Co­op­er­a­tion at Kidron Val­ley

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By CAS­SAN­DRA GOMES HOCHBERG

The Kidron Val­ley, which lies be­tween the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Mount of Olives, is far from be­ing just an­other val­ley. As with most attraction­s in Jerusalem and the re­gion, it con­tains lay­ers upon lay­ers of his­tory, while car­ry­ing lega­cies, prophe­cies – and past and fu­ture promises.

“The Holy Basin,” as it is also called, sits on the jux­ta­po­si­tion of Jewish, Mus­lim and Chris­tian holy sites, and there­fore is at the heart of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. At the cen­ter of the drainage basin, one finds Jerusalem’s Old City along the Tem­ple Mount court­yard, the Western Wall, Mount Zion, al-Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre, the He­brew Univer­sity on Mount Sco­pus, the ceme­tery on the Mount of Olives, and count­less other sacred and his­tor­i­cal sites.

Out­side of Jerusalem, Wadi an-Nar in Ara­bic, or Val­ley of Fire, me­an­ders through the Judean Desert into ar­eas A, B and C of the West Bank and then into the Dead Sea. It crosses five le­gal ju­ris­dic­tions – pass­ing monas­ter­ies, such as the breath­tak­ing Mar Saba Chris­tian monastery; Sec­ond Tem­ple-pe­riod tombs, used also dur­ing the Byzan­tine pe­riod as shel­ter and burial for her­mits and monks of the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties; and im­pres­sive land­scapes.

It was men­tioned by the prophet Joel (Joel 4:12) as Je­hoshaphat Val­ley, one of the trib­u­taries of the Kidron, as the site of the res­ur­rec­tion of the dead and the be­gin­ning of the re­demp­tion. In Jewish proph­e­sies, it is the site where Eli­jah will re­turn, fol­lowed by the ar­rival of the Mes­siah.

The most stag­ger­ing – and dis­turb­ing – as­pect about the Kidron Val­ley, how­ever, is far from all of its his­tor­i­cal, bib­li­cal and arche­o­log­i­cal rich­ness, but the sad fact that the 30-kilo­me­ter basin that sits at the

heart of three great world re­li­gions has be­come a con­duit for raw sewage.

What could have been for years a route of en­vi­ron­men­tal tourism and a path for pil­grim­age and re­li­gious in­spi­ra­tion, is an open pit for a third of Jerusalem’s pop­u­la­tion and sur­round­ing ar­eas to dump their toi­let flushes, ac­count­ing for 28 mil­lion liters of raw sewage per day – equiv­a­lent to six Olympic pools.

As re­ported by the sci­ence and en­vi­ron­ment news agency Zavit, while 30% of the West Bank’s pop­u­la­tion is con­nected to a sewage net­work, two-thirds of those not con­nected rely on cesspits to con­tain their sewage. The con­tent of these cesspits is dumped with no fur­ther treat­ment into the val­ley as well, pos­ing a health and en­vi­ron­ment threat, es­pe­cially to lo­cal res­i­dents and those down­stream. Due to the desert cli­mate char­ac­ter­is­tics of most of the basin, sewage flows in the dry sea­son, but in the win­ter, the sea­sonal rain­fall floods the area, ex­tend­ing the threat of sur­face and sub­sur­face contaminat­ion.

GE­O­GRAPH­I­CALLY, the area is also a chal­lenge. It starts at an el­e­va­tion of 800 me­ters in Jerusalem, reach­ing a depth of 433 me­ters be­low the sea level at the Dead Sea. The sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther ag­gra­vated by the lack of clear bound­aries, sharp frag­men­ta­tion and lack of po­lit­i­cal ter­ri­to­rial con­ti­gu­ity, high pop­u­la­tion den­sity and sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in liv­ing stan­dards.

Sewage, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences of pol­lu­tion and contaminat­ion, is a prob­lem that knows no bound­aries. Above all, it de­mands co­op­er­a­tion in order to be solved. Sewage not only poses as an en­vi­ron­men­tal nui­sance due to its smell and a pub­lic health is­sue, but it could be re­spon­si­ble for one of the big­gest en­vi­ron­men­tal contaminat­ion catas­tro­phes in the en­tire coun­try. In a re­port pub­lished by the state comptrolle­r in 2017, wa­ter pol­lu­tion from sewage was rec­og­nized as the most se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ard in the Judea Sa­maria re­gion, a prob­lem that en­dan­gers the most im­por­tant nat­u­ral source of wa­ter in the re­gion – the moun­tain aquifer, which ex­tends from Beer­sheba in the south to the slopes of the Carmel in the north.

The main is­sue that has pre­vented a res­o­lu­tion for the sewage prob­lem in the val­ley is the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. Since the Oslo Accords, there have been var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional and re­gional pro­pos­als for a waste­water treat­ment plant. In­ter­na­tional bod­ies and pri­vate com­pa­nies tried to come up with ideas on how to treat Kidron’s “holy waste,” but build­ing a sewage treat­ment plant or a pipeline to di­vert the sewage in the West Bank, and co­op­er­at­ing with Is­rael while do­ing so, equated for Pales­tini­ans an ac­tual recog­ni­tion of Is­raeli con­trol over the West Bank.

The co­op­er­a­tion be­gins

In a re­gion where wa­ter is a scarce com­mod­ity, sewage is not nec­es­sar­ily a bur­den, but rather a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion for ir­ri­gat­ing farm­land.

Pales­tinian farm­ers have un­der­stood this, specif­i­cally the promis­ing wa­ter and nu­tri­ent po­ten­tial that treated sewage can bring to the date palm in­dus­try, which is be­gin­ning to flour­ish in the area. Treat­ing sewage means that the arid re­gion ex­tend­ing from east Jerusalem to the Dead Sea could have a con­stant sup­ply of ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter through­out the year, which would boost its agri­cul­tural fields with­out re­ly­ing on vul­ner­a­ble wa­ter re­sources.

“The best way to han­dle wa­ter is in a basin,” says He­brew Univer­sity En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Pro­fes­sor Richard Laster. The re­gion, as men­tioned ear­lier, is par­tic­u­larly tricky due to its me­an­der­ing paths and al­ti­tude range, de­scend­ing over a thou­sand me­ters. But as Laster puts it, “even in the Mid­dle East, wa­ter flows down­hill” – and the sewage, which has been con­tam­i­nat­ing ar­eas be­low Jerusalem could, in fact, be­come a source of treated waste­water for farm­ers to ir­ri­gate their land down­stream.

The ben­e­fits and tech­nol­ogy of treat­ing sewage are noth­ing new, though. Is­rael has been the lead­ing the world in treat­ment and re­use of its waste­water, with more than 85% reused for agri­cul­tural pur­poses. Spain comes far in sec­ond place at only 30%. The po­ten­tial and so­lu­tion for the sewage prob­lem were known and have al­ready been im­ple­mented in other ar­eas of the coun­try; the real is­sue was how to ap­proach the basin as a whole.

Laster re­calls com­ing across the Euro­pean Wa­ter Di­rec­tive, which de­manded that all rivers and streams should be han­dled in a basin-like man­ner. Euro­pean rivers such as the Danube, the Rhine and the Elbe have a mas­ter plan for their en­tire basin. Deal­ing with wa­ter bod­ies in such a way re­quires not only ex­per­tise, but co­op­er­a­tion.

From a sewage con­duit that only brought more sor­row to an al­ready con­vo­luted area, the Kidron Val­ley be­came an ex­am­ple of hope and co­op­er­a­tion, show­ing that Jerusalem is not as di­vided as it might seem. In 2012, the Kidron Mas­ter Plan was com­pleted by a grass­roots team of engi­neers, ge­og­ra­phers, ar­chi­tects and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­fes­sion­als, to­gether with lo­cal of­fi­cials.

Laster, one of the heads of the project, brought to­gether a team of ex­perts. Among them were Avner Goren, who was the chief ar­chae­ol­o­gist for the Arche­ol­ogy Au­thor­ity in Si­nai for 15 years and Mo­hammed Nakhal, an ur­ban plan­ner and com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer from east Jerusalem. Along with a num­ber of hy­drol­o­gists, engi­neers and ecol­o­gists, they cre­ated a plan that was ap­proved by both sides and has al­ready been im­ple­mented.

THE MAS­TER Plan adopted an in­te­grated wa­ter re­source man­age­ment ap­proach, where land use, wa­ter use and the en­vi­ron­ment in the val­ley are man­aged holis­ti­cally, tak­ing into ac­count not only the so­cial and eco­nomic needs of its pop­u­la­tion, but eco­log­i­cal ones as well. The plan was agreed to by both sides, in­de­pen­dent of present and fu­ture po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to the Co­or­di­na­tion of Gov­ern­ment Ac­tiv­i­ties in the Ter­ri­to­ries (COGAT), one of the bod­ies over­see­ing the project, the sewage treat­ment sys­tem will in­clude a dam that will stop non-biodegrad­able waste from en­ter­ing the river and a sewage pipeline, as well as tun­nel­ing and sewage-plant fa­cil­i­ties. Lo­cal wa­ter will be pu­ri­fied for use; solid waste will be re­cy­cled for pos­si­ble en­ergy use.

“Peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ties in the area, from all re­li­gions, agree and ac­cept to make ‘eco­log­i­cal peace’ in the val­ley,” said Nakhal, who lives in east Jerusalem and is the main me­di­a­tor be­tween the project and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. “The peo­ple, and not the politi­cians, are the ones push­ing for a so­lu­tion here.”

The project also in­cludes a sig­nif­i­cant ed­u­ca­tional and green tourism as­pects. The Afak school in the Arab neigh­bor­hood of Sur Ba­her on the south­east­ern out­skirts of east Jerusalem on the Kidron basin, ed­u­cates its stu­dents on sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues such as con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion, since it’s hap­pen­ing in the project right out­side their schools. In­volv­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and the youth is an­other im­por­tant as­pect of the project. Both Pales­tinian and Is­raeli youth are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing first hand not only an en­vi­ron­men­tal project of sig­nif­i­cant im­pact, but an ex­am­ple of peace co­op­er­a­tion in the re­gion.

The Kidron Val­ley also be­came an ex­am­ple of how Pales­tini­ans and Is­raeli par­ties de­cided “to deal with pri­mary is­sues rather than dither over fi­nal sta­tus equa­tions,” Laster said.

Once the project is com­pleted, he adds, “It can serve as a blue­print for sim­i­lar plans for the other 15 cross-bound­ary wa­ter­ways that are des­per­ately in need of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.” It could also go be­yond the en­vi­ron­men­tal bound­aries and serve as a true model of broad co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans.

The sad fact is that the 30km. basin sit­ting at the heart of three great world re­li­gions has be­come a con­duit for raw sewage

(Pho­tos: Cas­san­dra Gomes Hochberg)

THE HIS­TORIC KIDRON VAL­LEY, as seen from the Haas Prom­e­nade.

(FROM LEFT) UR­BAN PLAN­NER Mo­hammed Nakhal, en­vi­ron­men­tal law Prof. Richard Laster and arche­ol­o­gist Avner Goren.

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