Garbage mountains (archive)
Garbage mountains (archive) Regavim

Infamous for its rampant illegal construction, protection rackets, and frequent disturbances on the highways, the Negev is also becoming increasingly notorious due to another problem no less significant – that of the mountains of garbage the area is drowning under.

An article in the Israel Hayom newspaper details the extent of the problem the Bnei Shimon Regional Council is struggling to deal with – every year, around 3,500 tons of garbage are dumped in the Negev, and the cost of its removal stands at around 550,000 shekels, which the council is forced to divert to this purpose instead of using the vast sum for other projects no less essential. However, there is simply no choice.

The Regional Council covers 13 communities including the Bedouin cities of Rahat and Laqiya, and the Jewish communities of Lehavim, Carmit, Beer Sheva, and Kibbutz Hatzerim. Numerous small Bedouin settlements are also located within its boundaries, which span an area of around 300,000 dunams.

All kinds of people contribute to the problem, from private individuals dumping their garbage on open land, to building contractors who dump construction waste, to truck drivers from all over the country. Most of the garbage is dumped by Bedouins, but certainly not all. Anyone who wants to save himself the considerable expense of properly disposing of waste knows that he can simply dump it somewhere in the Negev and that he stands a good chance of getting away with it.

Gadi Devora is one of just two Regional Council inspectors who are responsible for an area six times the size of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. According to Devora, the battle against the garbage heaps is one whose result is a foregone conclusion, and the Council is merely attempting to “put out the fires” and prevent the destruction of natural abodes. Devora’s patrol route begins in the garbage mountains on the “Orange Trail,” a dirt track that starts at a gas station north-west of Rahat and ends up in the agricultural areas farmed by Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev. All along the trail one can see huge heaps of refuse – animal carcasses, building materials, household waste. Everything is simply strewn about, sometimes mere meters from farmed land.

“People come and dump refuse all along this trail,” Devora says. “By working in cooperation with people in Rahat, we’ve succeeded in gathering all the garbage into tidy heaps so that we can remove them more easily.”

When we ask him why there aren’t any surveillance cameras installed to enable monitoring of the situation, he replies in obvious frustration. “Of course we erected cameras, but people either dismantled them or totally destroyed them. This isn’t something that the Bnei Shimon Regional Council should have to deal with alone – the state should be dealing with this. There are places in the Negev where garbage is strewn over kilometers of land. Where are the authorities? The rule of the law doesn’t really hold here. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the fines issued for dumping waste are so low, and so from a financial standpoint, it makes sense for people with substantial amounts of refuse to get rid of to take a chance and dump it here, rather than paying for it to be properly disposed of.”

Devora recounts one incident as an example. “On the Green Patrol, we spotted by chance a truck driver in the act of dumping two carts full of concrete waste. We called in the Nature and Parks Authority and he was fined NIS 3,000 and ordered to remove the waste he dumped. But that’s not enough of a deterrent, because properly disposing of all that waste would cost him a lot more, so it makes sense for him to run the risk of getting fined, every single time.”

Devora and his colleagues at the Regional Council also blame the lack of enforcement for the situation. “The ‘green police,’ the Unit for Prevention of Dumping Waste and Fires, and the Eshkol-West Negev towns association should all be doing more, but all they do is issue a fine here and another fine there, for things like burning waste in open areas. The government should be taking responsibility and sorting out this problem once and for all.”