Israeli factories have Palestinians fuming

Several Israeli factories stand accused of dumping waste so toxic it has destroyed Palestinian farm land and sent cancer rates soaring. The owners say tests they have carried out indicate those accusations are baseless.

Amir Awad has asthma. He is nine-years-old and has been struggling to breathe properly since he was born. And although his eight brothers and sisters do not have it quite as badly, the air around their home is thick with dust and fumes – often making breathing difficult for all of them.

“My children are always suffering from allergies. They constantly have eye irritations, skin infections and breathing problems. It is from the factories down the road,”
said Amir’s father Adib Awad.

He added that once there was a fire in one of the factories and a huge cloud of black smoke came to the house.

”We call those factories the factories of death,” Adib Awad said.

Residents of Tulkaram are complaining that the factories are pumping poisonous gases into the air.

According to Said Hanoon, general director for the Tulkaram Health Department, for three days in May this year, thick clouds hung over Tulkaram after an explosion in one of the eight factories.

He said that being exposed to such a cloud harms your skin, eyes and respiratory system.

Palestinian farmers also complain that their land was taken away to build the factories.

Vegetable farmer Fayez Ordi claims Israeli workers tore the plastic off his hot houses and spread chemicals over his plants to get him to move. He has refused to budge – despite the threats he says he gets almost weekly.

“In the 80s, when the factories started working, chemicals kept spilling on my fruit farms and within three days my whole orchard died,” he said. ”Since then I have not been able to plant anything in my fields on the eastern side of the factories, I lost hundreds of thousands of shekels.”

The factories produce fiber chemicals, glass, paint and materials for construction, and operate 24 hours a day.

Israeli spokesperson Shlomo Peretz says that the accusations towards them are groundless.

“The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health in Israel, together with the local people who run these factories, have checked for the last nine years all aspects of pollution,” he said. “Every measure has taken place that one can take has been done there in order not to make pollution available to the Israelis or to the Palestinians.”

Still, a former factory worker who refused to name himself said that the factories inflict serious harm on health.

“We were given masks to wear all the time and at the end of each day we were given a bottle of milk to drink. But it didn’t really help because the air still gets inside your lungs,” he said. “The insurance company forces them to do a medical test on us each year. They would bring a doctor and afterwards they didn’t tell us anything. I don’t know of any cases where a person did not pass.”

But the so-called “factories of death” also give the hope of life.

For the past twenty years, they have bordered the Palestinian city of Tulkaram. More than 2,000 work in them – most of them are Palestinians, fortunate to have a job when most in their city do not.

However, that seems to be cold comfort for those people.

Recent medical tests show that people living in Tulkaram have the highest rate of cancer among all Palestinians in the West Bank.

While no direct link has so far been drawn to the industrial park, more and more questions are being asked about why the factories are here – and at what cost.