At the largest illegal dump in Judea and Samaria, untreated waste continues to pollute the entire ecosystem – and no indictments are in sight.
Under cover of the first corona shutdown, the Ramallah Municipality dumped thousands of truckloads of untreated refuse into an abandoned quarry at the headwaters of Nahal Makoch. The Civil Administration admits: Only three trucks were impounded, and no indictments were filed against the criminals. Regavim: “The mountain of waste remains, despite the Civil Administration’s claims to the contrary.”

The mountain of waste dumped during the first corona lockdown by the Ramallah Municipality at the Nahal Makoch water basin is made up of more than 10,000 cubic meters of household and industrial waste. More than six months after the Regavim Movement filed an official complaint, “Mount Trashmore” remains precisely as it was, and in an official response to Regavim’s recent query, the Civil Administration admited that no indictments have been filed against those responsible for this environmental disaster.

Last year, during the first closure imposed to combat the spread of the corona virus, the Ramallah Municipality took advantage of the furlough of enforcement inspectors, and over the course of just a few weeks, thousands of garbage trucks dumped their contents into an abandoned quarry located only hundreds of meters from Binyamin Region Police Headquarters.

Last summer, after Regavim sent an urgent alert to the Civil Administration (CA), which is responsible for law enforcement in the area, the CA replied that they had halted all further dumping at the site and had carried out a number of enforcement actions. Regavim submitted a freedom of information request, to obtain details of the enforcement activity. From the CA’s reply, received earlier this week, we learned that in fact only two garbage trucks and an excavator were impounded, and the vehicles’ owners were charged only for the impound expenses.

The Civil Administration admitted that although the perpetrators were caught in the act, no indictments have been filed against them. In addition, the huge mountains of trash have not yet been removed from the area, contrary to the Civil Administration’s statement that “the owner of the machinery is required to remove the waste and level the area,” and that “these steps were completed out some time ago.”

“Almost a year has passed, and not one of the authorities responsible for dealing with hazards of this nature has taken responsibility,” explains Eitan Melet, Regavim’s Field Coordinator for Judea and Samaria. “The criminals got off virtually scot-free, with no criminal indictments, no clean-up costs, no punitive fines – but the entire ecosystem is paying a heavy price. The heaps of untreated garbage contaminate the topsoil, and runoff flows into the nearby creek channel, seeping into the groundwater, polluting the Makoch Valley and Wadi Qelt. This is eco-terrorism, and the official bodies that should be responding to it with swift, decisive action to repair the environmental damage and create a deterrent for other eco-criminals – the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Civil Administration – are allowing this monumental failure to persist.”

A drone photo of the enormous Beit Fajar quarry

The Regavim Movement recently petitioned the Jerusalem District Court against the continued operation of the Beit Fajar quarry in eastern Gush Etzion. The quarry currently spans some 1,500 dunams (1.5 km2) – hundreds of dunams of which are registered state land – and continues to cause irreversible ecological and environmental damage.

Approximately one third of the Beit Fajar quarry is situated on land under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, which explains why the State of Israel has refrained from enforcing environmental protection regulations there. However, the majority of the quarry is located on land under full Israeli jurisdiction – and hundreds of dunams are registered as state property. Yet there, too, the quarrying carries on, unhindered and unregulated.

Regavim’s attorneys, Avi Segal and Yael Cinnamon, described the gaping “wound” created by the quarry and the irreparable destruction of the landscape, as well as the massive disruption of the delicate ecosystem that has caused irreversible environmental damage, including destruction of wildlife habitats and breeding grounds for unique species of flora and fauna that have developed and thrived in this area over thousands of years.

Regavim first petitioned Israel’s High Court against the quarry a decade ago, when the quarry, and the damage, were still relatively small. Responding to this petition, the government informed the High Court that it had carried out a number of enforcement steps, and was working on a zoning plan for the area that would establish land-use directives for quarrying at the site.

On the basis of the government’s statements and commitments, the High Court rejected Regavim’s petition at that time. Then-Chief Justice Dorit Beinish, who presided over the case, stressed in her judgement that “we are assuming that the enforcement and regulatory actions taken by the respondents will continue, and that the policy that has been formulated will be enforced without interruption.”

Unfortunately, a decade has passed, and not only have the Israeli authorities failed to take any steps to prevent the continued operation of the quarry, they have allowed it to expand by 33%, deepening the invasion of state land by more than 200 dunams beyond its boundaries ten years ago.When repeated inquiries and correspondence on the matter were ignored, Regavim went back to court, filing a petition against Minister of Defense Beni Gantz, Minister of the Environment Gila Gamliel, the IDF Commander of Central Command, the Civil Administration and the Israel Police.

“The environmental damage caused to this area by the inaction of the authorities responsible for law enforcement is staggering, and, sadly, irreparable,” said Regavim’s spokesperson. “The State of Israel has strict regulations for quarrying permits, and owners and operators are required to finance the rehabilitation of quarried areas when they become inoperative in order to minimize the environmental impact – but this policy vanishes when the imaginary line into Judea and Samaria is crossed. Adding insult to injury, when micro-measures are taken to rehabilitate illegal quarries in these areas, they are paid for by Israeli taxpayers, and the criminals who cause the damage simply carry on, rapaciously exploiting the natural resources of the Land of Israel as they scoff at the law and pocket vast profits, without any responsibility for the destruction they leave in their wake.”

This article appeared on JNS Wire