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.
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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.”


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