By Palestine Monitor – 24 Oct 2010
Beit Ummar is just one of hundreds of villages in Palestine under constant harassment from Israeli settlers. [Its residents] have suffered the loss of their land, limited access to their own water supply, rocks smashing their windows, midnight arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, and daily Israeli military aggression. The most recent insult: settlers’ feces covering the vineyards of Beit Ummar.
Twelve vital acres of farmland lie underneath thousands of litres of raw sewage leaked from the nearby illegal settlement of Gush Etzion. The settlement stores its sewage in a reservoir, where it is filtered to extract non-potable “grey” water for agricultural purposes. The leftover, concentrated toxic sludge was released on October 18, downhill directly onto Palestinian farmland. The stench is overpowering, the grape harvests ruined, and the residents of Beit Ummar are tired.
“Even if the Israelis never dump sewage again,” said Beit Ummar Public Committee volunteer Raied Aboyyash, “the land would need to be cleaned with a chemical solvent and the top meter of polluted dirt removed, and then new dirt brought in.”
- Grape vines dangle in sewage water, the plants and fowled soil (Photo Brynn Utela)
This is the fourth time this year the settlement has pumped sewage from their storage reservoir into Beit Ummar, destroying crops and effectively depriving the farmers of thousands of shekels in lost harvest. Following settler threats after the weekly Saturday demonstration against the annexation wall in the village, last Monday sewage again surged onto the farmland. The previous week eight peaceful protesters were arrested, held down and pepper-sprayed.
One of the arrested, a twenty-four-year old student named Eiad Alalame, was sentenced to six months in jail and fined 4,000 shekels, charged with demonstrating illegally. Earlier this month, Israeli Defense Forces raided eleven Beit Ummar Public Committee volunteers’ houses at 2 am, breaking furniture and threatening arrests if the peaceful protests continue. Israeli occupation forces continues to terrorize local volunteers and activists: early yesterday morning on October 23, two additional pre-dawn raids forced family members of Beit Ummar villagers into the streets.
The villagers of Beit Ummar rented a bulldozer on the afternoon of October 18 and dug a large reservoir to contain the sewage water and prevent the waste from spreading and causing further damage. The next morning, the settlers of Gush Etzion descended into the Palestinian farmland, and forced the rented bulldozer into the middle of the toxic pond. Villagers then rented a crane to extract the bulldozer from the sludge, and climbed into the toxic muck in order to salvage their costly equipment.
- The villagers rented a bulldozer to create a containment reservoir for the toxic sludge, trying to prevent further damage (Photo Palestine Solidarity Project)
The sludge contains bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that can cause serious illness and death. Microbes from raw sewage can enter the body through the nose, mouth, or open cuts. Even more daunting for Beit Ummar’s future is the likelihood of groundwater contamination – the area is already plagued by drought and suffering from Israeli control of precious water resources.
The farmers are left to clean the farmland themselves, with the assistance of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and volunteers. They must also buy new plants. The Palestinian farmers are not provided any reparations or financial assistance by the government for their lost crops, nor are they compensated for the loss of land stolen by the Israelis settlements or blocked behind the wall. Instead, the villagers of Beit Ummar must depend on the help of civil society organisations. The Palestinian Agricultural Committee will help the farmers by providing new plants, but this is pointless without necessary soil replacement and protection from the settlers.
The Israeli military told the Public Committee members of Beit Ummar that they would stop “making problems” for the village if the weekly demonstrations against the construction of the wall were to cease. However, the villagers feel that the continued construction of the wall, which will take away an additional 1,550 acres of land from the village, is a problem in itself. The people of Beit Ummar will continue to protest, facing arrest, fines, and harassment, trudging across their soiled fields.