By SHARON UDASIN
Civil Administration: Environmental improvements on the horizon in the West Bank.
While green groups warned on Thursday that the West Bank’s ecosystem is reaching a point of no return, the Civil Administration stressed that improvements are on the horizon for the region.
Environmentalists came together on Thursday at Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies to discuss the most pressing issues plaguing the ecosystem of the West Bank and to strategize solutions.
The conference, titled “Judea and Samaria – Environment in the Vise of Geopolitics,” was organized by a variety of green groups and included the participation of a number of government and Civil Administration officials.
“If decision makers do not wake up, within a few years, citizens of Judea and Samaria will suffer from serious environmental pollution,” a statement from the green groups said. “Judea and Samaria have become the garbage can of the state; the pollution in Judea and Samaria is a disaster that will harm millions.”
Yaron Rosenthal, the director of the Kfar Etzion Field School and one of the conference initiators, emphasized that the environment of the region has been damaged, harming both Israelis and Palestinians.
“The amount of raw sewage discharged every day into the rivers of Judea and Samaria, such as the Kidron River, Nahal Prat, Nahal Alexander, Nahal Hebron and others is tremendous,” Rosenthal said. “These sewage waters are seeping into the groundwater of the State of Israel and polluting the water sources that belong to all of us.”
Rosenthal stressed that in the West Bank, two million Palestinians are producing 2,000 tons of garbage daily, less than half of which goes into landfills.
“Even more important, Judea and Samaria has become the garbage can of Israeli after contractors move trash across the barriers and stash it in Judea and Samaria, because that way they are exempt from paying for the treatment of garbage,” Rosenthal added.
While most of the conference participants described the West Bank’s ecological circumstances as dire, the Civil Administration maintained that the environmental conditions of the region are actually continually improving.
Benny Elbaz, the Civil Administration environmental officer, said that Palestinians are now dumping their trash into regulated landfills. Attributing this shift not only to the work of the Civil Administration but also to a change in Palestinian awareness, Elbaz stressed the importance of ongoing dialogue and law enforcement.
In recent years, 140 pirate waste sites, as well as the Abu Dis landfill, have been shut down, accompanied by the opening of two new landfills in the West Bank, Elbaz explained. In addition, a waste disposal site is being established in the Ramallah area, so that the entire population will be able to access regulated dumping grounds, he added.
In addition to progress in the trash sector, the sewage situation of the region has also improved, according to Elbaz.
About 15 wastewater treatment plants have either been built or are undergoing construction, with cooperation and funding from international organizations, he said.
“Treatment of environmental hazards in Judea and Samaria is a challenge in and of itself,” Elbaz said. “We must root out and deal with issues in Palestinian Authority territories, where we have no authority. Given that and the tools we have available, we have carried out significant activities in cooperation with all parties. There is a lot of work ahead of us, and we will continue to work toward creative solutions for a healthier environment for all of us.”