To Palestinians, a stench of peace

The unannounced creation of an Israeli dump in the West Bank is seen as an insult to villagers and a danger to the environment.

April 28, 2005|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DEIR SHARAF, West Bank - The prospect of living next door to a mountain of trash would fill any community with dread, and this Palestinian village of 3,000 people is no different.

Deir Sharaf is about a mile downwind from the site of a dump earmarked to receive more than 10,000 tons of smelly and potentially hazardous garbage a month - but that's not what troubles villagers the most.

The dump will hold garbage from Israel and Jewish settlements, and for the villagers here, it has become another bitter symbol of Israel's disregard for the Palestinian people, even in this period of relative peace.

"This dump is creating hatred," said Najib Seha, head of Deir Sharaf's village council, surveying the site on a recent afternoon.

The dump will be as destructive as the separation barrier - the series of fences and walls that Israel is constructing to divide the West Bank from Israel - and will drive a new wedge between the Israelis and Palestinians, he says.

"The Israelis all the time are teaching us that they want war," Seha said.

What insults Palestinians is not only that the dump is being built on land they claim as their own but that the work is being done without any consultation. Villagers happened to learn about the dump this month when the government's plans were leaked to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Israeli officials assert that they did not consult the Palestinians because the Israeli government, not Palestinians, owns the land. Even so, the dump will benefit Palestinians, who will be allowed to dump waste there, too, officials say.

"The Palestinians are in need of a dumpsite. They are dumping their garbage in the street, in the roads and in the forests," said Adam Avidan, spokesman for the Civil Administration, the military government that oversees the West Bank.

`High standards'

Palestinians' fears of environmental damage are also unwarranted, Avidan says. The dump will be lined with nylon sheeting to protect ground water and built to "very high standards."

Such assurances give little comfort to Palestinian officials, including chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who condemned the Israeli plans as a violation of international law.

"We are not a dumping ground," Erekat said. "It says to me that at the end of the day, the Israelis want to continue with the occupation, they want to continue to exploit us, to destroy us and to destroy our environment."

While a truce that began in February has brought benefits for Palestinians, who are allowed to move about more freely, and for Israelis, who have become less worried about the threat of violence, the relationship between the two sides has been stretched thin.

Other opponents

There have been a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, shootings of Palestinians by Israeli troops and continued expansion of Israeli settlements. News of the planned dump has further complicated matters, and condemnation of the dump has not been limited to the Palestinians.

Israeli Vice President Shimon Peres, speaking on Israeli radio, said: "If it is true, ... I am certain that the military authorities will prevent this, and I will surely be one of those who oppose unequivocally."

Likewise, an editorial in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot concluded: "No author could have imagined a more juicy and more exhaustive example that describes the attitude of Israel, the occupier, to the residents of the occupied territory. Almost all our sins are squeezed into the story of the rubbish dump on the outskirts of Nablus."

Salit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, says that under international law, Israel should not be using Palestinian land for its own benefit, as it has in its construction of settlements and now this dumpsite.

"The fruits of the occupied area should only be used for the benefit of the local population," Michaeli said.

A former quarry

The land in question was once controlled by Iyad Abu Shusheh, a Palestinian who owns a stone quarry that is part of the dumpsite. But in 2002, during the height of the Palestinian uprising, Shusheh said, his quarry was shut down by Israeli soldiers who also seized his trucks and other equipment.

Israel's Civil Administration said Shusheh was in fact not the land owner but was renting the property from the state and lost control of it because of unpaid debts, a contention that Shusheh denies.

Soon after the seizure, trucks began tipping waste from nearby Israeli settlements into the quarry, Shusheh said. He has filed complaints with Israeli authorities, successfully stopping the dumping, which even Israeli authorities agree was illegal.

Shusheh said he will try to bring legal action to stop the dump from opening for business.

Trash already there

On a recent afternoon, however, it appeared that it will be difficult to reverse Israel's decision. Spread out in giant heaps in the bottom of the quarry were tons of plastic bags, old tires, broken glass, paper, clothing and food cartons sitting beside a pool of stagnant water.

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