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"Occupied" Pollution

Palestine Monitor


April 23, 2010

There are 121 settlements in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. In many of these, violence against the local Palestinian population is common. In a number, however, it is pollution that is a major problem. Waste-water pollution from settlements destroys crops and trees, pollutes ground and drinking water supplies, and damages land and harms wildlife and the communities dependent on it. Palestine Monitor examines 3 cases.


Just north of Route 5, near Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank, downhill from the Israeli settlement of Elqana, a pipe pumps foul-smelling domestic waste-water from the settlement into a Palestinian valley.

The land is owned by farmers from the nearby town of Az Zawiya. The waste water also flows into a river that acts as a water source for the town.

Uphill, two large tanks denote the water clarification plant whose construction is ongoing. The plant’s construction, a venture by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Company of Economy of the Local Administration, should halt the sewage flow. But there is a twist: the sewage plant is being built illegally, not merely under the international law that is roundly ignored in the West Bank, but under Israeli law. It was constructed on two dunams of expropriated land.

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Sign in Elqana detailing construction works on water clarification plant. Translation: "The local council of Elqana is pleased to announce that the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Company of Economy of the Local Administration operate upgrading and widening of the sewage plant of Elqana. The construction of the sewage plant is done for the benefit of residents."
Photo: Palestine Monitor

The Land Project of Israeli NGO Yesh Din specialises in serving petitions against constructions in the West Bank that are illegal under Israeli law. In a similar situation over a year ago involving the settlement of Ofra, near Silwad, the project served a petition to the Israeli courts to halt construction of a water treatment plant. The plant was built without permits on illegally expropriated Palestinian land at a cost of 8 or 9 million NIS.

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Under construction: the sewage plant at Elqana
Photo: Palestine Monitor

The petition was successful, but at a cost. Since the clarification plant was halted at around 90 percent complete, the settlement continues to let its sewage water flow into Palestinian land, continuing destruction of the environment and local communities. This case illuminates the difficult trade-off between pragmatism and principles: allow the building of illegal water clarification plants or allow sewage flow into Palestinian land to continue?

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Waste water flowing out of the incomplete Revava sewage plant. It flows down into a nearby valley.
Photo: Palestine Monitor

In the Elqana case, Yesh Din’s team first consulted with the community to find out whether they wanted to file a petition. The community opted for pragmatism: allow illegal construction to go ahead, in order to halt water pollution and reclaim Palestinian land for farming. But it can hardly be called a victory, since the land should never have been polluted in the first place. It is the residents of Elqana who stand to gain from the decision, gaining legitimacy from Az-Zawiya’s consent to the construction.

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Waste water flowing out of the incomplete Revava sewage plant. It flows down into a nearby valley.
Photo: Palestine Monitor
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Waste water flowing out of the incomplete Revava sewage plant. It flows down into a nearby valley.
Photo: Palestine Monitor


The situation in Ariel, east of Elqana, is similar. The water treatment plant there is operational, but is poorly maintained, and has been unable to cope with the rise in Ariel’s population – from around ten thousand to over sixteen thousand – since it was built in the early 1990s.

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Multiple sources pollute the valley next to Salfit
Photo: Palestine Monitor

In addition, a pipe from the nearby industrial zone of Burkan releases industrial and chemical waste from its various enterprises. Industrial regulations are much less strict in the West Bank than in Israel, prompting many companies to base themselves here instead.

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Photo: Palestine Monitor
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Photo: Palestine Monitor

Both Ariel and Burkan let their waste water flow into a valley next to the Palestinian town of Salfit, withering its crops and killing wildlife. However, the valley suffers pollution from a third source: Salfit itself. Salfit has no sewage treatment system whatsoever.

The town was given somewhere between 60 and 70 million NIS by the German government to install an effective sewage system. The Israeli Civil Authority, which controls Area C of the West Bank, insisted that Ariel be hooked up to the same system. When Salfit did not agree, they were forced by the Civil Authority to return the money. As both sides in Ariel and Salfit have reached an impasse, polluted water continues to flow.

Video: Sewage flow from Ariel and Salfit. Courtesy of B’Tselem


Revava is another settlement with insufficient infrastructure to cope with the waste it generates. Sewage used to flow to a valley a mile or two from the settlement. When we visited, however, the valley was dry. Visiting the settlement, a construction worker – ironically, a Palestinian, as most construction workers on settlements are – told us that there was a tank that filled up with sewage just next to the settlement. When it periodically fills, it releases all of the sewage water that has been stored in one go.

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Potholes filled with waste water by the settlement of Revava
Photo: Palestine Monitor

Closer inspection of this area just next to the settlement revealed something else, however. It seemed that settlers had dug potholes in the ground to contain the waste water without letting it flow into the valley. Exactly what the intention was is not clear. Perhaps by containing the sewage water so close to the settlement they hoped that it would not be discovered.

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Potholes filled with waste water by the settlement of Revava
Photo: Palestine Monitor

Despite its close proximity to the settlement, the polluted land is a Palestinian olive grove. The construction worker informed us that the Palestinian farmer who owns the land has given up coming to harvest his olives in the summer due to the smell and the mosquitoes that the waste water brings in.

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Domestic waste water flowing down the middle of a road at the edge of Revava
Photo: Palestine Monitor
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The sewage plant at Revava is completely overgrown
Photo: Palestine Monitor
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Household waste carried by the water is left to harden on the ground
Photo: Palestine Monitor

"The greater architecture"

"The really interesting story is how occupation creates an unsustainable ecological reality", says Dror Etkes of Yesh Din. "It’s not just one outpost that is polluting with its dirty water."

Of course, from the point of view of a farmer whose land is polluted or has been expropriated to build a sewage plant, a single case can be very important. "But the really interesting thing is the architecture, the greater architecture blocking sustainable development."

Israeli settlements are constructed upon a policy of accelerated expansion. Houses are often incomplete when settlers move in – they are expanded when a couple has children or requires more space.

As with most Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, the pressing concern is to establish favourable facts on the ground which can then be used as leverage for legal concerns. In the case of sewage water, settlements begin by creating the waste water and dumping it outside the settlement; only when there is time and money is a clarification plant built.

In this way they can gain leverage for illegal plants. Yesh Din has even been accused by settlement associations of not caring about the environment it purports to look after, by closing down illegal plants such as Ofra at the expense of the natural environment. The real blame, however, should lie with those settlements whose maintenance is unsustainable.

The sign by the incomplete sewage plant in the settlement of Elqana avers that "the construction of the sewage plant is done for the benefit of the residents". This could be said of all such plants in the West Bank.

Lists companies involved (for a detailed list of companies profiting from settlement construction visit http://www.whoprofits.org/Involveme...

:: Article nr. 65352 sent on 24-apr-2010 15:38 ECT


Link: www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1367

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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