Jerusalem, August 2002
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) constitute one geographical unit, which means that any development, or neglect thereof, in one entity has an immediate effect on the other. Recognition by both sides of this simple fact has resulted in an ongoing dialogue between Israel and the PA concerning environmental issues.
The 2002 report of the Coordination of Activities in Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip emphasizes that the dialogue on environmental issues with the Palestinians, on an everyday level, is very good. The dialogue touches on environmental issues such as toxic waste, waste disposal, and pest control, and is implemented at the local level. However, long-term cooperation is totally lacking.
This report will examine various aspects of sustainable development in the areas under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, and the degree of cooperation with Israel in these fields.
In the large cities, sewage collection systems exist, but either they do not include treatment facilities or the facilities are not functioning. The untreated sewage flows into the streams and seeps into the groundwater, eventually reaching Israel as well. The sewage provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease that affects both sides. In the villages, there is no centralized drainage system, and the sewage flows into cesspools.
Specifics: The treatment facility in Jenin is not functioning, due to maintenance problems. The civil administration is providing the funding for an upgrade of the facility. Most of the work has been completed, and the neighboring villages will also be able to connect to it. Kalkilya is connected to a sewage treatment facility in Israel; however, it sometimes overflows at the point of connection, in the village of Hableh.
At present, both Tulkarm and Nablus lack sewage treatment facilities, but there is a plan to build one in Tulkarm, and land has been allocated in Nablus for that purpose. Ramallah has had a facility since 1975, but it is inadequate for today’s needs.
The treatment facility in El-Bira was built with funds from donor states and is located in Area C (Israeli civilian and security control). A-Ram, Bir Nballah and Eljib, north of Jerusalem, are connected to the Givat Ze’ev sewage system.
Sewage from the city of Hebron flows south into the Hebron River. There is a possibility that USAID and the Ministry of National Infrastructures may fund the building of a treatment facility there.
Sewage from Beit Jalla and western Bethlehem drains into the Jerusalem treatment system. The sewage of Beit Sahur and eastern Bethlehem flows into the Kidron River and, together with effluents from Jerusalem, on to the Dead Sea. Some of the effluents from El Azaria threaten to contaminate the area’s fresh water sources.
A treatment facility is being planned in Nebi Mussa that will be able to capture wastewater from the Kidron River and purify it. Jericho and the neighboring villages are connected to septic tanks.
The situation in Gaza is not good – the facilities in the Hanoun River are not operating; the oxygenation pools of Gaza City were renovated but the sewage still spills onto the beach. In Rafah, Gaza and Dir El-Balah, effluents are directed into the sea. International efforts halted similar Palestinian plans for Beit Lahia.
Solid Waste Disposal
At the beginning of 2000, there were more than 300 unofficial garbage dumps in Judea and Samaria. The most problematic were garbage dumps belonging to the large Palestinian cities, which caused environmental damage covering a radius of dozens of kilometers. As a consequence of the events of the past two years, the number of "pirate" garbage dumps has increased. Nablus, for example, dumps most of its solid wastes into the Bidan streambed.
The garbage dump located in Azoun, which serves the city of Kalkilya, pollutes the groundwater in the area. Facilities for solid waste disposal in the Gaza Strip were built next to the seam line, close to Israeli communities. Dir El-Balah’s disposal site was built with German aid adjacent to Kibbutz Kisufim, in contravention of the interim agreements.
The PA’s supervision of factories using toxic materials is extremely limited, with the result that toxic waste is disposed of together with regular waste or directed into the rivers. According to the interim agreements, the PA must transfer toxic waste to the disposal site at Ramat Hovav, south of Beer Sheba. In spite of repeated requests from Israel, this has never been done. The Palestinians set up a toxic waste disposal site with Dutch aid, in contravention of the agreements, next to Kibbutz Beeri, next to the Green Line. This site is intended to serve the Gaza Strip alone, and is not maintained.
The Impact on Israel
The Ministry of the Environment’s Report determines and explains the measures that must be implemented in the Palestinian Authority to protect the environment:
ii. Israel wishes to preserve the natural scenery, landscape, ecological systems and biodiversity. By their very nature, these are phenomena that know no borders.
Israel is affected in every sphere by the Palestinian activity. Effluents, toxic waste and solid waste in Judea and Samaria endanger the quality of the groundwater in the common aquifers.
Pollutants directed into the sea in the Gaza strip are transported by coastal currents towards Israel. The construction of the Gaza Port is resulting in the interception of longshore sand transport towards Israel. The industrial areas, quarries, power stations and waste disposal sites located on the border with Israel are the main source of air pollutants that damage the air quality in Israel. The Palestinians have carried out these acts of pollution deliberately, as part of their "Environmental Intifada".
There is almost no correlation between the nature reserves declared and proposed by Israel and those proposed by the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria. The Israeli side of the Green Line is densely forested in contrast to the Palestinian side, which is sparsely forested. Most of the forested areas are concentrated in the north of the West Bank. Israel also has a large forest in the south, in the Yatir region.
Vegetation is occasionally uprooted, as a result of security concerns. These actions have little or no impact on the nature reserves, as they only apply to planted groves.
Of particularly grave concern is the Palestinian torching of forests, carried out on the basis of nationalist motives. Another problem is the fact that the PA has permitted the trade and hunting of protected wild animals.
A power station has been established in Gaza, with US and Swedish backing. The power station is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2002. At present, one turbine is generating 24 megawatts of electricity, in synchronization with the Israel Electric Company. The operation of the second turbine will be delayed until an operational agreement is formulated with the Israel Electric Company.
The Toubas-Tayasir electricity connection was established with Palestinian funding in cooperation with the Israel Electric Company. The construction of the main electricity line was completed in December 2001, and the construction of internal electricity networks is soon expected to be completed in 21 villages.
The Joint Palestinian-Israeli Committee, which has also included American participation, continues to operate, and it last met on June 17. The meetings of the Joint Technical Committee continue to take place, advancing issues relating to water and sewage.
A number of water projects have also been established. A water conveyance system has been established along with an installation for the desalination of seawater in Gaza, funded by USAID, with a cost of $130 million. The feasibility studies and assessments have been completed, and a tender has been issued for the selection of a contractor who will begin the work around March 2003. Nevertheless, the advancement of the project is conditional upon an improvement in the security situation.
In Judea and Samaria, there are 14 wells designated for drinking and agriculture, and are operated by an American company. The company maintains the wells and is in ongoing contact with the Civil Administration.
A USAID report was recently published describing a difficult situation of malnutrition, with the situation most acute in the Gaza Strip. Malnutrition is a situation where food stocks are inadequate, and the food items are unsuitable for the special needs of the relevant sectors of the population. Nevertheless, there is no famine or food shortage.
Information from nutrition surveys in Judea, Samaria and Gaza from 1984 onwards point to a significant improvement in nutrition up until 1995. However, the nutrition situation deteriorated over time, from 1995. In that year, the Palestinian Authority received civil responsibility for the residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and therefore it is responsible for the deterioration in the nutrition situation.
In the last two years, the problem has not been one of food stocks. Lorries transport food on a regular basis to the cities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The main problem lies in the distribution of the food among the population. The Palestinian Authority bears the responsibility for this problem.
Over the years, the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza have existed in symbiosis with Israel. Over a hundred thousand Palestinians found employment in Israel, and industrial zones were established in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and plans have been drawn up for the establishment of industrial estates adjacent to every city in the Palestinian Authority, with international funding. Palestinian traders benefited from Israeli customers, and the entertainment centers in Ramallah and Jericho prospered in an unprecedented manner.
This ended abruptly with the Palestinian campaign of terrorism at the end of September 2000. Industrial estates were set alight (Nitzanei Shalom, next to Tulkarm), Israeli civilians were killed simply for coming to purchase goods and services or for dining in Palestinian towns or villages. The wave of terrorism heightened Israeli fears and concerns, bringing about a rupture between the economies of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian traders and workers have lost their livelihoods. The efforts to ease the hardship of Palestinian workers are repeatedly sabotaged as a result of the Palestinian terrorism. Even now, after 12,000 work permits have been approved for Palestinians, enabling them to work in Israel, there is little demand for these work permits. The economic and employment situation of the Palestinians will only improve, once the terrorism ends and trust is re-established between Israel and the Palestinians.
A number of basic problems adversely affect the situation of sustainable development in the Palestinian Authority:
- A lack of resources and poor utilization of existing resources.
- Insufficient cooperation with Israel.
- Lack of information, and possibly a lack of concern and apathy about the issue of the environment.
- Use of development issues and environmental matters in order to deliberately cause damage to Israel, in the context of the campaign against Israel.
- Poor maintenance.
This situation causes many difficulties in the Palestinian Authority, and increases hardship for PA residents, although this is a price that they appear ready to pay. Moreover, the pictures of suffering are exploited by the Palestinians in their propaganda campaign against Israel. The Palestinians can significantly improve their quality of life, by putting an end to the campaign of terrorism and violence, as well as through re-establishing trust with Israel. As a consequence, Israel will also enjoy a similar improvement in its standard of living.