sewage - Emil Salman - June 27 2011
The Jardal family in their polluted olive grove next to an IDF base. Photo by Emil Salman
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The olive grove next to the fence abutting the Israel Defense Forces base near the ancient palace and fortress Herodium, south of Jerusalem, is one of the primary sources of income for the Jardal family. But for several years, the Palestinian family has been unable to grow olives there, for which they blame the sewage from the army base that spills over into their grove on a daily basis.

"The sewage has been coming from the base for years," said Fauji Jardal, one of the family members that own the land. "We haven't been able to grow olives here, even though we used to make olive oil from these trees. There are mosquitoes and snakes hiding in the vegetation that has sprung up because of the sewage, and the children are getting sick from it."

The Jardal family is not alone. While Israel accuses the Palestinians of failing to treat the sewage they produce and of polluting the environment, the sewage produced by various Israeli government facilities is polluting it and causing direct harm to agricultural land owned by Palestinian families like the Jardals, according to Dror Etkes. Etkes previously monitored Israeli activity in the settlements for left-wing groups Peace Now and Yesh Din and is now researching such issues independently.

"The sewage pollution from military installations is within the norm, not something unusual," said Etkes, who documented sewage coming from multiple IDF bases in the West Bank.

Near the large IDF facility where the Ofer military prison is located, south of Ramallah, for instance, there is a stream of untreated sewage that pollutes Modi'in Stream and the nearby fields, endangering the groundwater and changing the vegetation in the region.

The Israel Prison Service, which is responsible for the prison, said it has hired sewage experts to come up with a solution immediately and has asked the Givat Ze'ev municipality to explore the possibility of sharing the same sewage system. Once it gets approval for a specific plan, the prison service plans to issue a tender for transferring the sewage.

Eastward, near the Anatot military base, a desert area has turned green - apparently because of the continued flow of untreated sewage from the base. The situation is similar near security installations elsewhere in the West Bank and in the Jordan Valley, according to an environmental advocate. He said that even where the army has treated the sewage problem, its efforts have been insufficient.

The IDF said it has a multi-year plan to link 150 bases, including those in the West Bank, to a sewage system at a cost of NIS 400 million, though it did not specify when that would take place. In the interim, the army said in a statement, "the IDF is meticulous about finding solutions for sewage removal."

As for the olive grove near the Herodium, Fauji Jardal said when he complained about it, the soldiers at the base "told me to go home," and then banned all men from entering the olive grove.

Just last week, following questions by Haaretz, the IDF sent someone to investigate the claims and confirmed that the Palestinian land is indeed being affected by sewage leaking from the base. It said technicians were expected to take care of the problem this week.

But with respect to other military facilities, the IDF noted, there are no recognized official complaints regarding any sewage treatment problems.