Scavengers meet swift response

Stephanie Nolen Jerusalem
Sunday 21 July 1996 23:02

Following newspaper reports that hundreds of Palestinians were coming to the main Jerusalem rubbish dump each day to scavenge for food and junk to sell, the Israeli government has moved swiftly to tackle the problem - in its own way.

Two heavily armed Israeli guards who live in a settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron have now been posted at the entrance to the dump, to keep out would-be scavengers - and, especially, foreign journalists.

"They are here to keep us away," said Ali Hamdan, 40, who travels from Hebron himself each day to search for scrap metal and old clothes to sell. "But mostly the guards are here because of the journalists. They really don't like the journalists." The Independent first reported the crowds at the dump two weeks ago, in a story about the worsening economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, caused by the Israelis having closed those areas. Most of the people at the dump used to work in Israel, before the closure was imposed following a series of suicide bombings in Israel in February and March.

Until last week, up to 800 people were coming to the dump each day. Now, only 30 or 40 people plough through the refuse; they sneak in over the hills to the south to avoid the guards. Mr Hamdan said that the guards periodically wave their guns and chase people off the garbage heap, but largely ignore them. Their presence at the gates, he said, has been enough to keep most people away, especially the crowds of children who used to hunt for food in the garbage.

"I guard the Arabs, to make sure they don't take anything," the burly dump guard told The Independent. Then, fingering the trigger on his massive machine gun, he added: "You should go away, too. Right now."

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