The Environmental Protection Ministry has instructed the Betar Ilit municipality in the West Bank to stop the repeated sewage contamination of a nearby Palestinian village’s fields, after a group of settlers interceded on the villagers’ behalf.
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Last week, farmers from the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin asked the staff of the field school in the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion for their help in stopping the sewage flow from Betar Ilit, which had flooded their fields and contaminated them.
Members of the school’s staff came to the village and photographed the sewage flooding the cultivated fields. School principal Yaron Rosenthal immediately contacted the environmental officer in the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration and asked him to deal with the problem.
On Sunday, Shoni Goldberger, the Jerusalem district manager of the Environmental Protection Ministry, sent a warning letter to the municipality, demanding it repair the sewage malfunction that had caused the contamination. He wrote that the system malfunction had occurred last week, causing the sewage fluids to flood Wadi Foquin’s fields.
Wadi Foquin has become famous as one of the last villages to preserve traditional agricultural methods, such as using a canal network to funnel spring water to small plots. The village is a popular attraction site for many Israeli hikers, and its residents have provided hospitality for visitors from Gush Etzion. The latter has helped the villagers deal with Israeli authorities in the past to overcome environmental hazards, such as sewage fluids.
“You are causing the contamination of groundwater and of Wadi Foquin due to frequent sewage overflow,” Goldberger wrote in his letter. “This situation is ongoing and constitutes a grave risk to the environment, threatening to contaminate Wadi Foquin’s groundwater and spring water, as well as agricultural land.”
Goldberger demanded the settlement’s municipality take steps to fix the breakdown and report to the ministry by next week.
“As one who grew up on a kibbutz whose living is based on agriculture and spent a lot of time working in fields and groves, I understand the farmers’ frustration, after they put all their money and energy in sowing and planting and then lost their entire crop because of Betar’s negligence,” Rosenthal said. “The instructors of Kfar Etzion field school bring thousands of hikers to the village every year, guiding them among the orchards and fields, the springs and ponds in the wadi and enjoying the residents’ generous hospitality,” he said.
Usually it is Israel which accuses the Palestinians of letting their sewage flow to the settlements, but the Betar Ilit case highlights that not all the settlements manage their sewage systems properly.
The water and sewage union of Rosh Ha’ayin said this week it will carry out works for the Water Authority to join West Bank settlements such as Ariel, Elkana, and the Ariel and Barkan industrial areas to its sewage system.