Environmental Terror: West Bank Charcoal Plants Endanger Israelis and Palestinians

Despite professional recommendations to stop air pollution from wood burning charcoal production in northern West Bank, the government has failed to act.

Coal production plant in West Bank's Shomron region. 2010
Moti Milrod

The government has failed to implement decisions to prevent air pollution from charcoal production plants in the northern West Bank, resulting in serious health problems for people in north-central Israel, according to the Menashe Regional Council.

The Menashe Regional Council is located across the Green Line from the area in the Palestinian Authority where most of the production is situated.

The wood that is burned for the charcoal at dozens of production sites in the northern West Bank comes from pruned trees brought to them from orchards within the pre-1967 borders. Last year fewer trees reached the production sites from Israel because it was a shmita year, during which many Orthodox Jews do not cut down or plant trees. As a result, the health problems decreased, the council says.

But over the past few months charcoal production had gone up again. Last week air pollution was particularly serious and area residents contacted the environmental protection minister and the agriculture minister directly to demand that the government act to stop the production.

The Menashe Regional Council petitioned the High Court of Justice two years ago demanding that it instruct the state to act to stop the charcoal production. The government then established an inter-ministerial committee, which published several recommendations a few months ago. One of these was that a central location be determined where pruned trees would be brought for recycling or energy production.

But according to Menashe Regional Council chairman Ilan Sadeh, the state has not implemented the recommendations, which also include appointing inspectors to make sure that tree cuttings are not sent to the West Bank. Another recommendation, to prohibit not only the transport of pruned trees across the Green Line, but also to prohibit farmers from giving them to anyone not authorized to deal with them, was also not implemented, according to Sadeh.

The inter-ministerial committee also recommended promoting other possible solutions to the problem of charcoal production plants, including using advanced furnaces, which are less polluting.

According to Sadeh, the pruned trees could be put to other uses. The Israel Electric Corporation is looking at the idea of using them for fuel, Sadeh says.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has now called an urgent meeting for next week, together with representatives of the health and agriculture ministries. The meeting is to be held at Mitzpeh Ilan, which is near the area where the charcoal plants are located. Representatives of communities of the Menashe Regional Council will also be present, along with members of the Civil Administration.

The Environmental Protection Ministry called the charcoal production plants “environmental terror.”

The Finance Ministry said the inter-ministerial committee had recommended regulatory changes to reduce the entry of the pruned trees to the West Bank charcoal plants. “Means of action are now being formulated to implement supervision regarding these changes and are being examined by the various ministries,” the ministry said.