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An everyday scene for locals in Nahhalin looks strange to outsiders. A woman in modest attire and elegant shoes hitches up her dress as she gets into a car. She doesn’t want it to trail in the sewage that routinely runs down the street — overflow from Nahhalin households that don’t bother to empty their cesspits. Despite international aid to the P.A., outside the big cities, cesspits are the norm— and even when residents do empty them, this just means moving the waste, untreated, to a less populated spot of the West Bank.
In nearby Wadi Fuki, children play in the pools that collect spring water for farmers, but village elder Mohamed Rachad Manasarah acknowledged that because of pollution by the village, this spring water isn’t safe to drink. And when the sewage overflows from Beitar Illit, which stands above this village as well as above Nahhalin, “you can’t breathe because of the smell.”
Moshe Friedman, spokesman for the Beitar Illit municipality, acknowledged that there have been a “number of malfunctions” but said that repairs have been carried out which will prevent the problem from recurring.
The environment of the West Bank doesn’t only have its own sewage — around 75 million cubic meters a year altogether — to deal with. More liquid waste flows from East Jerusalem into the area. There, the Jerusalem municipality, which is responsible for disposing of it, just pumps the sewage out of the city into the surrounding area. Friends of the Earth estimates that 11 million cubic meters flow from Jerusalem and its surroundings, down the Kidron Valley and into the West Bank.
The Jerusalem municipality referred the Forward’s request for a comment on the flow of untreated sewage from Jerusalem to the company that manages its sewage, Hagihon. The company’s spokesman Kuti Fundaminski said: “We have hired a Dutch company to take care of it.” Once the Dutch company, which was engaged around six months ago, has finished its project, all Jerusalem sewage will be treated, he said. Fundaminski said that he did not know the timeline for that.
The Israelis and the Palestinians blame each other for their respective poor performances on sewage. The peace process of the 1990s required each to approve major water-related development in the West Bank. That hasn’t happened. And each group says it is being held back by the other’s obstinacy.
“We have a plan and a budget to take care of all this sewage, but we need Palestinian agreement,” said Shor, who stressed that Israeli plans would deal with sewage from Jerusalem as well as from settlements. But even though Palestinians have approved plans in the past, they say today that they won’t approve any sewage infrastructure for settlements.
“We will not be part of legalizing anything that relates to settlements. We won’t approve any project that will later benefit the settlements,” said Ashraf Khatib, adviser to the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat.