We didn’t know what we were in for today. Our driver picked us up around 9 AM and drove us to meet our client, Clive. We met at a gas station, at an Israeli-Palestinian junction just outside of Jericho. Given all of the tour busses, the camel dressed in a Good Humor Ice Cream umbrella cover, and the man peddling selfie sticks and massagers, you wouldn’t think it the likely place for an introduction to the intricacies of Israeli-Palestinian geography and water treatment and allocation, but Clive sat us down anyway.
The damp pavilion became a conference room, and we were given a crash course in the West Bank as screaming groups of children ran around us. Clive explained that the West Bank has been divided into three areas: A, B and C. Area A is under full Palestinian control, Area B is under Israeli military, but Palestinian civil control, and Area C, which accounts for 60% of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control (before the day ended we would find ourselves in all three areas without ever going more than two or three miles). He told us some of the challenges that Palestinians face, especially those in the off-grid village of Auja, the site of our project: accessing quality water; managing sewage; harnessing energy; working within a relatively weak governance structure; balancing all of this with public health standards; developing an economic model that will sustain solutions to any of these problems. It was a lot, and while we eventually will be responsible for producing solutions to these challenges, Clive gave us only one task for the day: absorb. Absorb the culture, the communities and the reality that is the Israeli-Palestinian water crisis.
As we drove through the West Bank, everyone on the bus could not help but notice the stark contrast between the bustling metropolis that was Jerusalem and the wide expanses of arid land that now laid before us. We passed a disjunctive mix of Israeli settlements, sheep that blended in with the mountains upon which they grazed, the occasional palm tree farm, a lot of rock, and a lot of litter.
About 30 minutes after we left the junction we arrived in Auja, at the home of Suleiman, the most recent participant in the Arava Institute's greywater initiative. Our group quickly unloaded from the bus and gathered around a construction site that will soon be a complete greywater treatment system. Clive explained that the system serves three homes: Suleiman’s and two of his neighbors’. As we learned about the system, we learned our next lesson: local hospitality in the form of coffee. Suleiman began to bring around a pot of Arab coffee and cups for the whole group which included, three law students, one law/public health student, two CONSERVE PhD students, three economists, Bill, our partner Julie, Julie’s friend (and our temporary collaborator) Miriam, Clive, and his three assistants. Shortly after we finished our coffees and examined the system, Suleiman walked us back to his greenhouse, where he grows cucumbers.
Along the way Suleiman, through our translator and engineer (also named Suleiman) explained his decision to be part of the initiative. Prior to the implementation of the greywater system, Suleiman, like many of his neighbors, dumped the waste from his home (“blackwater”) into an unlined cesspit. Because of the topography of the land, the pit would often flood, leading to disputes with his neighbors over the smell and sight of the waste. In order to avoid this controversy, Suleiman paid 200 Shekels every three weeks to have his cess pit pumped and transported elsewhere. As a farmer, Suleiman makes on average 2,000 shekels a month (about $518), meaning that this expense was costing him roughly 10% of his income. The greywater system not only relieves him of the pumping costs, but allows him to irrigate 10-15 fruit trees on his property.
Inside the greenhouse, Clive explained Suleiman’s sophisticated drip-irrigation system for growing cucumbers while Suleiman treated us to yet another showing of local hospitality, this time in the form of freshly picked crop. They were some of the best cucumbers any of us have ever had. Suleiman explained that the property we were on had been in his family for five generations, since the Ottoman empire. Because of the way Palestine is divided into three areas, his explicit ownership of the land made it easier for the Arava Institute to implement the greywater system on the property, something those of us on the legal team would later struggle to understand.
We thanked Suleiman for his generous hospitality in our heavily accented arabic and headed to the natural spring that supplies water to Auja in the winter months. What should have been a beautiful spring was polluted with all manner of trash and the surrounding area was covered in a layer of broken glass. This “fresh” water source is treated with chlorine, at a pump located farther downstream, although we were told that members of the nearby bedouin community often draw directly from the spring.
After taking a cursory look at the spring, we next headed to the home of one of the first participants in the greywater initiative. The pump at this location has been in place for five years and has not had any reported problems. While this system is smaller than the one at Suleiman’s house, it provided irrigation for roughly 20 fruit trees. It was system was a impressive demonstration of the initiative’s potential.
Toward the end of the day, our group was provided lunch at an eclectic table inside of the local “Stop ‘N Shop.” The restaurant next door thought the setting would be nicer that of the restaurant itself for our large party, and set a table as colorful as the yellow peppers, red tomatoes, green cucumbers, and golden hummus we were served. We ate our lunch and got to know Clive’s assistants, Carly, Mohammed and Suleiman between the childrens bathing suits and inflatable pool toys. As we finished up, we were served what seemed to be the inevitable end to any visit: more coffee.
After lunch Clive showed us the solar system that had been provided by a collaborative Jewish-Muslim charity and we all chatted about the work ahead of us. We then headed back to our Jerusalem hotel to discuss what we had seen and narrow down the direction of the report. After today, the people of Auja were no longer a hypothetical, they were real people who needed real solutions and they were looking to us to provide them.
Taylor Lilley & Devon Harman (Second Year Law Students in the Environmental Program)