State halts work on Ofra waste-water purification plan

Local council head warns that move will harm the environment.

water treatment plant 88 248 (photo credit: )
water treatment plant 88 248
(photo credit: )
The state acknowledged on Monday that a waste-water purification plant, partly funded by government ministries, is being built for the Ofra settlement on private Palestinian land and without a permit. Whether the structure would be demolished, as per the stop-work orders issued last year, was not disclosed. The information came in a brief to the High Court of Justice in response to a petition by two Palestinians from Ein Yabrud who say they own the land and did not give permission to use it to those behind the project, which include the Union of Cities Authority for the Environment in Samaria, Ofra, the Binyamin Regional Council and Global Environmental Solutions. The petitioners, represented by the rights organization Yesh Din, demanded the state carry out the court order and dismantle the facility, which they say encompasses 37 dunams of land, including four dunams above ground and 33 dunams below ground. A dunam is a 10th of a hectare. In the meantime, the petitioners asked for an interim injunction ordering the state and local authorities to halt all construction and not to connect the facility to infrastructure until the court ruled on the core demand to demolish the facility. The state's reply referred only to the request for an interim injunction. Attorney Avi Licht told the court that currently work was not being done on the wastewater purification plan and it had not been connected to the electricity grid. Furthermore, in March, an adviser to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz ordered the ministries to stop transferring funds for the project. The petitioners estimated the total cost of the plant at NIS 7.8 million. The state hinted it would oppose the petitioner's demand to dismantle the facility. "Because of the short amount of time we have been given, we cannot expand on the circumstances which led to the construction of the plant and the state's position on the substance of the matter," Licht wrote. "The matter is under discussion by the Justice Ministry with the participation of others, as well as in other forums to consolidate our position on this subject." Binyamin Regional Council head Avi Ro'eh said failure to finish the plant would harm the environment. The plant, he said, was constructed because Jews and Palestinians who live in the area had no way to treat their sewage, which at present streamed into the valley near Ofra. The plant was meant to treat sewage from both Ofra and a nearby Palestinian village, Ro'eh said. Ro'eh said he entered his post after the project began and was not involved in locating a site for the plant. He also said he understood the project had been undertaken at the request of the Environmental Protection Ministry, in conjunction with the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria and with state financing. "All that is going to happen now is that sewage is going to continue to stream into the valley," he said. Dror Etkes of Yesh Din said the plant had been initially designed to only serve Ofra. It was only recently that "they are saying they wanted to connect it to a Palestinian village," he said. Yesh Din filed the High Court petition because it believed that a solution to sewage contamination should not involve taking people's land, he said. "Whatever you want to do, you should do legally," Etkes said.