Settlers and Palestinians Alike Spew Sewage in Fragile West Bank

Environment Takes Back Seat to Conflict Over Occupation

Unfit for Consumption: Palestinian children in the West Bank village of Wadi Fuki swim in water considered too polluted to drink.
nathan jeffay
Unfit for Consumption: Palestinian children in the West Bank village of Wadi Fuki swim in water considered too polluted to drink.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published July 04, 2013, issue of July 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It is a different type of Green Line.

On a West Bank hill just six miles south of Jerusalem, a row of olive trees looks far greener than anything else in the landscape. This is not thanks to a clever form of growing technology, but because for hours or days each month the trees have been awash in raw sewage.

The fastest growing of all the settlements, Beitar Illit, has expanded quicker than its sewage infrastructure, meaning that the pumping system that carries away its wastewater tends to become overwhelmed every few weeks. At that point, the system releases sewage onto the hillside for several hours — the natural outcome of the settlement’s natural growth.

The land below the super-green olive trees, part of the Palestinian village of Nahhalin, has been abandoned for much of the past half-decade since the sewage spills became frequent. “Here, it was always planted with vegetables and also used for recreation,” local taxi driver Ahmas Chakarneh recalled. “People brought umbrellas and sat here.”

This hill and valley aren’t one-offs in the West Bank. As Israel and the Palestinians profess their deep love and historic connection to this land, and as they compete for control, both are using it as disposal ground for their liquid waste — despite the important aquifers that lie below the ground.

A new report has found that some 13% of sewage from settlements flows, untreated, into the environment. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority compiled the report, commissioned and partly funde d by the Civil Administration, the Israeli body that governs the West Bank, and by Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Asked by the Forward for a response, Israel’s Water Authority said it believes that the figure is actually higher. Its figures suggest that a quarter of settlement sewage is released without satisfactory treatment, said spokesman Uri Shor, who explained that the two authorities calculate their figures differently. Within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, only around 5% of sewage is released untreated.

As settlement sewage flows, Palestinian sewage gushes. The Palestinian Authority’s development of sewage facilities has been exceedingly slow, and almost all its sewage — around 96%, according to both Israel and the Palestinians — is released, untreated, into the environment.

Environmentalists say that the rich groundwater supply, which Israel and the Palestinians expected to divide formally as part of a future two-state solution, is in danger. “The failure is actually shooting the interests of both sides in the foot,” commented Gidon Bromberg, director of the Israel division of Friends of the Earth Middle East. “There are seeping time bombs for the water resources of both peoples.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.