A working paper by the Arava Institute, and other Israeli and Palestinian organizations, shows a widespread pollution problem that crosses the borders that people are not allowed to cross."Most transboundary streams in the region are contaminated and characterised by widespread pollution from Palestinian sources [typically raw sewage], as well as a variety of… sources from within Israel," stated the report.
In addition, downstream Palestinian towns receive Israeli waste. There are at least 10 transboundary streams in the region, with flows that go both ways. Untreated waste water from the West Bank can even end up flowing via Israel into the Gaza Strip and then the sea.
According to the report, the pollution not only destroys the rivers and the connected eco-systems, but also seeps into the groundwater, harming drinking water sources. Furthermore, it leads to mosquito infestations, allowing diseases like West Nile Fever to spread.
After spending three years studying the contents of the Hebron and Alexander (Al-Khalil and Zomar, in Arabic) rivers, the researchers concluded that "the results confirm the necessity of cooperation in watershed management."
The report explains how the political situation has made pollution worse. Experts on the issue, including people such as Gershon Baskin of the Israel/Palestinian Centre for Research and Information, and Nader al-Khatib of the Palestinian Water and Environmental Development Organisation, say the problem lies in the Israeli government's insistence that waste water treatment plants set up in the West Bank also serve the Israeli settlements there.
Jamil Matour, deputy director of the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority, a PA agency, said Israel, in addition to refusing to grant the Palestinians permits to build several waste treatment centres for themselves, has also damaged the environment through its system of barriers and checkpoints.
"My staff can't travel freely. They can't visit Area C," the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, "to investigate and report on problems there", he said, adding that Israel's Barrier was a "strategic threat against the ecological balance in the region, interrupting natural life cycles".
With Israeli settlements continuing to expand, mainly on hilltops in the West Bank whose water and sewage runoff end up in Palestinian streams, the problem does not look to improve any time in the near future.
This article was sourced partly from the United Nations Information Network, IRIN.