A huge, modern glass edifice dominates the entrance to the West Bank city of Jericho. Two years ago, before the outbreak of the intifada, it was a magnet for thousands of Israelis, who were drawn each weekend to its gaming tables. They were waited on by more than a thousand Palestinians, who staffed the bars and roulette wheels, while hundreds more pampered the Israelis staying at the neighbouring five-star Inter-Continental hotel. Today the Oasis casino is dark and locked, and two security guards prevent anyone approaching. The price of a hotel room has been slashed to entice visitors but the guests, invariably diplomats, rarely outnumber the eight staff who keep the place ticking over until better times return.
The scores of corrugated zinc shacks that form the village of Wadi Al-Naam, south of Beersheva, almost visibly vibrate to the humming of thousands of volts of electricity that surge through the power lines overhead. There are as many pylons to be found here as homes. The population of 3,900 Bedouins, who have lived on this land and farmed it since well before the creation of the state of Israel, have been left in no doubt of how much their presence at the site is valued. Over the past decades the state’s planning authorities have turned Wadi Al-Naam into the bleakest of environmental blackspots. To the west of the village has been built a vast chemical dump, Ramat Hubab, the site at which all of Israel’s toxic chemical waste is disposed.
The small fleet of light aircraft swept in low over the northern Negev on a clear spring morning bearing a message from the Israeli government for the region’s Bedouin farmers. The planes released their load of toxic chemicals, stored in canisters under the wings, a hundred feet or so above fields of cereal crops. A fine mist settled on the plants, darkening each stalk over the next few days until it shrivelled and died. Over some areas, the pilots paid scant attention to where they were spraying: 1000 students at the Al-Amar school in the village of Chirbe Alutan, close to farming land, also received a dose of the pesticide, although no one was sent by the authorities to check on the effects.