Environment, Health and Social Conflict: The Democratic Potential of Contested Science
Although the sociologist Ulrich Beck stated that 'poverty is hierarchic, while smog is democratic' in recent decades there is growing interest by communities, scientists and policy makers in the connections between environmental justice and racial/ethnic health disparities. Environmental risks are not randomly distributed in the population, they are correlated to income. Ethnic minorities also suffer disproportionate environmental risks. In this study we examine the growing debate on environmental causes of illness in the context of scientific and medical controversies, and environmental justice activism in Israel in the second half of the 20th century. The environmental movement in Israel has only recently discovered the vast potential hidden in the discourse of environmental health, including in active participation in its scientific components. In the first part we analyze the development of the relationship among the actors involved in environmental health policy making in Israel. In the second part we compare two important recent environmental health disputes: 1. The Kishon River affair, where former Israel Navy commandos who had dived in the polluted river for years claimed to suffer from higher rates of cancer. These claims lead to the establishment of a Committee headed by former Supreme Court Head, Meir Shamgar 2. The environmental struggle around Ramat Hovav industrial zone, where the main population influenced is that of the Bedouins. The analysis of these two cases will emphasize the social and ethnic dimensions of environmental health policy and practices in Israel.
Keywords: Environmental Health, Social Justice, Contested Science
Dr. Nadav Davidovitch
Dr., Division of Public Health, Ben Gurion University
Dr. Dani Filc
Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University