Pines-Paz: Evacuate Ramat Hovav Region

The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee will prepare a law that would mandate the evacuation of a five-kilometer radius around the Ramat Hovav industrial zone, committee chairman Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said yesterday.

The bill would mean the uprooting of seven unrecognized Bedouin communities from the area most exposed to hazardous materials.

During a visit to Ramat Hovav and other sites with environmental problems in the south, experts told the committee that a huge Israel Defense Forces complex is to be built on the edge of a low-risk area, while the Bedoiun communities are in the high-risk zone.

The chairman of the Ramat Hovav Industrial Council, Giora Meyuhas, said NIS 1.5 billion has been invested in recent years to improve safety in Ramat Hovav industries and their safety level is now among the highest in the world. He said Ramat Hovav was not a threat to the planned training camp complex.

The Knesset committee also criticized the fact that the Ramat Hovav Industrial Council had no Bedouin representation. If the council did not invite a representative of the Bedouin Abu Basma Regional Council to join it, this would be mandated by law.

The chief physician of the Health Ministry's Southern District, Ilana Belmaker, told the committee that completion of a comprehensive report on air pollution by the Ramat Hovav Industrial Council has been delayed by budgetary problems, even though it is required by the cabinet decision that mandated the construction of the military mega-camp.

"The public believes everything is fine," MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said of the planned army camp, "but it turns out there's no budget for research."

Be'er Sheva Mayor Yaakov Terner described as "panic" the public storm over the Makhteshim Agan explosion earlier this month, and said half of Be'er Sheva was just as close to Ramat Hovav as the planned army mega-camp.

Pines-Paz said the army mega-camp had to be built for strategic reasons and that Ramat Hovav "must not be allowed to torpedo it."

He also demanded an investigation committee begin work immediately on the Makhteshim Agan blast, and present its results to the cabinet. So far, committee members said, only an internal investigation has taken place.