Bethlehem: Pollution in Wadi Fukin

 By EA Paul

Wadi Fukin Village

We met Adel Hroub in his village of Wadi Fukin. The village itself  has been designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the best preserved natural heritage site of its kind in the West Bank.

It is very well known for the quality of its agricultural products and its nine natural springs to which an ancient irrigation and collection system is connected, enabling fruit and vegetables to be grown organically.

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Adel, Wadi Fukin. Photo EAPPI EA Paul

Normally this might create a lovely picture in one’s mind, but not so for Adel, a resident of Wadi Fukin.

The Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit towers over Wadi Fukin where Adel owns some agricultural land.

Settlements in the West Bank

Settlements within occupied Palestine are unlawful according to international law, something confirmed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016.

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EAs look up from Wadi Fukin to Beitar Illit settlement. Photo EAPPI EA Paul

Inside the settlement, there is a wastewater treatment facility, but it cannot always handle the amount of wastewater it receives; also sometimes breakdowns occur. As a consequence, it overflows reversing untreated wastewater down onto Adel’s fields.

“Occasionally the pipes are opened and the sewage runs down for some hours” – Adel Hroub, Wadi Fukin

Sometimes there is a bad odour. Sometimes you find rodents and many insects. Sometimes the water supplies are affected.

Destroyed Agricultural Fields

Due to the concentration of pollutants, agricultural fields have been destroyed. One time it flowed onto fields close to the school causing a severe stench.

As far back as 2009, the Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem,  reported on this.

A study by Bethlehem University that tested samples from the nine springs found that all contained concentrations of coliform bacteria and high levels of nitrates and concluded that the water was unsuitable for use unless it was treated.

The problem is a common one across the West Bank and is one of the main environmental threats that the Palestinians have to deal with.

Yet, as an occupying power under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has the duty of “….ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities….public health and hygiene in the occupied territory.”

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The contaminated land of Wadi Fukin. Photo EAPPI EA Paul

A livelihood from agriculture

Sixty percent of Wadi Fukin residents earn their livelihood from agriculture, but the wastewater issue is only one of many problems they face.

Since Israel’s occupation in 1967, the village has lost some three-quarters of its lands to confiscations for the construction of settlements that now surround it.

As recently as 2014, a further 1,000 dunams (about 250 acres) was declared “State Land” by the government of Israel, thus dealing yet another crippling blow to the village’s already struggling farmers.

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The expansion of Beitar Illit. Photo EAPPI EA Paul

The community laments the effect of the occupation on their economy, citing armed Israeli settlers who threaten farmers, come down to picnic in the village’s only playground, swim in the reservoirs intended for crop irrigation or cut down their olive trees.

In September 2014, the then mayor of the village said: “Israel’s plan for Wadi Fukin is clear. It aims to step by step surround our village so that it becomes a prison, trapped between settlements. It wants to drive out our residents.”

International Law

The Colonization & Wall Resistance Commission is part of the Palestinian Authority and its 2016 Annual Report states: “The Israeli occupation authorities …. pursue their policy of seizing Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, under various pretexts” (page 35).

“….the occupying military’s civil administration….continues its work of re-demarcation of parcels of Palestinian land….by declaring them as ‘State Land’, under the pretext that the land is uncultivated or un-ploughed” (page 36).

It’s something some Israeli soldiers have been speaking out against. One who spoke to the Israeli organisation Breaking The Silence” said: “Our Jewish values should stop us stealing other people’s land.”

Take Action

Read B’TSELEM’s report about “Wastewater Treatment in the West Bank” and speak with your local MP or TD about life under everyday occupation.