Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Afash and the Village of Wadi al-Na’am
This is Ibrahim abu Afash, he’s the sheikh of the unrecognized village of Wadi al-Na’am, perhaps the most infamous of the unrecognized villages. His countenance is remarkable: the most dignified, distinguished, and regal way of carrying himself I’ve ever seen. Such that, when he enters the room, it’s completely clear he is a true leader.
He has these eyes, so full of light and life, they just convey such brilliance and warmth, it’s an honor just to be around. Photos by Rachael Strecher.
Wadi al-Na’am is a village of 7000 people located around 15 km south of Be’er Sheva. The village is unrecognized by the Israeli government, meaning they receive no water, no electricity, no sewage, no paved roads, or any other basic services. That is the case with 45 villages in the Negev, with a combined population of 76,000 people.
Wadi al-Na’am is special, in terms of infamy, because of the presence of Ramat Hovav just on the other side of the hill. Ramat Hovav is name that inspires visceral emotions in those who know the situation. A chemical plant that houses a pesticides factory, a plastics factory, a pharmaceuticals factory, a hazardous waste disposal site and many other happy and pleasant environmental castastrophes, Ramat Hovav’s toxic cloud has spread over Wadi al-Na’am since 1979, and as a result the people in the village have the highest rate of medical problems anywhere in Israel. The highest rate of cancer, highest rate of miscarraiges, highest rate of birth defects, all due to the presence of the plant.
The plant has been wrought with problems since its inception, there is widespread leakage into the ground, explosions occur from time to time sending more toxic chemicals into the air, it does not even closely conform to Israeli standards for industrial plants. One method of toxic waste disposal is to put the waste into pools and wait for it to evaporate into the air. One study found that the amount of pollution produced by Ramat Hovav was 4500 times that of the legal amount in Israel.