israel’s Toxic Chemical Factories Giving Cancer
to West Bank Residents
to West Bank Residents
The settlements’ chemical factories poison Palestinian lands with toxic waste and expose residents to carcinogenic fumes. The factory workers are more vulnerable to cancer due to their employers’ failure to provide protective clothing. Special report from Sophie Crowe.
The Nitzanei Shalom, (buds of peace), industrial zone sits between the West Bank town of Tulkarem and the border with Israel. The land was expropriated by the Israeli army in the 80’s to be developed as a site for dangerous chemical factories, illegal in Israel. Geshuri Industries is one such factory, producing pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers. It was originally located in the Israeli town of Kfar Saba, until a court declared it a health hazard, forcing it to close down in 1982. The owner avoided Israel’s strict environmental laws by moving the factory to Nitzanei Shalom.
Dangerous factories such as these usually appear in the settlements, under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Civil Administration, where the PA has no mandate. Palestinian law is powerless to oppose the development of these sites.
Geshuri is surrounded by agricultural land, which has been ruined by the factory’s chemical waste. Trees have lost their leaves and much of the ground can no longer be used for agriculture. Some vegetables grow 100m from the factory in the poisoned ground, to be sold in markets in nearby towns.
Dr. Kifaya Abu-El Huda of Cairo University has carried out extensive research on the environmental effects of chemical factories in the West Bank. “The western basin of the Tulkarem and Salfid area is very important for the rest of Palestinian land. The ground water is very close to the surface making it sensitive to pollution”, says Kifaya. She believes all the water in the western basin’s wells is polluted. Air pollution causes respiratory diseases and eye infections in the area’s residents. “Geshuri came to Tulkarem, cancer levels have increased, caused by the toxic fumes”. A whole family living close to the factory now has asthma.
The Geshuri factory operates for eleven months in the year when winds blow the fumes into the West Bank. It closes down for the period when the winds change and blow into Israel, to ensure the toxic fumes do not pollute the Israeli environment.
Arafat Amro of Kav LaOved, an advocacy group for worker’s rights, told us that Sol Or factory, which repairs gas bottles in Nitzanei Shalom, is exposing Palestinain workers to dangerous conditions. “Palestinians working here are not given the specialised masks needed for this highly dangerous task, the employer only supplying ordinary light masks. Five workers have died here over the past decade from accidents in which they were burnt by chemicals. One worker now has cancer”.
Normal protocol for these factories is to monitor workers’ health with medical check-ups every six months, a practice neglected by Israeli employers in the settlements. Kav LaOved advises workers to visit a doctor regularly and keep a record in order to prove the factory environment is responsible. Amro says many workers do not even know they have cancer until it is too late. “This factory should be built away from people, not beside residential areas”.
“The industrial zones are built on hilltops, their wastewater flowing down to Palestinian villages in the valleys. Factories also burn their waste and leave it in Palestinian agricultural land”, Kifaya states. Barkan, the largest industrial settlement in the West Bank, housing one hundred chemical factories, and Ariel are devastating Salfit, in the northern West Bank. “Salfit’s once beautiful Qana Valley has been polluted by these factories”, Kifaya says. Brukeen, one of Salfit’s surrounding villages, suffers from the polluting effects of the Ariel industrial settlement, namely in the high levels of cancer reported there.
Fathi Nasser, spokesman of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, told us “20km to the West of Nablus a settlement has started a dump very close to the water source for the wider Nablus area, which it will likely pollute”. Nablus authorities have protested but to no avail, environmental laws in the Palestinian Territories being ineffective here. A court declared an oil-producing factory near Nablus hazardous for the environment and ordered it to close. The owner was able to ignore this order, being inside Area C.
More research is needed into the numbers of people falling ill and the severity of the pollution of the land, though Kifaya worries the damage will be felt most keenly by future generations. These illegal factories are another instance of Israel’s crippling of the West Bank, through its environment and attacking public health.