Almost 90 percent of sewage from Palestinian towns in the West Bank flows into the environment untreated, contaminating the groundwater and 162 kilometers of streams, according to a report prepared by the Israel Parks and Nature Authority. A lack of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation has impeded solutions to this problem.
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The report, prepared for the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Civil Administration in the West Bank, is based on water samples taken from various locales in 2012. It found that some 50 million cubic meters of sewage flow into the environment from Palestinian towns every year. Only 5 million cubic meters go to treatment plants, some of which are substandard. This affects Israel as well as the West Bank, since the polluted streams flow into Israel.
The city of Nablus exemplifies the problem. It has 126,000 residents, as well as many olive presses that produce extremely toxic wastes. It has no treatment plant (though one is now being built), so most of the waste goes into the Nablus Stream. From there, about a third seeps into the groundwater of the mountain aquifer, a major source of drinking water for both Palestinians and Israelis. The rest flows into the Alexander Stream in Israel.
Tul Karm’s waste treatment plant broke down last week, as it does several times a year, sending untreated sewage into the Te’enim Stream, and from there to Israel.
“This is an area in which we invested great effort cleaning up and repairing damage caused during the winter,” said Nissim Almon, head of the Sharon Drainage Authority. “Now all that work is gone.”
But the worst problem, according to the report, is Hebron, which has nearly 170,000 inhabitants. Its waste includes toxic runoff from industries including stonecutting and leatherworking. More than 80 of the city’s 100 stone-cutting plants send their waste into pirate drainage pools, from which it flows into the Hebron Stream and then to Israel. Waste from the Hebron area alone has contaminated around 43 kilometers of streams.
Jewish settlements also contribute to the problem: 13 percent of their sewage goes into the environment rather than to treatment plants.
Israel has tried to cope with the problem by building treatment plants near the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank and treating the contaminated water once it enters Israel. But the facility built to treat the Hebron Stream − the most polluted of all − can’t handle the volume of waste it receives. Contaminated water reaches nearby communities, emitting a stench and attracting mosquitoes.
Attempts at Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on this issue have largely gone nowhere, mainly because the Palestinian Authority refuses to cooperate with the settlements. Thus it refused to connect Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank to an Israeli sewage line because the line also serves several settlements. It also nixed a proposed treatment plant that would serve both Palestinian towns and the settlement of Ariel.