B'tselem: West Bank sewage runs amuck

According to report, most of the untreated sewage ends up in the Dead Sea.

sewage kidron 224.88 (photo credit: Israel Nature and Park Authority )
sewage kidron 224.88
(photo credit: Israel Nature and Park Authority )
Most of the sewage that flows through the West Bank from parts of Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian cities and villages is untreated or inadequately treated, causing serious damage to the water supply and the environment, according to a report published by the human rights organization B'Tselem early this morning. According to the report, entitled "Foul Play: Neglect of Wastewater Treatment in the West Bank," these areas produced a total of 91 million cubic meters of sewage in 2007. This includes 17.5 million cubic meters from 121 Jewish settlements, of which 12 million cubic meters are treated and 5.5 million flow into the West Bank as raw sewage. In Jerusalem, the amount of sewage that flows eastward into the West Bank includes 10 million cubic meters of raw sewage and 7.3 million cubic meters which are treated when they reach the Og water treatment center near Jericho and are then used by Israel. Most of the untreated sewage ends up in the Dead Sea. The West Bank Palestinian cities and villages produce 56 million cubic meters of sewage, of which only 5-10 percent are treated. Today, there is only one sewage treatment plant in the entire West Bank, one of four built by Israeli authorities in the 1970s and the only one still functioning. According to the report, it would cost between $1.2 million and $1.8m. to build a sufficient number of treatment plants to handle the sewage emanating from the Palestinian cities and villages. Between 1996 and 2001, the international community raised NIS 230 million to NIS 260m. to build 15 new sewage treatment centers. So far, however, only one has been built, for the city of El-Bireh. Another three planned centers have received preliminary approval, two of them only in 2008. Israel is largely to blame for the delays that have accrued, B'Tselem charged. One reason for this is that sewage treatment plants take up a great deal of space. There is virtually no room for them in Area A (the Palestinian cities) and little room in Area B (in which the Palestinians have civilian control over the territory.) Therefore, many of the sites that have been chosen are in Area C (where Israel controls both security and civilian affairs.) Such requests must not only be approved by the joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee but also by the Civil Administration, which turns down many of them even after the Water Committee has approved them, and even though the Civil Administration has a representative on the committee. Another problem is that Israel insists that wastewater from Jewish settlements be treated in the Palestinian centers. The Palestinians refuse to agree because they claim it would indicate that they legitimize the Israeli settlement program. The situation today is already causing serious problems, B'Tselem charged. For example, many of the treatment facilities in the Jewish settlements are old and poorly maintained. Often they stop functioning and the raw sewage flows uncontrolled. The fact that most of the settlements are built on the top of hills means that the sewage flows downwards into the Palestinian population centers. When this happened at Alon Moreh, "the sewage flowed down towards the olive orchards of Azmut village and then, along an open channel to the center of the village, a few meters from the houses and adjacent to a school," wrote B'Tselem. "The sewage includes industrial waste from tanning and food preparation factories in which the acidic content is very high and can cause burns. The results of a laboratory examination pointed to the grave health danger to humans and animals from the contamination of the village wells and to the underground waters of the mountain aquifer." Another problem is that Israel has insisted that the Palestinians build three-stage sewage treatment centers rather than the two-stage centers that currently exist in Israel. These increase the cost of the centers by an estimated 60-100 percent. Among its recommendations, B'Tselem called on the authorities to enforce the law against Jewish settlements that pollute and that they remove their demand for three-stage treatment centers. It called on the Palestinians to drop their objection to treat settlement wastewater in their treatment centers.