Today’s Freedom Summer action was focused on the presence of a toxic chemical factory at the edge of Tulkarem. The Israeli-owned factory was originally located near residences in Israel, but was deemed to be polluting beyond acceptable legal levels. Following a court case in Israel, it was moved to the West Bank city of Tulkarem in the mid-eighties. The complex of factories has been expanding ever since, spreading like the cancer that the output from the factory induces.
This issue represents a particularly dangerous dimension of the occupation for the Palestinian people. As I stood looking up at the chimney and IOF watchtower inside the factory compound, it occurred to me that this was a large, ugly weapon, slowly but surely attacking the people around it.
Tulkarem has the highest cancer rates in Palestine. Residents living near the factory also suffer disproportionately from respiratory tract diseases and other health problems. The land around the factories has been labeled unsuitable for agricultural production, and farmers have faced extreme difficulties getting to it. One farmer has been shot at a number of times by the owner of the chemical factory. He has decided to convert his farm to organic production a decision which reflects the strength and resilience of the Palestinian people. No attempts have been made to clean the surrounding environment or dispose of the chemical waste safely – it is being repeatedly dumped on nearby Palestinian land.
The protest began with a march from the centre of Tulkarem towards the factory. We wore blue surgical masks to highlight the danger of inhaling the factory fumes, but as we approached the factory and began to smell the foul stench in the air I was genuinely glad to be wearing it.
Our group of Palestinian, Israeli, and ISM Activists, proceeded from the centre of Tulkarem to the factory located at the city’s edge. We walked carrying gravestone shaped signs in Arabic and English proclaiming the death of the environment, justice, freedom, and human rights, in addition to the disregard of organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the International Court of Justice.
Arriving at the factory, which is in close proximity to the Apartheid Wall around Tulkarem, the demonstrators placed the “gravestones” outside the main gate and began to chant. Messages were sprayed on the wall and we banged on the gate with stones, but nobody responded and the military did not turn up.
I only hope that they do not punish the farmers involved in the protest later, when we have left the city.
Photos can be viewed at: freckle.blogs.com/photos/no_more_poison/
The factories in Tulkarem are one of many sites throughout the West Bank where Israeli industrial complexes are situated. The companies are free to operate outside of Israeli laws regarding health and safety, the environment and the treatment of workers. The Palestinian workers come from a pool of very cheap labour; they have no rights and, following the economic strangulation of Palestine over the last five years, are desperate to work, even if this means going to a settlement and working in unhealthy or dangerous conditions. The factories are built on stolen land and disfigure the beauty of the West Bank, causing environmental problems and flattening agricultural land with concrete.