Compelling the Safad Municipality to Connect the Arab Neighborhood of Akbara to the Sewage System

A.P. 10291/08 Hajeb Salah v. The Municipality of Safad, et al.

A company authorized by the Municipality of Safad to build and maintain the sewage system in the town of Safad, Peleg HaGalil, has published a bid to connect houses in the Arab neighborhood of Akbara in Safad to the sewage network. In a letter sent by the company to Adalah, the company agreed to complete the project within a maximum of 180 days from 15 January 2009, the date on which the bid was published. The company published the bid following an appeal filed by Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara on behalf of 32 residents of Akbara and the Galilee Society: The Arab National Society for Health Research and Services to the Nazareth District Court in November 2008 and then to the Supreme Court on 4 December 2008.

Adalah argued in the appeal that Akbara is the only Palestinian Arab neighborhood in Safad, located in the north of Israel, and the only neighborhood in the city that it not connected to the sewage system. Not connecting Akbara to the sewage system and exposing its residents to health hazards caused by the flooding of wastewater onto the streets violates the residents’ rights to health, safety and dignity, argued Adalah. Adalah contended that the lack of sewage infrastructure in Akbara causes sewage water to flood onto the streets and into a nearby valley, where it creates swamps of stagnant, fetid water. These swamps then release foul odors that disturb the people living in the neighborhood and pose a hazard to their health due to their constant inhalation of polluted fumes. The swamps also provide a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes; some residents of Akbara are unable to sleep because of the large numbers of mosquitoes or have developed allergic reactions to their bites.

Attorney Bishara stressed that forcing the families living in Akbara to dig cesspits rather than connecting them to the sewerage system exposes the groundwater in the area to the danger of contamination, particularly given that this groundwater has provided an additional source of drinking water for many years. It is unreasonable for the authorities to tolerate a threat to a high quality and greatly important source of drinking water, argued Adalah.

The Municipality of Safad has claimed that the cost of connecting Akbara to the sewage system would be in excess of NIS 1,000,000 (over US $250,000), a sum that it is unable to pay. The Ministry of Constructing and Housing has claimed that finding a solution to the problem is not their responsibility. The municipality has asked homeowners in the neighborhood, particularly those seeking building licenses, to place reinforced tanks besides their houses for the collection of sewage, at a cost of NIS 19,000 (about US $5,000) per house, at their own private expense.

The Israel Land Administration (ILA) also refuses to market any plot of land in the Akbara neighborhood on the pretext that the Safad Municipality will not grant building permits for new houses so long as the neighborhood is not connected to the central sewage system, creating an acute shortage of land for construction in the area.

The residents of Akbara are internally displaced Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel whose original villages were destroyed in 1948. They were relocated to the village of Akbara by Israeli military order. However, Israel did not recognize the village, and as a result its inhabitants did not receive state services, including education, health and refuse collection services. After a long battle, Israel was eventually compelled to grant recognition to the village and then joined it to Safad in 1982. At that time, an agreement was reached between the authorities and the residents of Akbara according to which the Municipality of Safad and the ILA would allocate a plot of land for building to each family and provide the neighborhood with services and infrastructure.

Case Citation: Appeal on Administrative Petition 10291/08, Hajeb Salah v. The Municipality of Safad, et al. (Supreme Court) (Adalah submitted a motion to withdraw the appeal on 28.1.09 after receiving the commitment of Peleg HaGalil.

Adalah's Appeal (Hebrew)