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West Bank: living in stench of settlers' sewage

Occupied Salfit: living in the stench of settlers' sewage and in the shadow of the Apartheid Wall

Salfit is a region of the Occupied West Bank which has been plagued by land confiscation and water theft for many years. 65% of all West Bank settlers live in 19 settlements in the region, which has only 20 Palestinian villages. 45% of Salfit's historic land has been confiscated over the years to build settlements (170 000 out of 270 000 dunums). For example, after the signing of the Oslo Accords, Revava settlement was enlarged 300%.

The economic situation of Salfit villagers is dire. There is no work in the villages or in Salfit town and only 2% of people have work in Israel. The olive harvest is disrupted by settlers year after year. This year, the Mayor's father, like many other residents, had to abandon one third of his olives (400 trees full) because Ariel settlers would not allow him to harvest them. This despite a 1982 Israeli High Court decision that settlers may not use the land near Ariel as it belongs to the Palestinians.

Israel has a long history of water theft in Salfit, which has the biggest water table in the West Bank. 16 artesian wells in Salfit have been confiscated over the years - the water was diverted miles away to Israel itself as well as settlements in Salfit and the Jordan valley. Israelis and settlers consume five times as much water as Palestinians, but Palestinians pay 300% more. This racist system of water delivery, perfected by the South African apartheid regime, is controlled by the Israeli private water company Merkorot. The nearby villages of Kufr Dik and Bruqin are currently without a consistent supply of water because of overconsumption by settlers.

For the past nine years, the municipality has been trying to build a wastewater treatment plant to service the residents of Salfit town. The plant was initially supposed to be built on Salfit land 13kms from the town. The municipality received a grant of DM 22 million from the German government to build the plant and a mainline pipe to the town but the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) stopped the building and seized all the equipment, which they returned only 18 months later. The Salfit municipality then had to take out a loan to buy a new piece of land eight kilometres closer to the town and another loan of DM 2 million to move the pipes and the electricity cables. Although Israel approved the new site of the plant, the Apartheid Wall will now separate Salfit from the sewage plant, which will then be up for grabs for confiscation by settlers.

The present water scenario is as bleak as the future scenario. The Almatwi valley runs between Salfit and the nearby village of Bruqin. Villagers used to enjoy swimming and splashing in a waterfall, geyser, four springs and several natural pools in this valley, as well as going on mountain walks and holding family barbeques. This is a thing of the past for several reasons. First, because the IOF regularly releases wild pigs into the valley which viciously attack children. Second, because swimming, splashing, rambling and barbequing are prevented by incursions of soldiers. Third, because Israeli water stations set up in the villages of Marda, Rafat and Huwara have drained the water table in the valley with high power suction pumps that suck water "24 hours a day", according to residents. The Palestinians have been forbidden by the IOF from upgrading their 60 year old suction pump, wh

Fourth, because the valley is now a heavily polluted and stinking area. All that remains of any visible stream is a channel of raw sewage floating along in a ditch. The sewage is released by the second largest settlement in the West Bank, Ariel, situated on the top of the hill five kilometres away. The sewage poses a grave health risk to Bedouins living in the valley, villagers who use the valley as well as the water table itself. The Salfit environmental health department has to conduct daily laboratory tests on the drinking water because it fears the huge amounts of sewage have seeped into the water table.

Two Bedouin families, numbering 15 family members, have been living on the Almatwi valley hillside for the past three years. They have been forced further and further up the hill to escape the overpowering stench from the sewage, forced closer to the settlers and further from the water source, which currently is a tiny trickle emerging from a rusty and slime-filled metal pipe - the overflow from the Palestinian water station.

Two years ago, Israeli bulldozers created a two metre wide route of destroyed land halfway up the hilltop. Maps made by different organisations like the Palestine Hydrology Group, Land Research Centre and United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, show that this path is the likely route of the Apartheid Wall. These maps have been based on IOF confiscation orders given to Palestinian landowners.

The current route of the Apartheid Wall will also destroy or isolate an ancient burial place called Jelal al Adeer, said to be the tomb of a prophet. The Salfit Mayor expects that another 25% of the land will be confiscated by the Apartheid Wall. This includes thousands of olive trees, stretching as far as the eye can see, and far too numerous to count. It will be a severe blow for the Palestinian olive export, 25% of which comes from the Salfit region.

The Israeli Occupation Forces are much slyer than they were two years ago. They have realised that any announcements that the Apartheid Wall will be built here or there only lead to popular resistance and mass demonstrations by Palestinians. These days, many landowners are not even receiving confiscation orders. They simply wake up one morning and see bulldozers working on their land. When resistance begins, the bulldozers move over the hill and begin working from the opposite direction. Palestinians are left to consult maps and to listen to complaints by Bedouin families in order to deduce that the wall will confiscate 70% or 80% or 90% of their land. Six weeks ago, the Salfit Bedouin families were told that they should leave the area within two weeks. The Palestinians predict that the Apartheid Wall will arrive in the town of Salfit within three months.

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