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Palestinian villages struggle as Israeli settlement waste contaminates the environment

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Screen shot 2012 08 06 at 4 33 24 PMPalestinian children play in a polluted stream contaminated by wastewater from Ariel settlement, Bruqin, West Bank. (Photo: EWASH-OPT)

“The bad odor is constant here and nowadays it has become normal to find rodents and insects in this area” Ahmed, a resident of Burin, tells staring at the smelly polluted water flowing less than 10 meters from the houses of his village located between Salfit and Nablus, in the northern part of the West Bank – “It’s not only about the smell. In the village a lot of people suffer from skin diseases, asthmas, and other illnesses.” The waste water stemming from Ariel settlement has played a major role in the contamination of water and in the pollution of the environment in the Salfit area. Due to the concentration of pollutant elements in this zone, many agricultural fields have been destroyed and many animals and plants have been killed. Moreover, many infectious waterborne diseases, like diarrhea, have broken out especially among children.

Betar Illit from Nahalin MartaFortunato
Betar Illit from Nahalin (Photo: Marta Fortunato)

The inhabitants of Wadi Fukin and Nahalin, south-west of Bethlehem, face the same problems. Surrounded by the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, these two villages, known for the quality of the agricultural products, are constantly threatened by the flow of waste water coming from the nearby settlement. “Inside Beitar Illit there is a waste water treatment facility but it can’t handle the amount of waste water it receives and as a consequence it overflows reversing untreated waste water onto the agricultural fields” explains Dib Najajrah, a resident of Wadi Fukin. “Moreover, in the last years the settlers have started attacking our crops by deliberately pumping the waste water coming out of the settlement into the cultivated land of Nahalin.”

Water pollution and contamination of ground water are the main environmental threats that the Palestinians living in the West Bank have to deal with. As an occupying power, according to the article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has the duty of “ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities… public health and hygiene in the occupied territory” in order to prevent the spread of diseases and epidemics. However, since 1967 Israel has consistently failed to provide Palestinians with efficient sewage and waste water facilities and at the same time the Israeli settlements have started discharging untreated domestic and industrial sewage onto the aquifer, causing the contamination of ground water and the destruction of Palestinian agricultural fields.

Only in recent years did Israel start equipping the settlements with sewage treatment plants and facilities but the problem hasn’t been solved as settlements still continue to be the major cause of environmental pollution in the West Bank. Half a million Israeli settlers living in the West Bank produce 54 million of cubic meters of domestic waste water per year, an amount which is larger than the one produced by the two millions and a half Palestinians living in the West Bank (Applied Research Institute, 2008). Moreover, according to a report about water pollution published by Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Civil Administration in August 2008, only 81 out of 121 Israeli settlements in the West Bank are connected to waste water treatment facilities and most of them are small and can’t handle the large amount of waste water produced. As a result, only 12 MCM of settlement waste water out of 17.5 MCM of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) settlements are treated. Moreover, as reported by the Israeli NGO B’tselem in June 2009, none of the Israeli “outposts” were equipped with waste water treatment facilities.

As far as Palestinians in the West Bank are concerned, the situation is not better. Only 31 percent of them are link to sewage network – with only one waste water treatment plant in operation in al-Bireh (Ramallah) – while the remaining two third of the population depends on self-installed cesspits and septic tanks. The main reason for this deficiency is due to the Israeli refusal to grant permits to Palestinians, through the Joint Water Committee (JWC) – established with Oslo in 1995 – and the Israeli Civil Administration. Between 1995 and 2011 only 4 waste water treatment plant projects out of 30 were accepted. The Israeli government uses the veto power in the JWC as a “political bargaining chip” (COHRE, 2008). For example, in 1998 the Palestinian Water Authority received funds from the German Development Bank to build a wastewater treatment plant in the Salfit Governorate. The JWC approved the project conditional upon connecting the largest West Bank settlement of Ariel to the treatment plant.

“This isn’t the full story” Dib continues – “Not only does Israel fail to provide facilities to Palestinians, but it also profits from the Palestinian untreated waste water.” Indeed Israel exploits the untreated Palestinian waste water, by treating it inside modern facilities located in Israel and reusing it to irrigate agricultural fields in Israel, deducting the cost for treating the wastewater from the tax monies of the Palestinian Authority.

Marta Fortunato

Marta Fortunato is an Italian journalist and she has been living in Palestine for more than a year. She worked for the the Alternative Information Center and she volunteered for the Jordan Valley Solidarity living in the village of al-Jiftlik (Jordan Valley). Now she is doing an internship with the EWASH Advocay Task Force campaigning for water rights for Palestinians.

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20 Responses

  1. justicewillprevail on August 7, 2012, 11:03 am

    A perfect symbol of Israel and the settlers attitude. We sh*t on you. Same as their attitude to American voters and just about everybody outside the bubble.

    • Mooser on August 7, 2012, 12:28 pm

      Gee, when I think that the settlers had to fight everybody in Israel, the Government, the IDF, the populace, the overseas supporters, to establish their settlements one must admire their perspicacity and tenaciousness, doesn’t one?
      No doubt they will be easy to integrate into Israel and form a blocheaded group of useful citizens.

    • DICKERSON3870 on August 7, 2012, 1:32 pm

      RE: “A perfect symbol of Israel and the settlers attitude. We sh*t on you.” ~ justicewillprevail

      MY REPLY: And sometimes the settlers literally sh*t on people! Even on fellow Jews.
      FROM SEVERAL YEARS AGO: “Jews protect Palestinians in harvest of hate” – By Donald Macintyre in Awarta, West Bank, The Independent (U.K.), 10/10/08
      Israelis cross religious divide to shelter olive farmers from settlers’ attacks

      [EXCERPTS] . . . Born in Tel Aviv, Ms Siew served in the army, took a university degree, then a teacher’s diploma. Thirty-six years ago, she took the tough decision to emigrate to London, telling her parents: “I won’t come back until there’s peace.” Ms Siew, who is now 64, remains an Israeli citizen but now lives with her British husband in Hebden Bridge. She has kept to her word, except that each autumn she comes back to stay in her hometown with her relatives and spends each day of the two-month harvest season picking olives on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank.
      And Ms Siew does that for a purpose. Up on the ridge above us, you can see the red roofs of Itamar, a notably hard-line Jewish settlement, and she is here to help protect the Palestinian farmers from the threat of settler violence which has so often scarred the olive harvests.
      . . . Last year, she was in a group in the South Hebron Hills confronted by settlers who fired shots from a pistol and an M16 assault rifle, despite the presence of the army and police. “Then one of the soldiers said, ‘Look, one of them is coming down with a jug of water for you’. The settler emptied the jug over me. It was full of human sh*t.”. . .


  2. amigo on August 7, 2012, 12:52 pm

    Correction The waste material is still inhabiting the illegal settlements.

  3. Clif Brown on August 7, 2012, 5:17 pm

    This is in perfect accord with the “Arabs are animals” idea.

    Think about how people have treated animals through the ages. If they are considered a nuisance or interfere with what people want to do, they are swept from the area by hunting or poisoning. If not a nuisance, they are ignored and left to deal with the consequences of human populations as best they can. My drinking water and yours must be pure, but the animals can swim in our sewage, so what? After all, they are just animals.

    We humans, as we are always pointing out to each other, are not animals, right?

  4. Blake on August 7, 2012, 6:05 pm

    They really have ruined a beautiful countryside.

  5. eljay on August 7, 2012, 6:16 pm

    >> Half a million Israeli settlers living in the West Bank produce [a larger amount of waste water] than the one produced by the two millions and a half Palestinians living in the West Bank …

    Makes sense: The Zio-supremacist “Jewish State” colonists are more full of shit than the Palestinians they oppress.

  6. Daniel Rich on August 7, 2012, 6:45 pm

    More and more the Israeli experiment resembles a ravenous [and deadly] virus that wrecks havoc on its host’s body. How long will the world stand by and stare at its own, clumsy feet, afraid to death to make the first move?

  7. dbroncos on August 7, 2012, 9:18 pm

    Thank you for this post, Marta.

    For many decades Jewish settlers have been discharching their shit and piss into Palestinian wells, drinking water and agricultural fields. Intentionally endangering the health and welfare of the non-Jewish population in such a crude and disgusting manner is a bleak symbol of expulsion politics. I am sure to mention this tactic when I explain the occupation, how it works and what the goals are of the Israeli state, to someone who has no knowledge of the inner workings of Israel’s fascist regime. Not everyone can imagine the evil associated with Israeli check points and road closures but everyone has an intimate understanding of the implications around shitting in a well or a stream from which children get their drinking water. This is Israel’s occupation at its worst and it should be exposed for all the world to see. Thanks again, Marta.

  8. vivarto on August 7, 2012, 11:06 pm

    The basic issue is almost never addressed.
    The issue is that there is no place for Jewish and Palestinian nation.
    Only one can exist in this geographical location.
    The long term solution is either eradication either one or the other of the two.
    Now, eradication of the nation, does not necessarily mean killing of all the individuals.
    For either, or both the groups can disappear through assimilation.
    Jews are on their way to disappearing as a unique group outside of Israel, through assimilation and intermarriage.
    Likewise the Palestinian Arabs could easily integrated and assimilate in any of the closely related Arab groups surrounding them.

    Realistically there are no other options on long term.
    Some people hallucinate a happy by-national multireligious state with Jews and Arabs living in harmony. Such imagination does not correspond to any achievable reality, as neither group wishes to integrate with the other.
    Lebanon was an attempt for making a multi-religious society. The attempt resulted in horrendous civil war with 200,000 dead. After the Muslim became majority there, they naturally overthrew the constitutionally guaranteed Christian government. With that, went the glory of Beirut, and the country is in a constant internal conflict between the various groups.
    Jews and Muslim Arabs are still much more different and no integration is possible there for a few centuries to com.
    So the matter is really a preference:
    A lot of people would like to see a world without the Jews. Though they never acknowledge that. This group includes the so called “progressive” Jews, who would to deny that they are a members of a separate people (nation).
    Others believe that there will be no loss whatsoever if the Palestinian Arabs integrate with other Arabs.

    All this nonsense about evil the “settlers”, versus the evil “Palestinians” is just surface noise.

    • annie on August 8, 2012, 12:13 am

      Jews are on their way to disappearing as a unique group outside of Israel

      no they are not. they are thriving.

      Palestinian Arabs could easily integrated and assimilate in any of the closely related Arab groups surrounding them.

      jews could easily integrated and assimilate in any of the closely related groups surrounding them too. what’s the difference between jews assimilating and palestinians assimilating? maybe they should start assimilating with eachother more. that might lead to more harmony.

    • talknic on August 8, 2012, 1:39 am

      vivarto August 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm

      “The basic issue is almost never addressed”

      Er… yes it is UNSC res 476 encapsulates most of it. I guess you meant to say the basic issue is ignored…

      “The issue is that there is no place for Jewish and Palestinian nation.”

      Bullsh*te. In 1948 we were given completely gratis thge territory for a Jewish state, more than enough territory for every Jewish person on the planet today. Israel has no right to illegally acquire any territory outside the State of Israel.

    • justicewillprevail on August 9, 2012, 9:51 am

      vivarto, this is a junk comment, and you know it.

      • vivarto on August 9, 2012, 3:21 pm

        No, I don’t know it. And I would not have spent the substantial time to formulating and putting down my thoughts on the subject if I thought it was “junk”.
        On the contrary, I believe that this is the very core of the conflict and that it is something that is almost never discussed.
        We all assume that somehow in the future Jews and the “Palestinians” can live in peace together and that such peace can be achieved through negotiations and compromises.
        I am proposing another thesis:
        Palestine is too small for a national home for two radically different and incompatible cultures. It is an Either/Or situation.
        You don’t have to agree with my analysis, but approaching it with a ready made conclusion that it is “junk”, will not allow us to probe the truth or falsity of it.

      • annie on August 9, 2012, 4:35 pm

        You don’t have to agree with my analysis, but approaching it with a ready made conclusion that it is “junk”

        ‘junk’ is polite. so, other than ethnic cleansing what’s your solution. and please do not propose anything concerning compensation without using the same standard jews would accept. iow, do not suggest palestinians accept money for jerusalem unless you name a price jews would also accept.

        seriously, do you really think anyone here is going to buy your lame justifications why jews deserve the land more than palestinians?

        so name your price big much is jerusalem worth to you. in a dollar amount. name your price. put up or you know what. don’t act like you deserve some kind of respect for articulating the holy land is only big enough for your ethnic group.

        and i could give a flying-you-know-what how much substantial time you spend formulating and putting down your thoughts.

      • justicewillprevail on August 9, 2012, 5:19 pm

        Are we supposed to be impressed that you spent so much time paraphrasing “the Palestinians should be thrown out of their own country, where they have lived for centuries, in order that Jews, many from prosperous countries and with no prior connection to Palestine, can help themselves to it”? Here’s your answer: it is all false BS. If you actually believe this tripe, clear out all the new immigrants from the last 70 years, who have instigated the violence and theft, since your only answer is expulsion. And try paying attention to the topic, instead of issuing junk diversions based on the desire to extinguish an entire country and its people.

  9. traintosiberia on August 7, 2012, 11:30 pm

    Israel has also abundantly used depleted uranium and related radioactive material against civilan population in war and has used it as recently as 2006 in lebanon.

  10. traintosiberia on August 7, 2012, 11:31 pm

    ” on Wednesday, Israeli war planes repeatedly bombed and utterly demolished Gaza’s only power plant. About 700,000 of Gaza’s 1.3 million people now have no electricity, and word is that power cannot be restored for six months.

    It is not the immediate human conditions created by this strike that are monumental. Those conditions are, of course, bad enough. No lights, no refrigerators, no fans through the suffocating Gaza summer heat. No going outside for air, due to ongoing bombing and Israel’s impending military assault. In the hot darkness, massive explosions shake the cities, close and far, while repeated sonic booms are doubtless wreaking the havoc they have wrought before: smashing windows, sending children screaming into the arms of terrified adults, old people collapsing with heart failure, pregnant women collapsing with spontaneous abortions. Mass terror, despair, desperate hoarding of food and water. And no radios, television, cell phones, or laptops (for the few who have them), and so no way to get news of how long this nightmare might go on.

    But this time, the situation is worse than that. As food in the refrigerators spoils, the only remaining food is grains. Most people cook with gas, but with the borders sealed, soon there will be no gas. When family-kitchen propane tanks run out, there will be no cooking. No cooked lentils or beans, no humus, no bread ­ the staples Palestinian foods, the only food for the poor. (And there is no firewood or coal in dry, overcrowded Gaza.)

    And yet, even all this misery is overshadowed by a grimmer fact: no water. Gaza’s public water supply is pumped by electricity. The taps, too, are dry. No sewage system. And again, word is that the electricity is out for at least six months.

    The Gaza aquifer is already contaminated with sea water and sewage, due to over-pumping (partly by those now-abandoned Israeli settlements) and the grossly inadequate sewage system. To be drinkable, well water is purified through machinery run by electricity. Otherwise, the brackish water must at least be boiled before it can be consumed, but this requires electricity or gas. And people will soon have neither.

    Drinking unpurified water means sickness, even cholera. If cholera breaks out, it will spread like wildfire in a population so densely packed and lacking fuel or water for sanitation. And the hospitals and clinics aren’t functioning, either, because there is no electricity.” June 29 , 2006 Counterpunch
    Israel’s Appalling Bombing in Gaza
    Starving in the Dark

  11. vivarto on August 8, 2012, 1:06 am

    Wednesday, Israeli war planes repeatedly bombed and utterly demolished Gaza’s only power plant. About 700,000 of Gaza’s 1.3 million people now have no electricity,

    Where did you get this information?
    What is the source?

    • annie on August 8, 2012, 1:14 am

      Where did you get this information?
      What is the source?

      viv, this was a famous incident. many sources wrote about it. i suggest b’tselem’s

      “Act of Vengeance: Israel’s Bombing of the Gaza Power Plant and its Effects, Sept. 2006”

      September 2006, Status Report

      In the early morning hours of 28 June 2006, following the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli Air Force attacked the only electrical power plant operating in the Gaza Strip. Six missiles were fired at the power plant’s six transformers. Two of the missiles missed their target, so two more missiles were fired a few minutes later, destroying the remaining transformers.

      Three months have passed since the attack. Public and media attention has long since shifted elsewhere. Nevertheless, for the 1.4 million residents of the Gaza Strip, who have been forced to live without electricity for long parts of the day and night, the harsh effects of the attack continue to be felt.

      The effects of the attack are apparent in all areas of life. As a result of the lack of electricity, the level of medical services provided by clinics and hospitals has declined significantly; most of the urban population receive only two or three hours of water a day; the sewage system is on the verge of collapse; many inhabitants’ mobility has been severely restricted as a result of non-functioning elevators; and the lack of refrigeration has exposed many to the danger of food-poisoning. Small businesses reliant on a regular power supply have been badly affected. The hardship involved in living without a steady flow of electricity is exacerbated by the deep economic crisis afflicting the Gaza Strip.

      there’s more at the link

      btw, i found it in seconds by googling ‘Israel bombed Gaza power plant’. for more on the trajectory of events leading to that bombing i suggest reading about israel’s brutal massacre of a gazan family on the beach that broke the ceasefire between israel and hamas on June 9th, 2006:

      Famous Gaza killing featured in ‘New Yorker’ broke the ceasefire that led to ‘Operation Summer Rains’:

      The attack occurred less than 6 months after Hamas won the January 2006 legislative elections and the Quartet imposed harsh economic sanctions against the Palestinian territories, a precursor of the current blockade of Gaza still in effect today. Later that month, after the attack on the Ghaliya Family, after the abduction on the 24th of Osama and Mustafa Muamar, Gilad Shalit was captured and held as a hostage. Shortly thereafter, on June 28th, Israel officially launched its summer operation, and the next day abducted numerous Hamas officials, 8 ministers, and 26 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

      israel ‘officially’ kicked off operation summer rains on june 28th, the same day they bombed the power plant, but they first broke the ceasefire on the 9th with the massacre. google is your friend.

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