In the area of workshops and factories west of Kafr Qasem, the traffic never ceases. Trucks come and go, unloading their contents or taking off to various destinations, laden with concrete. Adjacent to the trans-Israel Highway and close to Greater Tel Aviv, this is a particularly suitable site for activities related to the construction industry. Apparently, it is also the largest concentration of illegal construction waste dumps and unauthorized concrete-manufacturing plants. The area is crisscrossed with improvised roads, featuring a host of questionable structures, such as spacious houses that don’t belong in an industrial area.
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According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, there are no fewer than 10 sites that deal with construction waste in the Kafr Qasem area. This is probably an underestimation. According to documentation provided by the Forum for a Green Israel, such sites are closed and reopened repeatedly. Some of them have been firmly established with no hindrance to their continued operation.
Forum for a Green Israel activists have meticulously documented the illegal activity going on there and at other illegal sites. They have collected information about locations, vehicles using these sites and the routes they take. Often this route begins at an illegal excavation site beyond the Green Line that provides the raw materials for concrete-producing plants near Kafr Qasem. Subsequently, the finished material is sold and delivered to construction sites. From the other side of the Green Line piles of construction debris arrive at illegal treatment facilities, instead of at authorized ones. Some of this waste is discarded in open areas, becoming an esthetic eyesore and an environmental hazard. Some of it is sorted and reused as raw material for construction.
At one of these sites, near Moshav Hagor, there is an improvised facility for separating sand from construction debris. At least 15 large trucks arrive daily, bringing waste from sites in the Tel Aviv area. This waste piles up at the site. Some is set on fire and some is dispersed in open areas. Construction waste contains various toxic agents that can pollute both soil and groundwater. “Despite the fact that this facility operates openly, law enforcement authorities have not stopped its operation and halted the damage caused to local residents” say Forum for a Green Israel activists.
In anything relating to abiding by laws for protecting the environment, the area west of Kafr Qasem operates as an extraterritorial enclave. In all the sites operating there is not even a single feature for preventing environmental hazards. For example, according to the law regulating the licensing of businesses, a plant that manufactures concrete must also treat water and sewage waste, prevent dust emission and safely store concrete additives. In these facilities one can only see neglect, filth and accumulating sewage. Legitimate facilities are required to set up methods of hazard prevention, making it harder for them to compete with the illegal sites.
According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, more than 100 million shekels ($27 million) have been invested in correct management of waste sites adjacent to Arab communities, including in the Kafr Qasem area. The ministry is proposing legislation that would place the responsibility for removing construction waste on local authorities. This has been talked about for years, but never brought to fruition. Ministry officials say that enforcement measures against these facilities are underway. Concrete manufacturing facilities have been fined for hazards they create. They add that several of these sites have received permits from local authorities, but not from the ministry.
A visit to the area doesn’t show any changes in business practices at concrete manufacturing and waste treatment facilities following the enforcement measures. Trucks carrying construction waste constantly arrive and depart from compounds at these unauthorized facilities. At least two concrete manufacturing facilities were working at full capacity.
When the ministry does decide to act with more determination, things can lead to filing charges against those responsible for the illegal activity. Recently, it did so at the Rishon Letzion Magistrates Court, charging an operator of a waste product treatment facility in another part of Kafr Qasem. According to the indictment, this facility has operated for the last three years with no provisions made for preventing the percolation of pollutants into the soil, with no drainage facilities and no fire extinguishing equipment. Ministry personnel documented the burning of waste at the site, as well as hundreds of instances of dispersal of waste at the site. The ministry estimates that 32,000 tons of waste have accumulated on the 10-dunam (2.5-acre) site. Operating this facility in this manner saved its owners half a million shekels ($130,000). Not bad for a facility that never invested in expensive infrastructure – it was nonexistent at the site.