West Bank Sewage Inflicting Environmental Damage, Israeli Nature Authority Warns

Agency asks defense minister to act, as contaminated sewage leaks from Palestinian towns and Jewish settlements into streams and aquifers.

Nimrod Glickman

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority appealed to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last month, warning of ongoing pollution caused by untreated sewage from Palestinian cities and some settlements. The INPA says that despite promises made by the state to resolve this problem, serious damage is being inflicted on nature reserves, streams and groundwater aquifers.

In his appeal, INPA head Shaul Goldstein noted that most Palestinian cities are continuing to channel sewage into the environment. Hebron transports sewage to distances of dozens of kilometers, with seepage into the groundwater and the creation of mosquito hazards in the Be’er Sheva area. Ramallah directs its sewage into the Modi’in Stream, while that from El Bireh goes to a treatment plant. However, this plant suffers from breakdowns, leading to serious damage to the Prat Stream (Wadi Kelt) reserve. Sewage from Jenin contaminates the Kishon River and that from Nablus affects groundwater aquifers and the Alexander Stream in Israeli territory.

Goldstein noted that there have been improvements in treating sewage in some settlements, but that the larger settlements are still problematic. He cited Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Kedumim, Elkana and Shavei Shomron as examples.

“The sewage issue has reached the Supreme Court,” wrote Goldstein. “Regrettably, the state’s responses are incomplete. Even though there is some improvement in specific locales, this will not suffice – we cannot accept with resignation a situation in which nature is seriously damaged. The acceptance of aquifer contamination in the mountains is becoming a ‘tolerable’ fact.”

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories responded by stating: “The Civil Administration has been working for years to improve sewerage infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, and results can be seen everywhere. However, this problem spans borders, making this a complex issue since our authority only applies to Israeli-controlled Area C. There are efforts to construct a treatment plant in the Hebron stream. In the meantime the area’s sewage is transferred to an existing plant inside the 1967 borders. The Hebron municipality is cleaning up the stream. The Civil Administration’s actions, in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority, have reduced by 80 percent the sludge reaching the stream from adjacent marble quarries.”

Ramallah’s waste goes to oxidation tanks for preliminary treatment. New treatment plants are in advanced planning stages, intended to resolve the problem in the Modi’in Stream and in the Nablus area. The El Bireh site has been upgraded, and Jenin’s waste also undergoes preliminary treatment.

The Civil Administration is also advancing the construction of treatment plants for several Jewish settlements. A pipeline is planned for transporting waste from Ariel to a plant in central Israel.

Last year the Civil Administration and the Environmental Protection Ministry banned the supply of chromium to tanneries in Hebron, since their owners did not employ equipment that prevents this toxic metal from reaching sewage water and the Hebron Stream. This equipment was subsequently employed and the chromium contamination subsided.