A new B’Tselem report released today, Made in Israel: Exploiting Palestinian Land for Treatment of Israeli Waste, reveals that a significant portion of Israel’s waste treatment system is located outside its sovereign borders, in the West Bank. Because Israel has set out less stringent environmental regulations for industrial zones in settlements and even offers financial incentives such as tax breaks and government subsidies, it is now more profitable to build and operate waste treatment facilities in the West Bank than inside Israel. The lax regulatory standards there increase potential environmental and health hazards for West Bank residents.
B’Tselem research has found that there are at least fifteen Israeli waste treatment facilities in the West Bank. Most of the waste they process is produced in Israel. Six of the facilities handle hazardous waste which requires special processes and regulatory supervision due to the dangers it poses. The report reveals that, whereas polluting plants located within Israel are subject to progressive air pollution control legislation, polluting plants in the industrial zones of settlements are subject to virtually no restrictions. They are not required to report on the amount of waste they process, the hazards their operation pose, or the measures they adopt to prevent – or at least reduce – these risks.
Israel is effectively having it both ways: seemingly increasing the amount of waste it treats, it actually does so by diverting the risks and pollutants onto Palestinian land and people. When asked, at a conference at Ariel University in June 2017, whether these legislative gaps are ever exploited to transfer waste from Israel to the West Bank, Mr. Shoni Goldberg, Director of the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s Jerusalem District, which covers most of the West Bank, replied: “Yes. There are certainly wastes, especially hazardous waste and expensive waste, that Israelis transfer to the West Bank to get rid of.”
Unlike other Israeli practices in the West Bank that make a distinction between Palestinian residents and Israeli settlers, environmental hazards make no such distinction. There is, however, one difference. The settlers are Israeli citizens who have access to, and influence over, decision-makers. Palestinian residents of the West Bank, on the other hand, live under military rule. They were never asked – to say nothing of having agreed – to take in hazardous waste. Prior informed consent is not even an option in their case. They have no influence over what types of plants operate in settlements’ industrial zones, or the legislation that determines what environmental rules apply there. They have no access to information about what goes on in these plants, whether any accidents have occurred, or what risks they pose to water sources, air quality and local residents’ health.
The international principles governing hazardous waste management are based on values of environmental justice, public consultation and transparency. An expression of basic human decency, they strive to codify the simple notion that military, political or economic power disparities should not be abused by the powerful in order to dump their pollution and waste in their disempowered neighbors’ backyards. When contrasted with these values, the reality Israel imposes on the West Bank in terms of waste management is unimaginably callous. Israel, taking into account its own needs alone, treats its waste in the West Bank and completely ignores its legal and moral obligations toward the Palestinian population there. Israel has turned the West Bank into a sacrifice zone, exploiting and harming the environment at the expense of the Palestinian residents, who are completely excluded from the decision-making process.