The Environmental Protection Ministry is setting up a new unit with the authority to arrest suspects, carry out searches and impound trucks at checkpoints.

By Zafrir Rinat | Jul. 29, 2013

The Environmental Protection Ministry will launch a special unit in the next few months to prevent the smuggling of construction debris and other waste into the West Bank.

Recent years have seen an increase in illegal dumping over the Green Line; the ministry says that at least half of all construction debris is discarded at illegal sites. Much of it is dumped at illegal sites in the West Bank run jointly by Palestinians and Israelis; many of these sites are near Jerusalem and the villages of Na’alin, Shukba and Rantis in the Modi’in region.

Four years ago, Central Command prohibited the transport of garbage over the Green Line without special permission. The Environmental Protection Ministry and the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration were supposed to enforce this rule with the help of the security forces at the checkpoints, but these efforts proved spotty at best and waste continued to reach the West Bank.

As a result, the state and the owners of legal trash-disposal sites are suffering economic damage on top of the environmental damage that the country is suffering. Truck drivers and contractors who take part in the smuggling save the money they were supposed to pay legal sites for burying and recycling waste in Israel proper. The legal operators have repeatedly asked the Environmental Protection Ministry to do more against the smuggling, saying their profits were suffering and they might have to close down.

At the same time that Central Command issued its rule, the Environmental Protection Ministry established its Yahalom unit to document illegal smuggling and dumping. The unit is unrelated to the Israel Defense Forces’ combat engineering unit of the same name. The ministry unit’s efforts have been held back by the clash over dividing powers and jobs between that unit and the ministry agency colloquially known as the green police.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz says members of the Yahalom unit will be stationed at the West Bank crossings within a few months. “It’s the most effective way to put the unit into action,” Peretz said last week.

Ministry officials say Yahalom will work with the green police within the Green Line and with the Civil Administration’s supervision unit across the Green Line. At the checkpoints themselves, Yahalom will have the authority to arrest suspects, carry out searches and impound trucks.

According to a green police report, 2012 saw a record number of cases opened for illegal dumping of construction debris, roughly one-third of all environmental infractions. Last year, 64 vehicles involved in the illegal transport and dumping of construction debris were impounded.