Environment, Health and Social Conflict: The Democratic Potential of Contested Science

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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
Stream: Natural, Environmental and Health Sciences
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Nadav Davidovitch

Dr., Division of Public Health, Ben Gurion University
Beer Sheva, Israel

Nadav Davidovitch, MD, MPH, PhD, is a senior lecturer in the Department of Health Systems Management at Ben Gurion University. Currently, he is researching health and immigration, environmental health, and the development of public health institutions and policies in Israel.

Dr. Dani Filc

Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University
Tel Aviv, Israel

Dani Filc, MD, PhD. Born 1959. Chairperson of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel Among his publications the books The Power of Property: Israel in the Globalization Age, edited with Uri Ram (Van Leer Institute Heb.), Hegemony and Populism in Israel (Resling, Hebrew), Contested Science: environment, public health and politics in Israel, edited with Nadav Davidovitch (Babel, Hebrew, forthcoming). Among articles published in refereed journals: “The Check-Post, Sovereignty and the Body”, Hagar 6(2) July 2006:99-113; "The 'Enterprization' of the Israel Health Care System", Critical Public Health (forthcoming); "Hamas and the Destruction of Risk Society", Constellations 12(4), November 2005, 544-562 (with N.Gordon); “Neo-liberalism and the Health Business: the Case of Israel”, Critical Social Policy, 25(2), 180-197, May 2005; "The National Unity Party: From Messianic Nationalism to Radical Right Populism", Mediterranean Politics, 10(1), 85-97, March 2005; Filc D., “The Contradictory Trends of Health Commodification in Israel”, Journal of Social Policy, 33(3), 417-436, July 2004.

Ref: I08P0325