In early February, EcoPeace organised a cross-border tour to the district of Salfit in the West Bank. It was attended by members of human rights activist group MaschomWatch and leaders from the Joint Services Council of Salfit district. The tour provided an opportunity to share knowledge, locate sources of water pollution in the Salfit district first hand, focusing on the flow of sewage water from both Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages in the area into nearby Palestinian villages. It also allowed building cross-border partnerships so that talk of action could culminate with real steps on the ground to improve the current environmental and sanitary situation. And structure a more effective way of finding solutions for the water pollution problem at hand.
The tour began in a nature reserve in Wadi Kana. The beauty of the lush greenery around us served as a reminder of the environment that needed to be protected. The district of Salfit compromises of 18 Palestinian villages, with around 70,000 residents. There are also 23 Israeli settlements in the area. There we learned about the history of Palestinian attempts to deal with wastewater pollution in the area.
Plans for introducing Palestinian wastewater treatment facilities have been ongoing since 1995 and have not been constructed yet. Different speculations of conflicts of interests regarding the location, political constraints, and a long bureaucratic process have caused the delay.
Representatives of the Salfit Joint Services council emphasized the need for co-operation as equal parties and transparency regarding prices for treating Palestinian sewage on the Israeli side of the Green Line, which currently are charged as a lump sum, as opposed to a transparent, itemized bill. Therefore cooperation without equity was ultimately not in their interests.
As we approached the next stop, on road 5, just between Barkan and Ariel Industrial zones, it seemed to be a picturesque waterfall on the side of the highway. When we stepped out, however, our noses told a different story. What we saw was a steady stream of raw sewage, flowing downstream from the Israeli industrial zone of Barkan into the Palestinian villages below. The smell, as well as the build-up of foam on the water, made it clear that the water
was heavily polluted. At the next stop, in the village of Kufer-Al-Dik, the polluted water we had seen moments earlier now flowed into a stream in the village and threatened a nearby fresh water spring. As the residents and members of the JSC told us, the smell and swarms of mosquitoes coming from the stream of sewage had made living in the area increasingly unpleasant.
The last stop was in an area downstream from Salfit and Ariel. Again, the picturesque backdrop of the rolling hills hid the darker problem at hand. Two streams of sewage, from both the Palestinian villages and Ariel, converged to flow down an otherwise dry valley. Nearby was the site of the proposed Palestinian Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is waiting to be constructed.
While the tour was a harsh reality check on the situation in Salfit as it stands, it was also an opportunity to build bridges across the Green Line. It was inspiring to see people from both sides working together to protect a shared environment, with the vision of creating a better future in the region.
This piece was contributed by Anika Baset