Ofra sewage-treatment plant
The Ofra sewage-treatment plant. Palestinian property owners argue it was built on privately held land. Photo by Dror Etkes
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A decision is expected in the coming weeks on the legalization of a sewage-treatment plant built on private, Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank. The plant belongs to the settlement of Ofra. The matter has been under discussion by planning and building subcommittee of the IDF's Civil Administration, which has supported a solution that includes expropriation of the land for public purposes and designation of the plant as having a regional role including for the Palestinians.

Lawyers for the Palestinian land owners are demanding that the committee reject this solution.

To ths day, Ofra does not have an approved building and zoning plan - and for years has had no way to deal with its sewage. To solve the latter problem, the Mate Binyamin Regional Council, with the help of various state bodies, built a sewage treatment plant. The plant was completed four years ago.

The Palestinian owners of the land that was used for the plant filed a petition with the High Court of Justice against its construction, with the aid of the Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights organization. Michael Sfard is the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, who claimed the plant was built without permits on private land. The High Court ruled almost a year ago that based on the information presented by the state, there is indeed a need for a sewage treatment plant for Ofra and nearby Palestinian villages. At the same time, it ruled that construction should not have taken place before a proper planning process that took into account not only environmental needs, but also the legal issues raised by the project.

The environmental subcommittee of the Civil Administration's planning and building council is the body charged with responding to the High Court's ruling. Two years ago, the subcommittee ordered an examination of options for dealing with the sewage. The water expert who conducted the examination recommended using the existing treatment plant for the sewage waste from Ofra and nearby villages, and expandig it in the future as needed. This implied that the land under the plant will need to be expropriated for public purposes with the justification that it will be used by all residents of the region, including Palestinians.

The subcommittee met to discuss this option three months ago and members spoke out in favor of the move. But the Palestinians' lawyers claimed that no proper or comprehensive study of other alternatives had been conducted.

The subcommittee agreed to accept a document explaining the Palestinians' arguments, despite objections from the Civil Administration's officers responsible for the environment and nature reserves. The officers said that postponing a decision was only increasing the threat from pollution.

The subcommittee recently received the document from the land owners. The Palestinians claim "the land owners were the main party injured by the illegal construction and were not required to provide legal alternatives as such to solve the problems of the sewage from the Ofra settlement." In any case, they proposed using existing oxygenation ponds within Ofra for treatment of the settlement's sewage, on land that was previously expropriated for that purpose. The subcommittee has already rejected that proposal, saying the area involved was too close to the houses in Ofra.