Settlers put the heat on Palestinian charcoal makers
The JPost news article is followed by features from Haaretz and Esra Magazine.
Court addresses fumes, moving Palestinians
Palestinians claim wood-burning operations crucial for livelihood, settlers complain of resulting environmental, health damage.
By Yonah Jeremy Bob
November 06, 2012
The High Court of Justice held another hearing Monday in which settlers say Palestinians around Wadi Ara are harming them with the fumes created through coal production, while the Palestinians say that the settlers are just trying to force them off their land.
The Palestinians in the area, located in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli control under the Oslo Accords), burn large woodpiles in order to produce coal [charcoal]. According to human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, the community has been working in this type of coal production for the last 150 years, and rely on it for their livelihood. Nearby settler communities, on the other hand, claim that the wood-burning processes damage not only the environment but also the health of those living in the area. The issue has been the subject of a series of court hearings.
About 18 months ago, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, which has jurisdiction over the West Bank and is part of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit, issued orders to destroy any residential and other structures in the area, including those used in the wood-burning operations.
At the time Sfard told The Jerusalem Post that COGAT made no attempt to justify the demolition orders based on environmental concerns or to explain the basis for the order at all.
Thirty residents filed a petition, represented by Sfard and other attorneys, to block the demolition orders.
Sfard said the court criticized the demolition orders from the start, to the point that the civil administration almost immediately abandoned its initial demolition plans.
However, Regavim*, an organization which monitors Palestinian construction and other issues in the West Bank, claimed that approximately four months ago the court did issue an order calling for the cessation of the coal-producing operations and the confiscation of the wood, on the basis of complaints that the operations were causing environmental damage and even physical harm to settlers nearby.
According to Sfard, this was a conditional order that, at most, applied to the state, and was not an order requiring immediate or final action. He noted that the environmental argument was questionable, as the same wood-burning operations are continuing, regardless of this case, in Area B (Israeli security, Palestinian Authority civil control) of the West Bank, which Israel has no power to curb.
The lawyer noted that as a result, even if the Area C wood-burning operations were halted, it would not solve any alleged environmental problem or eliminate complaints of fumes impacting settlers in the area.
Sfard said this could raise questions about the ultimate purpose of the legal actions against the Palestinians in the area, in light of the fact that an end to the wood-burning operations could end their livelihood and force them to relocate.
Nevertheless, to address the environmental problems, Sfard said that the Palestinians in the area offered to meet with the environmental authorities and to invest funds for altering the coalproducing process to be ecologically sound.
Regavim, along with other organizations representing the settlers at the hearing, complained that the Palestinians had violated the court order by continuing their wood-burning operations.
Settler representatives said the court’s conduct in not immediately ending the coal production was highly problematic because the woodburning operations continued to expose local children to the fumes. They also complained that the fumes had ruined Simhat Torah celebrations, as they made outdoor dancing impossible.
Sfard responded that the state had generally refused overtures to learn about resolving any of the environmental issues at play.
The state refused to meet with him, noted Sfard, until approximately two months ago, when the court ordered the state to discuss the environmental considerations.
While the state presented a partial list of issues needing to be addressed, Sfard said that the state refused to commit to any “endgame” where the Palestinians could continue their operations and remain on their land if they fulfilled a concrete checklist of environmental changes.
The state responded by saying that it had been difficult to produce such a foolproof commitment.
According to the state, this specific type of wood-burning operation is highly unusual for Israel and there is no real system set up to review or enforce regulations regarding such activities.
Thus, the state preferred to address issues on a case-by-case basis as matters developed and the consequences of different environmental impacts became clearer.
Sfard in turn claimed that the Palestinians could not be expected to invest money in improving their operations without knowing beforehand that they could eventually gain approval from the environmental authorities.
The court has yet to render a decision.
NY Times article about Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard
Setting a Jewish Zionist agenda for the State of Israel, toward official Zionistic policies by all the authorities, with an emphasis on the land and its preservation.
Polluting Palestinian charcoal wafting west of the Green Line
Production moves across separation fence, leaving Israelis coughing.
By Chaim Levinson, Ha’aretz
October 01, 2010
Smoke from the Palestinian charcoal industry in the northern West Bank, which has moved west of the separation fence in recent years, has become a pollution problem in Jewish communities west of the Green Line. But there may be a ray of light through the fumes: a local Palestinian invention to modernize the process – if the locals can be won over.
Menashe Regional Council head Ilan Sadeh, from Kibbutz Ma’anit, says: “Back in the 1950s a bunch of us would go down there with bulldozers and get rid of the logs.” But these days he spends his energy knocking on doors at the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Civil Administration, seeking a solution that will allow the residents of his regional council to breath cleaner air, and soldiers on patrol not to need gas masks.
Charcoal is easy to make: Prunings are brought in mainly from Israel and piled in a pyramid shape, covered with straw and set alight, burning for 21 days until charcoal is created. The process leaves the village of Yabed permanently overhung with smoke. The product is cheap, at NIS 4 a kilogram.
Since the separation fence went up three years ago, the charcoal industry has migrated westward from the villages to the open areas west of the fence, saving manufacturers the punishment of having the prunings checked going into the West Bank, and the charcoal on the way out.
The result: a sharp rise in pollution, particularly in the community of Mitzpeh Ilan, west of the Green Line.
The smoke can cause immediate reactions, ranging from minor eye and lung irritation to heart attack. It also contains carcinogens. The excessive smoke levels have led the Central Command to order soldiers patrolling the area to wear gas masks.
But the Civil Administration is wary of taking the army’s advice to close down the smokers: Although the industry operates without permits, shuttering it will mean hundreds of unemployed, fertile ground for terrorism.
However, Dr. Walid al-Basha of Jenin, who has just returned from seven years studying engineering in Japan, has designed a concrete smoker with a tin roof into which the logs are placed, lit from below, and from which all the gases are funneled out one pipe. It shortens production time and allows the smoke output to be properly monitored.
The Civil Administration and Palestinian Authority donor nations are funding al-Basha’s project: One of his smokers has been built in Yabed so people can see it work. Meanwhile, more persuasion has come in the form of 19 demolition orders recently issued to new charcoal smokers in the Dotan area. But the village’s charcoal producers say the new system reduces the weight of the coal by 30 percent, denting their income.
The commander of the Jenin liaison office with the Palestinian Authority, Lt. Col. Adel Masalha, has been making the rounds of the illegal facilities to persuade them to use the new system. One of the workers, Mohammad Mazbabdeh, covered in soot, complained that they were destroying his livelihood. “I told him that I am the son of a farmer. We used to make olive oil in a press like they did 2,000 years ago; now we use machines from Italy,” Masalha told him.
The End of a Deathly Living
West Bank charcoal plants forced to close
By Lydia Aisenberg, Esra Magazine, Issue No. 164, March/April 2012
Their clothes, hands and faces caked with layers of black soot, two young Palestinian men stand ankle deep in the remains of a charcoal making plant in the West Bank. They are taking a well earned break from packing chunks of slow-burned wood into thick paper sacks which they then stack in piles to await collection by Israeli charcoal merchants.
A large satellite dish firmly planted in the sooty ground seems totally out of place in the charcoal making plant situated in the northern part of the West Bank known as the Dotan Valley and where Joseph was purportedly thrown into a pit by his brothers when they passed through the area in Biblical times.
The Palestinian workers are in their early twenties. The young men pass through the Barta’a-Reichan checkpoint at six in the morning and return to their village near Jenin around four in the afternoon, again via the checkpoint in the security fence constructed by Israel following deadly terrorist attacks in the early part of the new millennium.
The charcoal operation is situated in an area which this writer has dubbed ‘Limboland’ – over the Green Line (pre-’67 border) to Israel but west of the security fence and checkpoint therein, a sort of not here nor there zone. Not annexed by the State of Israel, divided up into Areas B and C after the Oslo Accords and inhabited by both Israeli Jews living in six settlements set up in the early 1980s and the local Palestinian population, the majority of whom are not allowed to cross the line into Israel for work purposes or family visitations unless holders of special permits which the vast majority, and certainly young unmarried men, do not have. Physically, however, there is absolutely nothing stopping the young men in the charcoal plant from driving or walking over the Green Line a short distance from their workplace and going on to Hadera or Tel Aviv for that matter.
They can go ‘out’ in the same manner as the writer came ‘in’ – most people wouldn’t even know when they have crossed the Green Line, as it is neither marked by signs nor a line of any color painted across the road. Palestinian locals talk in terms of ‘over here’ or ‘over there’ or ‘inside’ meaning the West Bank, or ‘outside’ meaning over the Green Line and the State of Israel.
The majority of Palestinians in this area do not risk going from inside to outside if they do not have the necessary paperwork. If they were to be apprehended by the Israeli police they would likely end up having to pay a heavy fine, maybe spend a few months in prison or even both. The young men at the charcoal plant have permits allowing them to pass through the Barta’a-Reichan checkpoint only to work in Area C of the West Bank, or East Barta’a, an Area B under the Palestinian Authority but west of the security fence – all rather confusing and complicated but part of the daily lives of thousands of Palestinians passing through this particular checkpoint in the morning and returning in early to late afternoon. Only a few hundred have permission to carry on out of ‘Limboland’ to work in Israel, the rest being restricted to either Area B or C inside the swath of land between fence and line.
Communicating in a little English, some Hebrew and lots of hand gestures, one of the young men explains that he is studying Developmental Sciences at a West Bank university when not working. The charcoal plant is owned by a Palestinian from Yabed, a large village 15 minutes drive away, deeper in the West Bank and on the other side of the security fence.
Over the months, scores of such charcoal making operations have been forced to shut down. The Ministry of Environment and Civil Administration warrants of closure for health and environmental reasons issued by those bodies during the last year were totally ignored by the Palestinian charcoal makers who have no other means of making a livelihood, and the majority of whom are not allowed over the Green Line to work in Israel. That is why these operations still exist.
When enquiries were made by this writer as to why the charcoal operations were still working and creating havoc with the health of the Palestinians living permanently in the area, and definitely becoming a bother to the Israeli communities living a few kilometers away, the answer was that it was a sensitive issue with so many Palestinian families deeper in the West Bank totally reliant on the charcoal industry.
Wind-borne smoke recognizes no borders, boundaries, lines or fences.
The constant supply of tree trunks and branches came from Israel, sold to the Palestinians by Israeli dealers who purchase fruit trees and other trees being cleared for building projects. Turned into charcoal, it would find its way back to Israel, fueling the barbecues of Israeli Jews and Arabs who would likely have bought a sack or two from the local supermarket.
Charcoal making operations have been a common sight throughout the West Bank for decades, but over the last few years as permits for Palestinians to continue working in Israel became restricted, many more wood-burning operations began to sprout up in the West Bank – particularly in the Dotan Valley, providing the local Palestinian population with a source of work, but further polluting the air ‘big time’ whilst making their deathly living.
The young men in the scorched fields of the Dotan Valley are now on a clearing up operation, basically packing up and sending off the remaining charcoal. When asked about what they will do for work after that, they look at each other, shrug and light another cigarette.