Hikers staying at a Jewish National Fund campground in the Jerusalem Hills during Sukkot were forced to leave after discovering the ground was filled with broken pieces of asbestos. The JNF had prepared the campground and declared it fit for use.
The asbestos shards are remnants from an old military base on the site, at Mount Eitan west of Jerusalem. The JNF claims that most of the area is free of asbestos and that the area where the pieces were found has now been closed off.
Breathing asbestos can cause severe pulmonary damage and is also considered to be very carcinogenic. Asbestos was used for a long time in Israel for construction. The danger is that the small particles of asbestos can penetrate the lungs and cause severe damage.
The particles are released when the asbestos sheets are broken and are usually found in places where asbestos structures have been demolished, though in some places such materials were used for paving roads and other construction projects.
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The Environmental Protection Ministry has a unit for disposing of asbestos, and an inspector from the ministry visited the campground after the asbestos was found and instructed JNF employees to close the area and put up signs until the environmental hazard can be disposed of.
“Every Sukkot we set up a camp in [nature] for all the days of the holiday,” wrote archeologist Zachi Dvira on Facebook on Thursday. “Usually it is in nature in improvised places. This time we wanted something simpler and so we went with a JNF-organized campground in Mount Eitan, which has a water spigot too. We arrived a bit late on the eve of the holiday so we set everything up under pressure and did not notice the small details on the ground. During the holiday we suddenly noticed that there were thousands of broken pieces of asbestos there that we were sitting on, sleeping on and breathing its particulate which had broken down in the dust on the ground,” wrote Dvira.
“The girls were playing in the sand, putting pacifiers and food covered with dust into their mouths and we were incapable of explaining to them not to get dirty in this ground,” he wrote. After the holiday ended, they clarified the matter and realized how dangerous it was – even for such a short exposure to the asbestos. “In bitter disappointment, despair and exhaustion, we packed up all the equipment at night while the girls were sleeping and my wife is pregnant.” Over the next few days, Dvira and his family carefully cleaned all the equipment, clothes and vehicle that they brought to the campground.
The campground at Mount Eitan was constructed by JNF a few years ago on the land that once served as a base for the legendary 101 commando unit, which was founded in 1953 and commanded by Ariel Sharon, before it was merged into the Paratroopers Brigade in 1954.
The JNF said in response that the site at Mount Eitan had previously contained military structures made from asbestos. “Before the campground was opened to the public, the remnants of the asbestos were removed by an authorized contractor and approval was received from the Environmental Protection Ministry. After Zachi Dvira’s request, it was found that the great majority of the area of the campground was clean of asbestos. The area in which remnants of asbestos were found was closed and will reopen after removal and the renewed approval of the Environmental Protection Ministry.”