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“All we get is the pollution” — In the Galilee, Israeli factories threaten public health

By Sophie Crowe

26gal_949692_513759_n.jpg

The town of Kufr Kana, in the Galilee

September 26, 2011


KUFR KANA — There is a massive industrial zone in the Galilee called Ziporit. It sits on the flank of Kufr Kana, a largely Palestinian town, and stretches into Mashhad, another group of Palestinian villages neighboring Nazareth. The local committee of Kufr Kana has been engaged in a protest campaign against Ziporit since its construction in 1991, due to its threat to public health and its swallowing up of village land.

Their most significant grievance is that the Ziporit site abuts residential areas of Kufr Kana, posing a worrying health risk.

"All we get is the pollution," states Baker Awawdy, a member of Kufr Kana’s local committee, established in 2000 as a forum for political, social and environmental issues. Awawdy also heads the Galilee Society, an environmental advocacy NGO and largest Palestinian non-profit in Israel.

Residents suffer from the toxic emissions of Ziporit’s factories without receiving any economic benefits, the committee complains.

The mayor of Upper Nazareth, a custom-built Jewish city bordering Kufr Kana, authorized the construction of Ziporit, heralding it as a "joint Jewish-Palestinian initiative." Four thousand dunums—around 1,000 acres—of Kufr Kana land, and a lesser amount from Mashad were used to accommodate Ziporot’s sprawl.

"They claimed management would be by Kufr Kana and Upper Nazareth but this is not the case," Awawdy says.

The industrial park effectively belongs to Upper Nazareth’s municipality alone, which collects the taxes, though it is not territorially contiguous.

"There are no Palestinian engineers working in Ziporit, only cleaners," Awawdy adds. "This is a clear example of discrimination against Palestinians in Israel."

Industry thrives in Upper Nazareth

In 1976, Upper Nazareth grew to its current size by expropriating land from the nearby Palestinian towns of Kufr Kana, Rena, Mashad and Ein Mahel. These towns are now dwarfed by their newer, largely Jewish neighbor.

IMC, an aluminium smelting plant

The most recent factory to set up in Ziporit is the Israeli Magnesium Company (IMC), which manufactures aluminium for cars. In 2003, the company moved here from Haifa. IMC insisted it would run a "clean" operation in order to obtain a license, Awawdy sniffs.

"The factory was refused by Jewish districts elsewhere. Why has Upper Nazareth accepted it here?" he asks. "They make the decisions [even though] it’s not their constituents [who] have to deal with the consequences."

Mashhad’s high school is just meters away from the industrial park. Awawdy established an environmental commission alongside the local committee to spearhead their objection to IMC.

"We argued that [the] authority to assess IMC should lie with the regional body, not the municipality," Awawdy recounts. When the commission asked the regional planning authority to arbitrate in the dispute, the latter judged that IMC was acceptable. So they took the case to court.

After five years, the court finally ruled that IMC, for health reasons, should not be so close to inhabited areas.

Pollutants from Phoenicia cause skin disease among locals

The owners, however, disputed the ruling. It was too late, they said. Millions of dollars had already been invested in the project. Their factory, they also said, was safe. Today, the case is still open.

"We are waiting for a final decision. Meanwhile, the factory still operates," Awawdy says.

Jewish Industry a Priority 

Industrial growth was promoted in the Galilee as part of the government’s goal to Judaize northern Israel, Awawdy says.

"The previous mayor of Upper Nazareth even told me. Industrial areas were planned as a way to attract Jews here," he says.

Israeli government has made Ziporit a priority by setting very low taxes, making it attractive for Israeli industrialists to settle there.

The difference between investment in Jewish and Palestinian industry is striking, Awawdy says. Kufr Kana’s industrial area for example, does not enjoy the same investment or priority status as Ziporit.

In Kufr Kana, "the lack of management means no development," Awawdy concludes.

"All we get is the pollution"

Disease on the rise from toxic factories

Worse than the economic discrimination, he continues, pollution produced by Ziporit has a serious effect on health.

"[We see] allergies, dermatitis and other skin conditions," explains Shukri Awawdy, a doctor and cousin of Baker.

"Over the last 20 years, these problems have risen by 500 percent in Kufr Kana," Shukri says. "Forty percent of the patients we see every day have one of these conditions."

For Shukri there is no doubt that there is a connection between the increase of illness and the growth of the industrial zone. The rise in health problems coincides with the construction of Ziporit’s first factory, Phoenicia.

"We know these diseases are related to pollutants from Ziporit," Shukri says.

The largely Palestinian town of Kafr Kana

Protest — and an unlikely alliance

But it’s not just Palestinian citizens that suffer from the ill-managed industrial zone.

Hoshaya is a national-religious settlement of Jews located on the other side of Ziporit. Residents also affected by their proximity to the zone, in a surprising move, decided to join Kufr Kana’s campaign.

Awawdy believes having the support of the Hoshaya contingent has helped to inject impetus into the campaign.

"Palestinians don’t believe in the system," he says. "But Jewish people know how to challenge it."

Upper Nazareth’s municipality has tried to circumvent objections to the controversial industrial site. When a factory is planned, laws hold that the news must be published in a newspaper to inform residents.

While Upper Nazareth authorities followed this stipulation, they published the report in Mitzpe, a newspaper distributed almost exclusively in the occupied territories. It’s read by Israeli settlers, not Galileans.

The case of Ziporit is not unique. The Misgav municipality established a "shared" industrial area using the land of Sakhnin, a Palestinian village near Kufr Kana. "Now it’s managed by Jewish people only," Awawdy notes.

Nabil Abu Dahoud is a local engineer and an active player in Kufr Kana’s battle against Ziporit’s toxic industries. At times, he and Baker feel they are alone in their struggle. Some villagers don’t care, he says.

"Protest is not a priority for people in Kufr Kana," Dahoud says. "People are struggling for bread, not the environment."



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