Sewage From West Bank Settlement Pollutes Palestinian Fields

The kilometer-long overflow from Betar Ilit began because of a malfunction in the ultra-Orthodox town’s main pump and lasted for about 10 days; director of Gush Etzion field school petitioned mayor to stop the overflow.

Raw sewage from the ultra-Orthodox town of Betar Ilit in the West Bank overflowed this month and polluted fields cultivated by Palestinian farmers who live in the village of Wadi Fukhin below. Alerted to the issue, a settler from Gush Etzion came to the aid of the Palestinians and petitioned the Betar Ilit mayor to take a stand.

The sewage overflow began two weeks ago after a malfunction in the Betar Ilit delivery facility. According to residents of the Palestinian village, the leak continued for about 10 days. The sewage flowed for about a kilometer, ultimately reaching Ein Tzadik, a spring that serves the inhabitants of the village. That water was then polluted.

About two days ago, the flow of the sewage stopped. According to Ali Sukar, who lives in the village and had fields damaged by the runoff, this is not the first time there has been such an overflow. The difference this time, however, is that in the past the flows tended to last less than a day. “Part of my field is gone and in the meantime we aren’t drinking from the spring until it is clean,” says Suker.

The director of the Gush Etzion Field School, Yaron Rozental, sounded the alarm about the malfunction.

In a letter to Betar Ilit Mayor Meir Rubinstein last week, he wrote: “You most certainly know that this is not the first time sewage has leaked onto the groves and vegetable fields of the villagers who live in the village of Wadi Fukhin and cultivate the land on the slope of the wadi. As someone who grew up on a kibbutz and earns his living from agriculture, and who as a child spent most of his free time working in the field and the groves, I understand the great frustration caused to farmers who have invested their money and most of their time in sowing or planting and have the entire crop go down the drain because of the negligence of the town of Betar.

“There are sewage malfunctions everywhere. But here it isn’t going down to a stream or to the sea – it is directly destroying fields. It doesn’t matter whether Betar likes or doesn’t like the fact that there is a Palestinian village below them – that is the situation," wrote Rozental.

Officials in the Betar Ilit municipality deny that the run-off continued for several days.

"There was a malfunction at the northern sewage facility and it was dealt with immediately," said municipal spokesman Moshe Freidman. “There is also one pump that was taken out for renovation. We are doing, and will continue to do, our best in order to solve the problem immediately. There wasn’t a continuous flow, nor was the amount of flow mentioned. There was just malfunctions for brief periods. All told, over the course of those two weeks the flow lasted for an hour to two hours, on only three or four occasions."