The Independent Refuses to Correct Flawed Column on West Bank Sewage

The Independent, a British newspaper, has firmly established its reputation over the years as a relentless critic of Israel. It has long featured Robert Fisk, whose lively writings are laced with imaginary Israeli crimes, like his bizarre claim that Israel used  “a secret new uranium-based weapon” in Lebanon (later found to be baseless by a UN investigation team), and doctored quotes by Israeli leaders to impugn their motives. In recent years, the newspaper has featured another Israel basher with a similar flair and imagination — Johann Hari.  Like Fisk, Hari employs flawed portrayals and doctored quotes to cultivate the theme of Israel abusing Palestinians.
A case in point is Hari’s column entitled “Israel is Suppressing a Secret it Must Face” published on April 28, 2008, where he suggested that Israel is deliberately contaminating Palestinian water. He wrote that
Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs and become a poison.
In fact, published studies demonstrate that it is the Palestinians  who are mainly responsible for contaminating the water. Palestinian sources are responsible for 95 percent of all untreated waste in the West Bank, yet the remaining five percent from Jewish settlements receives all of Hari’s approbation.
It seems rigorous fact-checking is not part of Hari’s skill set. Not only did he misrepresent the facts about untreated waste in his column, but in a subsequent article, “The loathsome smearing of Israel’s critics”  (May 8, 2008), which was spurred by criticisms of his column, he falsely accused CAMERA of calling him “an anti-Jewish bigot akin to Joseph Goebbels and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad…..”
When CAMERA wrote a letter to The Independent requesting a correction of  both the errors in his column on untreated waste and the subsequent  smear, the paper’s Executive Editor, Louise Hayman, stonewalled, justifying her refusal to correct factual errors by stating, “there is no legal, regulatory or ethical requirement on The Independent that every article should be balanced, or even fair.” Apparently, there is also no requirement to be factually accurate.
She claimed that this was not an isolated incident by citing reports in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which she described as Israel’s most distinguished newspaper — a highly subjective opinion — and the BBC.
CAMERA responded to her anecdotal defense by providing unequivocal data showing that the raw sewage problem in the West Bank was overwhelmingly of Palestinian origin. Confronted with these facts, Ms. Hayman  fell back upon the primacy of The Independent’s political narrative which holds Israel as an illegal occupier. In her final response to CAMERA, Ms. Hayman stated:
Johann Hari’s column chose to focus on the untreated sewage emanating from the settlements he believes “there is a qualitiative difference between Israeli settlements, constructed illegally, pumping untreated sewage towards the occupied population, and a collapsing Palestinian Authority being unable to treat its own sewage partly because it exists under military occupation.” A columnist — who is clearly flagged up to readers as writing an opinionated take on the news — is perfectly within his rights to do this. The facts he offered were accurate; his opinions and choice of emphasis are his own, as any reader can see, and as they should be for an op-ed writer.
According to her logic, only Israeli settlers deserve approbation for polluting the land since, in The Independent’s opinion,  the settlements are illegal. And Israel’s military occupation absolves the  Palestinian Authority  of any responsibility to provide adequate sewage treatment. Despite the billions in aid provided by foreign donors, the Palestinian Authority has made limited investment in sanitation infrastructure.  Nevertheless, the Independent condemns Jewish settlements alone for the problem.
Hari Ignores the Findings of Several Environmental Studies in Order to Blame Israel 

Hari’s allegation that Jewish settlers are responsible for contaminating West Bank land contradicts not only the statements of Israeli regulators, but the findings of an independent environmental group, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), which indicates that Palestinians are the primary culprits in generating raw sewage and contaminating water supplies with untreated waste. Hari’s disproportionate focus on Jewish settlements as the problem defies logic, considering the much larger Palestinian population in the West Bank. 

In typical fashion, Hari selectively cited a single figure culled from a 2005 study by FoEME claiming that only six percent of Jewish settlements treated their sewage properly. What he neglected to mention, however, is that the figures were based on a survey of only about half of the existing settlements, many of which had already begun to implement treatment processes but were deemed inadequate by FoEME. The other settlements had not been evaluated. Another report by the Israeli Water Commission found 70 percent was adequately treated.
But even the critical FoEME report provides figures showing that more than three quarters of all the waste water in the West Bank is generated by Palestinians who, for the most part, employ no treatment for their waste water. On page four and in its conclusion summary, the report identifies unsanitary cesspits from uphill Palestinian villages as the source of fecal coliforms in water sources. On page five, further detail is provided, calculating that 61 percent of the Palestinian population dispose of th eir sewage in unlined cesspits amounting to some 46 million cubic meters of waste water. Israeli settlements produce 15 million cubic meters. A table on page six reiterates the figures and contrasts the “partial treatment” of sewage by Israeli settlements to “none or unsatisfactory” treatment by Palestinian locales. An addenda to the report states, “Sewage from most Palestinian cities and villages receives no treatment at all.”  
The report’s conclusion states:

The Palestinian Authority has openly stated that water supply projects should take precedence over sewage projects. While sewage treatment projects are largely on hold, many infrastructure projects (particularly on water supply) have continued to move forward on the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority has until very recently refused to accept the standards of sewage treatment upon which Israel has insisted.

No honest reading of the FoEME report could conclude that the problem lies predominately with the Jewish settlements.
More recent studies indicate a much higher water treatment rate for Israeli settlements. For example, the 2007 Monitoring Report of the Rivers of Judea and Samaria released by the environmental unit of the Nature and Parks Protection Authority gave precise figures:
94 % of Palestinian waste is untreated or improperly treated, 4.5 % is treated in Israel, 1.5 % is treated on the West Bank.
68.5 % of sewage from Israeli settlements is treated in Israel or the West Bank, 31.5 % is not properly treated.
Palestinians generate 56 million cubic feet of sewage, Jewish settlements 17.5 million cubic feet. 
The Authority’s September 2008 monitoring report indicates that Jewish settlements are responsible for only five percent of untreated or improperly treated wastewater, in contrast to the Palestinians who generate 95 percent.
CAMERA was able to identify the specific location Hari wrote about. It is a Palestinian town, Salfit, located near the Israeli city of Ariel. A CAMERA representative met with Ariel officials. What he learned and observed firsthand is not consistent with Hari’s account. Ariel has sewage lines running southwest and west of the Western Industrial Area of Ariel. In both routes the sewage is regularly filtered and purified according to Israeli standards. CAMERA confirmed the existence of the filtering and purification facilities. The Palestinian town, Salfit, however, continues to dump untreated waste into the Shilo river — a fact confirmed by FoEME.  Contrary to the accusations in Hari’s story, the continuing source of untreated human waste in the water near Salfit is the Palestinian town itself.
Although the 2008 Nature and Park Authority monitoring report did state that some of Ariel’s water is not properly treated, the head of Ariel’s water authority emphatically denied the report and filed a letter of protest with the Director of the Environmental Unit of the Israeli government. A representative from the unit later apologized for the error and promised to have the report amended.

In CAMERA’s correspondance with Executive Editor Hayman, she denied that there were any errors in Hari’s piece and defended his false accusation against CAMERA by citing a CAMERA piece criticizing a prior and unrelated Hari column for “employ[ing] crude anti-Jewish themes.” 

Despite the persistent refusal of The Independent to adhere to any semblance of  fairness, balance or factual accuracy, CAMERA persists in the onerous task of  publicizing the newspaper’s bias against Israel.
(With research by Tamar Sternthal.)

Comments are closed.