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Spring time in Tulkarem as farms fight Israeli chemical factories

April 27, 2014 at 3:14 pm

It is spring on the Tanib farm and the eskadenias or loquats – small sweet orange fruits – and the strawberries are perfectly ripe. Workers and volunteers who have travelled far and wide to take part in a two week campus on the farm grounds are busy harvesting. The volunteers are helping with turning the farm organic. Tea drank in the breaks of a hard days labour is made on a bio gas cooker and dried fruits served as snacks have been made in a solar powered drier.

The fresh produce grown on the farm tastes beautifully sweet, but the dust that covers their skin is a bitter reminder of a situation that is far from organic. The farm lies in Tulkarem, a northern West Bank governorate that is home to 12 Israeli chemical factories. The land of the Tanib family lies directly behind one of these factories which reportedly manufactures 22 different, unknown chemicals, and is also hemmed in on the other side by the separation wall, which has annexed over half of the farm’s original land.

The owner, Faiz Tanib, has had his land flattened by Israeli bulldozers three times, has been prevented from accessing his land for over 18 months and also survived an attempt to shoot him by the chemical factory’s security guards, explained that turning organic is a form of resistance. “This governorate used to be the agricultural land of the West Bank. But now the land is polluted and our health is at risk,” he said.

During the interview, held on the farm in the shade of an apple tree, Faiz coughs constantly. “This is the effect of the chemical factories; here we call them ‘death factories’.” Since their arrival in the 80’s the citizens of Tulkarem have increasingly suffered from poor health and cancer and leukaemia rates have rocketed. In the small village where Faiz lives, home to 2,000 people, there are currently around 31 people suffering from cancer.

“We have people come in everyday suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, chronic bronchitis, skin allergies and carcinomas,” said Dr Abed Darak of the Tulkarem governorate’s Ministry of Health. He claims that Tulkarem has the highest cancer and leukaemia rate in the West Bank, with 20 per cent of all cases coming from the area, despite it being home to only five per cent of the total West Bank population.

According to a comparative study on Nablus and Tulkarem conducted by the Ministry, the prevalence of malignant tumours and blood dyscrasia diseases such as leukaemia, lymphoma and lung cancer was five cases in Tulkarem to one in Nablus. The results of a study completed in 2013 showed that in a sample of 100 families living in close proximity to the factories, the prevalence of chronic respiratory diseases was a four times higher than in those in other areas in the governorate.

It appears that Israel is fully aware of the dangers the factories pose to public health and, as a result, has moved many of its polluting industries from Israel to the Occupied Territories.

Geshuri Industries, a manufacturer of pesticides and fertilisers was originally located in Kfar Saba in Israel. It was closed down by an Israeli court order in 1982 for pollution violations. In 1987, it relocated to Tulkarem. The Dixon industrial gas factory, formerly located in Netanya inside Israel, has also moved into the same area. Meanwhile the factories in Tulkarem have stop working orders when the wind changes to ensure fumes do not blow in the direction of the nearby settlements, according to residents and Palestinian workers.

“These factories are illegal, it is against the human rights of our people and is destroying their heath and the environment,” said Darak. “It is time to come together and help remove these threats to our health.”

When I returned home after three days on the farm, my eyes were watering and swollen, I had a sore throat and my body felt generally exhausted. As the annual Earth Day is upon us, the Tanib farm will celebrate by developing an aquaponic system, a farming production system involving fish. Under the hot sun they are rallying to finish the project and, under the chemical dust of the Israeli factories, they continue to resist.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.