BEIT UMMAR, West Bank, Apr 28, 2010 (IPS)
– Residents of this Palestinian village refuse to buy the idea that the
flood of raw sewage from the adjacent Israeli settlement of Kfar
Etzion, that destroyed vineyards and contaminated their drinking water,
was an accident.
The Israeli Civil Administration, which administers the occupied
West Bank, claims the spillage was the result of an accidental power
malfunction which caused excess settlement sewage to overflow onto
"This was no mistake," says a British activist who has been documenting
life in the village for several months. "The pipe was deliberately
unscrewed by hand so that the sewage would spill over into Beit Ummar.
That has nothing to do with an electricity cut," he told IPS.
Villagers standing near a completely destroyed 70,000 sq m vineyard
belonging to the Sabarneh family said they believe it was a deliberate
act of sabotage and part of a concerted campaign by the settlers to
harass their Palestinian neighbours and vandalise their property.
Beit Ummar has been the target of a number of Israeli military raids at
night last month. Activists who have been organising non-violent
protests against the expropriation of their land for the settlements
have been arrested and the village blockaded.
In a similar incident last week the Palestinian village of Bruqin, in
the northern West Bank, was flooded with sewage from the nearby Ariel
settlement, causing contamination of underground water and springs and
These incidents are part of a larger problem of scarce water resources
where a Palestinian population of 2.5 million survives on 17 percent of
the West Bank’s main underground aquifer.
The remaining water is channelled towards the West Bank’s (including
East Jerusalem) 500,000 Israeli settlers, and into Israel proper.
The water shortage is compounded by the lack of wastewater treatment
plants and inefficient treatment of waste and sewage in the Palestinian
territory which fouls its water sources.
Israeli rights group B’tselem released a study last year called ‘Foul Play: Neglect of wastewater treatment in the West Bank’.
According to the organisation, more than 90 percent of Palestinian
wastewater is not treated while only 20 percent of Palestinian homes,
primarily in towns and cities, are connected to sewerage systems.
Furthermore, only 81 of 121 illegal Israeli settlements are connected
to wastewater treatment facilities. Over half of the settlements’
treatment plants are too small to treat waste effectively and are
ill-equipped to handle the burgeoning settler population.
The result is continual technical breakdowns and sewage overflow. Most
of the settlements are situated on ridges and hilltops so sewage flows
down towards the Palestinian villages and towns in the valleys below,
contaminating their drinking water supplies and destroying their crops.
The Israeli settlers are not affected by this as they are connected to Israel’s water supply.
The planning and building authorities in the settlements and Israeli
industrial areas also ignore Jordanian building and planning laws which
govern how wastewater is to be treated in the West Bank.
The B’tselem report further outlines the neglect of the territory’s
water treatment plants by the Israeli Civil Administration during the
decades of occupation and the current difficulties faced by Palestinian
Authority (PA) water officials in trying to build new wastewater
treatment plants or repair the old ones.
There is currently only one wastewater treatment plant operating in the
West Bank in Ramallah. Three others have ceased to function and the PA
has been unable to repair them or build new ones.
The West Bank is divided into Area A, which is under Palestinian
control, Area B under joint Palestinian and Israeli control, and Area C
which is under full Israeli control.
Area C comprises 60 percent of the West Bank. Areas A and B are mostly built up with little free land available.
However, in order to move around or build new wastewater treatment
plants in Area C Palestinian officials from the PA Environment
Authority require building permits from the Israeli Civil
B’tselem and PA officials complain of the delays these officials face in getting building approval if they get them at all.
"There is an enormous amount of red tape and bureaucracy that
Palestinian officials have to overcome before they get the permits,"
says Eyal Hareuveni, the author of the B’tselem report.
"The Israeli Civil Administration says that the Palestinians don’t
provide the necessary detailed building plans as they have been
instructed but I think the administration is being deliberately
difficult," Hareuveni told IPS.
Issa Moussa from the PA’s Environmental Authority denied that the PA provided insufficient details.
"We have the case of wanting to build a new wastewater treatment plant
in Tulkarem in the northern West Bank. We provided absolutely
everything requested but we were still waiting for a permit," Moussa
Other difficulties facing the more efficient handling of wastewater are
the restrictions placed on Palestinian movement in the West Bank by the
Israeli military. This has led to increased costs for donors who
support wastewater projects and who in turn have cut down on their
A Joint Water Committee between Israel and the PA was established
following the Oslo Peace Accord of 1993, to address water issues.
One of the disputes between the sides is the Israeli insistence that
settlement sewage be connected to future Palestinian wastewater
The Palestinians reject this as this implies that the settlements are
permanent and say their refusal to approve this condition is one of the
reasons for approval being withheld on the construction of wastewater
With no higher authority to settle the disagreement the situation will only worsen in the future.
"Neither side seems to be making the urgent issue of water and waste treatment a priority," Hareuveni told IPS.