While the Israeli military strangulation of the West Bank tightens by the day, the Israeli settler community of Psagot, a settlement illegally erected near my City of Al-Bireh, is taking advantage of the Israeli government’s determination to militarily crush the Palestinian society to pursue their three decade old policy of illegal land confiscation. Just as the Israeli Occupation to suppress the entire Palestinian population has taken on new shapes and forms in the absence of any international considerations, Israeli settlers are camouflaging this latest round of land confiscation with a facade of environmental issues, namely a solid waste landfill site on the Eastern front of our City.
Since October 2000, at the outset of the Palestinian intifada, the Israeli Occupation Authorities declared by military order the closure of the Al-Bireh Municipality solid waste landfill site. This landfill site was originally designated to serve a population of over 100,000 people in Al-Bireh and other surrounding Palestinian communities within the Governorate of Ramallah/Al-Bireh. Consequently, the Ramallah and Al-Bireh Municipalities were forced to reopen and use an abandoned Ramallah landfill site. This Ramallah landfill site was abandoned many years ago due to it being overloaded and its close proximity to the Ramallah Industrial Zone and several residential areas. Likewise, this site was deemed to pose serious health and environmental risks to the City of Ramallah that further justified its closure.
Now, after over two years of being forced by the Israeli military to be re-opened and after receiving huge amounts of solid waste, this previously-abandoned Ramallah site has reached a level of health and environmental risk that can no longer be tolerated. The threat of the dumpsite collapsing during the rapidly approaching winter months is real and adds an additional urgency to the issue. In light of this threat, the City of Ramallah Municipality has formally requested its sister city, Al-Bireh, immediately refrain from using the dumpsite. Subsequently, massive amounts of solid waste are accumulating throughout the streets of the City of Al-Bireh creating serious health and environmental hazards.
The Municipality of Al-Bireh, in coordination with other Palestinian ministries and institutions, has tried several times to resolve the issue of the closed Al-Bireh landfill with the Israeli Authorities. After much effort, on October 22nd, 2002, the Israeli Authorities opened the landfill site for several hours before a band of heavily armed illegal Israeli settlers from the Psagot settlement closed the landfill site by force by firing on the municipality workers and drivers attempting to reach the site in their municipality trucks. Interestingly enough, the Israeli settlers themselves have never stopped using the landfill for disposing of their own waste throughout the last two years, through today. The Israeli Authority’s politically motivated reasons to close the only available landfill for the entire City of Al- Bireh and its indifference to the settlers rampant actions, has only added gas to the fire of Occupation that my citizens have been living with for 36-years.
The strategy of the settlers of Psagot is clear. They are hoping that we Palestinians will find an alternative landfill site in order for them to confiscate the large parcel of land the landfill uses in order to add it to the existing confiscated lands that they have already stolen from my City in hopes of expanding their illegal settlement. However, it is impossible for us to seek such an option, even as a last resort, given the physical constraints of land use present in the Oslo Peace Accords. Their strategy is multifaceted. Only last year they confiscated additional lands from the North of Al-Bireh under the pretext of security concerns. As the world is pre-consumed with seemingly more important affairs, the Israeli Occupation Authorities are land gabbing at an unprecedented rate in full synchronization with the illegal Israeli settlers.
Today, every street in my City is being turned into a trash dump. My citizens are rightfully complaining about the environmental risk and the health threat this open waste is posing to their children. My City workers have risked their lives, to no avail, to properly dispose of our City’s waste. I urgently appeal to the world community and in specific to environmental organizations worldwide to immediately intervene to allow the Al-Bireh landfill to be reopened.
Israeli Occupation of the West Bank will soon come tumbling down, but in the meantime; it is time to know who is in charge, the Israeli settlers or the Israeli government. If the website of the Israeli Ministry of the Environment is of any indication–they prominently list only two links on their homepage: the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, believe it or not, the Israel Defense Forces.
Walid Hamad is the Mayor of the Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org