said 30-year-old Ya’ara Peretz, from Tel Aviv, a member of One Climate. “There is also environmental damage because it is the destruction of an ecological corridor that has a large range of wild animals, while the quarry does not serve the Palestinians even though it is over the Green Line. This violates international law that says an occupying country cannot use non-renewable natural resources.”

Mor Gilboa, former executive director of the Green Course environmental movement, said: “For political and economic considerations and under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, Israel is advancing destructive plans on Palestinian land that was stolen in the 1980s. This is an especially sensitive ecological region, populated with diverse animal species and unique species of plants, a crucial part of the ecological corridor of the center of Israel.”

After the protest, Aviv Yashar, a left-wing activist from Bat Yam, received a phone call from the Central District’s intelligence officer, who questioned him about the protest. The police officer asked Yashar if he had participated in the protest, and after he said he had not, the officer asked if he would attend such a protest in the future. The policeman also asked Yashar if he had any information about “this group.” Yashar refused to answer any questions.

Israel Police detain a man during a protest against Israeli construction plans on a unique West Bank ecosystem, November 22, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

As previously reported by Haaretz, the plans are located near the Raba Stream – one of the four tributaries of the Yarkon river – in an area with contiguous open spaces of great ecological and scenic importance. The stream and the hills surrounding it serve as one of the few ecological corridors in Israel, spaces that enable the movement of wild animals outside of built—up areas, and that are currently shrinking.

The area is characterized by low shrubbery mixed with carob, buckthorn and jujube trees, and it also has a rich and impressive range of mammals, such as gazelles, hyenas, hares, jackals, wild boars, badgers and porcupines. An array of birds of prey nest in the area too, some of which are at risk of extinction, while others – such as the Bonelli’s eagle and lesser Kestrel – used the area as hunting grounds. The construction would sever the ecological corridor, leaving many of the animals struggling to find new habitats in an area that is already at risk of overcrowding.