The Politics of Waste Treatment in East Jerusalem

For years, Jerusalem’s waste has been deposited in Abu Dis – a location inside the West Bank, adjacent to the south-eastern flank of E-1, and not far from the built-up areas of Maale Adumim. In recent years, the authorities concluded that disposing Jerusalem’s waste beyond the Green Line violated international law. Lest one question why Israeli authorities developed an uncharacteristic sensitivity to international law in this case, one might speculate that the growing protests coming from the residents of Maale Adumim relating to the odors emanating from the site played a significant role in the decision.

We previously noted (here) that the Jerusalem Municipality had sought approval for a contract to carry out waste treatment at a site in the Atarot Industrial Zone, in East Jerusalem. We also noted the irony whereby Mayor Barkat justified the contract on the basis of the need to rectify the illegality of depositing waste beyond the Green Line – something the proposed to accomplish, in part, by establishing a new waste treatment installation that is also beyond the Green Line.

In recent weeks, a new scheme has emerged which is far more problematic in its ramifications. Plan 13900 designates a 500-dunam area (125 acres) in East Jerusalem – consisting of the slopes below Ras Khamis, the Shuafat Refugee Camp and Anata, immediately to the north of the French Hill/Maale Adumim Road- as a waste treatment facility (a map showing the site can be viewed/downloaded here).  Beyond the issues raised under international law, the creation of a waste disposal site will have the following implications:

  • Humanitarian: There are several Bedouin encampments on the site, and the implementation of the plan will require the displacement of an estimated 120 Bedouin residents.
  • Political: One can understand neither the motivation nor the impact of Plan 13900 without viewing it in a broader context, and as one important piece in a puzzle. As can be seen on the map, the proposed site dovetails, physically, with the E-1 Plan (to which it is adjacent) and the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park Scheme.  The cumulative impact of these schemes is the creation of a coherent, contiguous physical link between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem, and the isolation of the Palestinian populated areas nearby.
  • Municipal dimension: The Jerusalem Municipality has earned considerable notoriety for its failure to collect trash in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (a problem that not surprisingly does not exist in the adjacent Israeli settlement neighborhoods). Coupled with the Atarot site, the perceptions of the Jerusalem Municipality regarding waste disposal in East Jerusalem are crystal clear: while Palestinian East Jerusalem is the place where trash need not be collected, it is the site of choice where Jerusalem’s trash (both from the west and the east) is to be sent, lending new meaning to the term “not in my backyard.”.

Plan 13900 was deposited for public review on November 2, 2012. Objections have not only been filed by the residents of Issawiya, Anata and the Shuafat Refugee Camp, but Bimkon (an NGO that deals with, among other things, planning rights of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem) and by settlers who are planning a Jewish settlement on the same site.

The hearings on the objections before the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee were originally scheduled for March 13, and were cancelled on March 12. The Plan was rescheduled for April 10, only to be removed from the agenda an hour before the Committee convened. It is anticipated that hearings on Plan 13900 will be rescheduled for the near future. The only prospect of it not being approved – and it is remote – might be Mayor Barkat’s reluctance to anger the Israeli residents of French Hill months before the scheduled October municipal elections.

Under routine circumstances, a public installation like this would not draw much attention or generate much controversy. But neither the circumstances nor the political context are routine regarding this waste treatment site. The Palestinian leadership has already flagged this plan – and not without reason – as a component in the E-1 thrust.  The fear of displacement in East Jerusalem is so endemic that the Plan has also received considerable popular attention. Controversy over this plan is like to increase as the approval process proceeds.