It was a beautiful day to walk through the vibrant olive groves adjacent to Revava illegal settlement, until we approached a bubbling fetid stream of sewage flowing directly from Revava to olive groves belonging to Deir Istiya and Qarawat Bani Hassan (Qarawat) farmers. The source was clearly visible to the illegal settlers as coming from their settlement. Although some trees thrive in sewage, olive trees are poisoned.

We followed Riziq Abu Nasser on his land along the trail of dead and dying trees down to the point where the sewage went underground, likely polluting the ground water that serves as a source of drinking water for surrounding villages and potentially transmitting water-borne fecal contaminants that can cause serious illnesses.

We encountered two olive farmers who were concerned about the pollution. The first was plowing his field with a horse-drawn plow while the second, from Qarawat, was tracing and photographing the impact of the sewage on his olive trees and sat under an olive tree to tell us about his experience.

He discovered the sewage stream years ago. Since then, he has sought help from Red Crescent, Ertibat, Agriculture Department offices in Salfit and Ramallah, a lawyer, the Qarawat municipality, and human rights organizations. He has repeatedly provided samples of the sewage, pictures, and video of the sewage. The organizations have visited the site, lost records, failed to follow-up and possibly took compensation money intended for him. He feels like he is going in circles and doesn’t know what to do next. Olive trees take 30 years to mature enough to bear olives.

The issue of sewage potentially polluting drinking water is a serious one for public health in the affected villages. The Qarawat farmer says that everybody in Qarawat has amoeba and a clinic in Deir Istiya  reports that cases of diarrhea and vomiting are especially prevalent now.

Deir Istiya gets its water from the Israeli water company Mekarot and the water is taken by Mekarot from an artisan well that has been in use by the village. Mekarot, the Israeli national water authority, essentially takes Palestinian water and sells a portion back to Deir Istiya. It is possible that they also pollute the ground water with sewage from Revava illegal settlement.

The issue of water pollution by illegal settler sewage is a serious public health and human rights issue in occupied Palestine, in addition to its impact on olive trees. In fact, the Center for Economic and Social Rights in The Right to Water in Palestine: a Background states that “confiscation and control of Palestinian water resources is a defining feature of the Israeli occupation” that “violates the Palestinians’ human right to safe, accessible, and adequate drinking water” and “undermines any possibility for sustainable development”.

Israel is reported to use 85% of West Bank groundwater resources. Since the year 2000, the Israeli army has increased its destruction of water and sewer infrastructure and water sources available to occupied Palestine, bulldozing pipelines, destroying wells and cisterns, and placing a ban on Palestinians drilling for water and a freeze on future permits for wells. The 200 mile-long Apartheid Wall constructed by Israel inside the West Bank further separates Palestinians from their land and water sources.

Israel’s human rights violations related to water and sewage have serious public health consequences. The water available to Palestinians does not meet the minimum daily standard of 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. Illegal Israeli settlements on hilltops above Palestinian villages dump untreated sewage and wastewater to the valleys below, polluting land and water. Israeli industries are also located on West Bank hilltops. At least 200 industries send untreated industrial and wastewater effluents to Palestinian streams and agricultural land below. Those polluted streams often flow uncovered through the villages where children may play. Surveys have reported infection rates from water-related diseases as high as 64% in certain communities in the West Bank with over a quarter of rural households in the West Bank including a member suffering from diarrhea.

Actions to counter the Israeli water company Mekerot’s water apartheid have included termination of relationships with Mekerot by the Dutch water company, Vitens; a BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign to “Take Israeli Apartheid off the Menu” by boycotting Israeli fruit and vegetable imports; and an International Week against Mekorot held in March 2014.

Meanwhile, Deir Istiya and other West Bank farmers continue to experience the impact of Israel’s illegal settlement sewage on their olive trees, their economic development, and their health.

Video by Samantha Comizzoli.