Two elderly Palestinian farmers observing their land in Beit Ummar, West Bank. Photo by Sherbel Dissi/ NRC

West Bank: Israeli settlement wastewater destroys Palestinian lands and livelihoods

Published 21. Mar 2024
A new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has laid bare the devastating environmental and economic consequences of the unlawful discharge of untreated wastewater from Israeli settlements into Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank.

In both sites researched for the report, wastewater, including human sewage and animal waste, flowing from illegal Israeli settlements for long distances has damaged crops and knocked agricultural Palestinian lands out of use.

“Once more, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank pay a heavy price for Israel’s unrelenting settlement expansion policies,” said Samah Hadid, NRC’s Middle East and North Africa Head of Advocacy. “This time, their land, livelihoods, and well-being are threatened by the harmful dumping of hazardous wastewater.

“We urge the international community, particularly Israel's staunchest allies, to exert pressure on Israel, the occupying power, to safeguard Palestinian communities, lands, and resources from the detrimental effects of disposed waste,” said Hadid. “It is imperative that affected farmers and communities not only receive reparations but also receive the support to recover and improve their conditions.”

Laboratory analysis commissioned by NRC at two sites, Wadi Shakhit in Hebron and around the Immanuel industrial zone in Qalqilya, supports the long-standing complaints of Palestinian farmers and landowners that untreated wastewater was released from Israeli settlements into Palestinian lands. The samples from Wadi Shakhit and Immanuel industrial zone vicinity showed the presence of faecal-associated E. coli bacteria in high quantities, which provides an indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination.

“Israel's settlements routinely contaminate critical water systems and agricultural lands with wastewater, exacerbating environmental risks, further destabilising the already fragile Palestinian economy, and heightening the likelihood of various diseases like diarrhoea and kidney failure,” added Hadid.

According to farming communities interviewed in the research, untreated wastewater discharge has led to a steep decline in income as a result of reduced crop yields and difficulties marketing produce associated with sewage contamination.

Farmers at one of the research sites said they have lost up to 70 per cent of total olive tree harvest compared to pre-discharge times. A significant drop of 50-70 per cent in annual income from agriculture was also reported by affected farming communities as part of the research.

Ahmed, a farmer close to Immanuel industrial zone said, “Wastewater has extensively flooded my land. A salt layer now covers the soil, significantly impacting the quality of the produced oil from my olive groves. Olive trees each used to yield no less than 25 kilograms of olives, but today production has dropped by half.” 

In addition to its environmental and economic threats, the discharge of wastewater serves to drive Palestinians from their lands and heighten the risk of expropriation, thereby contributing to Israel’s forcible transfer of Palestinians and the ongoing annexation of West Bank territory, raising questions about Israel’s adherence to international law.

NRC calls for sufficient funding and technical support to be made available for projects mitigating the environmental and economic impacts of settlement waste disposal on affected Palestinian communities, lands and resources.

Notes to editors

  • The full report is available to read here.
  • To assess the impact of settlement wastewater discharge on Palestinian lands and communities, field research was completed by the Land Research Center (LRC) between May - October 2023. The research centred on two locations: Wadi Shakhit, located in the Beit Ummar municipality within the Hebron governorate, and the periphery of the Immanuel settlement in the Salfit/Qalqilya governorates.
  • Land cover analysis involved the capturing and interpreting of high-resolution data and other relevant information to discern and map distinct land features, such as vegetation, water bodies, urban structures, and agricultural lands. 
  • In 2009, B’Tselem reported that one third of settlements were not connected to wastewater treatment facilities.
  • A water, soil, physiochemical and microbiological analysis was completed to identify both the nature of any environmental contamination and its extent. Water samples were taken at surface level, while soil samples were taken at depths between 0-70cm, ranged from 200-1,000 grams in mass and were performed at varying distances from the observed source of contamination. Samples were analysed by the Environmental Analysis Unit at Birzeit University.
  • Socio-economic survey tools were employed to collect data and testimonies from residents affected by settlement wastewater discharge.
  • Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits destruction of property by the occupying power unless it is absolutely necessary for military operations. The contamination of agricultural lands and freshwater sources due to the discharge of untreated or inadequately treated settlement wastewater may be considered as a form of destruction of property, as well as likely violating a range of human rights of those affected.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: