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Jerusalem Diary: Monday 11 February

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

RATS AND SEWAGE

Journalists, aid agencies and foreign politicians spend a lot of time talking about the humanitarian distress of Gaza. But the picture in the West Bank has its ugliness, too.

Baby Anwar after rat attack
The parents do not know if Baby Anwar will be scarred for life
Mahdi Dardok is a 33-year-old sweetshop owner in Nablus.

I met him at the threshold of his family home. Distaste played at the corner of his lips, as he showed me the narrow brown river that gushed past the back of his house.

"Waste water," he told me. "Completely waste water."

Three weeks ago, Mahdi and his wife were preparing supper. They had put their 11-day-old baby girl, Anwar, in her crib.

Suddenly, Mahdi noticed a huge black rat jump from the crib. He and his wife rushed over. Anwar's face was covered in blood.

Mahdi raced out on to the street, to get a car to take Anwar to hospital. She stayed in hospital for two days. The doctors do not yet know if the rat bites will scar.

"Since then," Mahdi told me inside his neat living room, "the kids in the house don't want to sleep in their beds, they want to sleep with us".

Mahdi showed us the photographs, both of Anwar, and of the times when a filthy, stinking, brown deluge has swept up to the first floor of the house.

He is thoroughly fed up with Nablus municipality for its inaction. The day after his baby was savaged, Mahdi went to see the deputy mayor of Nablus.

Always, though, Mahdi says, "all we get are promises - nothing happens".

AWAITING APPROVAL

The deputy mayor, Hafez Shaheen, is well qualified to talk. He has a doctorate in water and environmental engineering.

It is true, he says: waste water is flowing through Nablus, raw and untreated, both west and east.

Mahdi Dardok after a sewage flood
Nablus has waited too long for a proper way to dispose of sewage
The groundwater is polluted, and in the summer, vegetable farmers often use the waste water directly to irrigate their crops.

Dr Shaheen lists the diseases children are suffering, directly as a result of the polluted water, including diphtheria and dysentery.

So why does the West Bank's second largest city, which has had a sewage system since Roman times, not have a treatment plant?

Dr Shaheen puts it down to "technical and political difficulties". There has been a plan on the table, he says, for more than 15 years; there is funding, too, from Germany.

The problem has been receiving approval from the Israeli authorities, he says.

A spokesman for the Israeli Civil Administration said that this was simply "not true".

"They may have plans, they may have funding," he told me. "But they've made no requests of us. If they want us to do something, they have to come to us."

Either way, progress is grindingly slow. To many, it is non-existent.

Tony Blair, the international envoy to the Middle East, came to Nablus on Thursday, and hinted at his impatience to see the occupation there "lifted", as he put it.

For Mahdi Dardok and his fearful family, a fresh approach cannot come soon enough.


Yyour thoughts and comments on Tim Franks' latest diary:

There seems always to be, no matter what, a critique of Israel. The Palestinian leadership fails its people on all counts. But no one ever seems to blame them. Everyone expects Israel to nanny the Palestinians, but then blames Israel for every Palestinian problem. When the Palestinian leadership shows the world that it is a mature and professional leadership, then it can move towards self-governance. Until then the Palestinians sit in misery.
Jason, Jerusalem, Israel

As a reserve soldier in the civil administration I have every reason to believe the description quoted above. The local municipal system in Gaza and the West Bank is totally corrupt. It's funny but the Hamas terrorists have cleaner hands than the "moderate" Fatah party...
Ruvik , Modiin Israel

Does the BBC never try to actually, you know, 'investigate' any more? Rather than just reporting both sides' claims could we have a journalist maybe engage in some journalism for once? Ask to see the requests filed with Israelis; show them those requests if they exist. Never mind, keep reporting the twin narratives if that's what you enjoy.
Bob, London

I don't understand, is it our fault that they can't build anything? In here even the sewage waters are used as a propaganda tool. Regarding Blair's remarks: should we just disengage and get rockets into our biggest population centres? Or does he think it'll be different from the Gaza disengagement?
Haifa Man, Haifa, Israel

This is typical of the Palestinian leadership. They refuse to cooperate with Israel even at the cost of the death and suffering of their own people. This is the path to peaceful co-existence? No this is the path to war!
Israel Dalven, Emanuel, Israel




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