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    Conflict over sewage treatment plant risks Palestinians' olive trees
    Ein Yabrud residents refuse to utilize Israel-sponsored wastewater treatment plant, seek court order to suspend operations; but lack of clean irrigation water is killing their olive trees

    The olive trees on the outskirts of the West Bank settlement of Ofra are dying at an alarming rate – but not due to any foul play. The thing killing them are the toxins in the wastewater which are flooding the groves.


    The unnecessary demise of the groves is largely due to the Palestinian land owners' insistence to refuse the use of the local sewage treatment plant, offered by the Shomron Municipal Association for the Environment (SMAE).


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    The plant in question was built on Palestinian land and its operations were suspended by the High Court six months ago.


    The case dates back to 2009: The Palestinian residents of the village of Ein Yabrud, southeast of Ofra, petitioned the High Court to have the plant razed, claiming it was illegally built on their land.


    עצי זית מתים במטע (צילום:  תומר פרת )

    Dying olive trees (Photo: Tomer Pratt)


    Pending a final ruling, the petitioners asked the court to suspend the plant's operations. The petition was filed by Attorney Michael Sfard via the Yesh Din Human Rights group.


    The court granted the petition, but Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish noted that "The plant was meant to treat the sewage produced in Ofra and prevent it from flowing onto the agricultural land in the area, untreated. Without such treatment, the State says the sewage may contaminate the area's underground aquifer."


    Recently, the American Consulate in Jerusalem found itself inadvertently embroiled in the conflict, when several consulate delegates attempted to visit the plant, to prepare security arrangement ahead of a high ranking diplomat's visit – but were barred from the premises.


    The American Consulate in Jerusalem is an independent diplomatic mission that coordinates between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and operates independently from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, answering directly to the State Department in Washington.


    The Shomron Municipal Association for the Environment, which operates by proxy of the Environmental Protection Ministry, said that the visit was not scheduled. SMAE director Aryeh Meir said that since the visit was not duly coordinated with the IDF and the Civil Administration, the delegates were not allowed onto the premises.


    SMAE further claimed that the consulate's plan to visit the plant was meant to hinder its operations. "I find it unacceptable that they arrived at the plant without coordinating the visit," Meir said.


    "There are elements who are trying to sabotage any attempt to prevent environmental damage in Samaria out of fear of any cooperation with Israel. The number of environmental hazards here is unparalleled," he said.


    "I have no idea why consulate officials arrived at the plant, but Ofra had no right to stop them from entering the plant," Sfard said. "Everyone has the right to visit the plant, just like anyone can choose to sit in a café."


    The American Consulate said that they were looking into the incident.










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    Wastewater flowing freely
    Photo: Tomer Pratt