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Calamitous water situation within the West Bank and Gaza

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This year has been designated United Nations (UN) International Year of Water Cooperation. The theme speaks to the important role of cooperation in providing for water security, and therefore sustainable development.

Whilst of course applauding the UN’s decision to designate this year International Year of Water Cooperation. One would also have a duty of conscience to ask the question, what has the UN done to secure the water rights of the Palestinian people in the West Bank?

 Israel occupies Palestinian lands and in doing so has a duty of care towards those under occupation. However, when it comes to water rights, clearly Israel has failed in its duty under International law.

Through the establishment of settlements, Israel has created a discriminatory two-tier regime in the West Bank with two populations living separately in the same territory under two different systems of law. While settlers enjoy all the rights and benefits of Israeli citizens, Palestinians are subject to a system of Israeli military laws that deprives them of their fundamental rights.



Left Photo: Issam Rimawi @APA              Right photo: B’Tselem




There is clear evidence of unequal division of water resources in the West Bank, which only goes to benefit the Settler communities that are illegal under International law.

Extraction of water from the West Bank by the Israeli occupiers has increased at an unsustainable rate and to the absolute detriment of the Palestinian people. Israeli consumption is estimated at 80% greater than the agreed amount under the Oslo agreement, which was a temporary and transitional arrangement.



Oslo agreements on water


In 1995, the Oslo II agreement contained provisions on water and sewage that recognized

undefined Palestinian water rights, and returned some West Bank water resources and services responsibility to the Palestinian Authority (PA). In the context of the Peace Process, water was referred to as a final status issue, but interim arrangements were made until status could be resolved. The Oslo Agreement allowed the PA jurisdiction over all affairs in Areas A and B of the West Bank, but restricted PA control over “territory-related” issues, including infrastructure planning and water resource management, in Area C,( i.e.) approximately 60% of the West Bank.


The general expectation was that the Oslo Agreement would be revised within five years, and that the arrangements with respect to Area C would have ended within eighteen months of signing, except for territorial arrangements to be resolved as part of final status negotiations.


The Interim Agreement on Water and Sewage, (essentially Article 40), recognized that Palestinians had water rights in the West Bank, although these were not defined. It set governance arrangements for a five year interim period, notably a Joint Water Committee (JWC) to “deal with all water and sewage related issues in the West Bank”. It allocated specific quantities of the three aquifers underlying both territories & provided for interim supplies from new wells and from Mekorot.


In concluding, the agreement also stated Israel’s intention to return water supply institutions and infrastructure to the PA.



 The actualities on the ground


Even as the population of Palestine grew by an estimated 50% the Israeli occupiers placed restrictions on well drilling by Palestinians within the West Bank. The result of such restrictions is a decrease of water extraction by, and for Palestinian use of 4% between 1995 and 2007 despite the increase in population.

The average water consumption by Palestinians in the West Bank is estimated at 73 litres Per Capita Daily (PCD) which is below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of a minimum of 100 litres (PCD) for basic consumption. This unequal access to water keeps the settlement farms irrigated and flourishing and the swimming pools for the settlers clean and usable for their entertainment, whilst at the same time Palestinian agriculture suffers and as a direct result the possibility of employment in agricultural diminishes.


The Correlation between Water scarcity and Poverty



Whilst the correlation between water availability and prosperity may be obvious to most, less obvious is the effects of water deficiency. Such effects can clearly be seen in areas of the world such as: parts of India, China, Africa, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan where lack of water is directly connected to livestock loss, loss of grazing lands, Health problems including malaria and dengue, diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and other gastrointestinal viruses, dysentery and in some areas of the African continent (in particular) famine.


Waterborne illness and the scarceness of clean drinking / domestic water are a major cause of death worldwide and are the number 1 cause of death in infants under the age of 5 years old. It is estimated that 50% of hospital beds worldwide are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases.

According to the World Bank, 88 percent of all waterborne diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene


Palestine stands out from other countries mentioned above due to the ongoing occupation by the Israeli state. A United Nations 2006 report showed a clear correlation between access to safe water and GDP per capita and the World Bank report: Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development:
went further in recognizing the Disparity between neighbours in economic status.


The study is set in a framework of unbalanced opportunities between Israel and Palestine (West Bank & Gaza). There are quite obvious and large inequalities between the two. In the year 2005 Israeli Gross National Income (GNI) per capita was $21,900,(USD) whilst the Palestinian GNI was $1,230 (USD)
which amounts to a difference of $20,670 or in percentage terms less than 5.6% of Israeli gross national income per capita.


Standard of living comparisons for 2005 show the Israeli population at 7 million enjoying a living standard akin to that of Europe and the US. Whilst the Palestinian population of 4 million had 40% of the population classified as poor and 38% classified as food insecure (estimated at 56% in Gaza), up to 16% of the population were classified as unable to afford the minimum amount of calories for survival. The malnutrition rate among Palestinian people between 1995 & 1997 was at 12% of the population and rose to 16% in the period between 2001 & 2003.




Water resource availability also greatly differs between the Palestinian and Israeli people, as outlined in the report by B’Tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.


The B’Tselem report shows Population of the West Bank Only (no Gaza districts) which are not Connected to a Running-Water Network.


In the following 11 districts: al-Quds, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Jericho, Nablus, Qalqiliya, Ramallah, Salfit, Tulkarm and Tubas. The total number of residents in the eleven districts and the total number of residents which remain unconnected to the water network in 2011 below:


Total of 2,275,982 residents, of which some 71,128 or 57 communities were not connected to a running water system.



The Gaza Drinking water crisis



It is estimated that approximately 95% of the water being pumped throughout the Gaza Strip is polluted and totally unfit for drinking purposes.  The UN Environment Program, the Palestinian Water Authority, the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, and international Aid Organizations warns that it will take at least 20 years to rehabilitate Gaza’s underground water system. They stated that any delay will lead to further deterioration, prolonging the rehabilitation process for any reason would make any chance of rehabilitating the current system unlikely for generations to come.


Over pumping of the underground water of the coastal aquifer which in turn causes salt water to enter is seen as the main cause. Excessive pumping has been in practice for several decades and didn’t cease after Israel left the Gaza Strip. This practise has continued under the Palestinian Authority and now under the Hamas government.  

Underground water has further been polluted by lack of maintenance of the wastewater treatment facilities since the siege on Gaza began, intensified by the damage done to the wastewater treatment facility in Gaza City during Operation Cast Lead.


As a result of the poor quality of water, many Gazans have no choice but to buy water treated in facilities operated by local entrepreneurs or to use household water-treatment devices. Purifying water from pollutants such as nitrates and chlorides is very expensive. Consequently, a cubic meter of treated water can cost up to 50 shekels, ten times higher than the price of a cubic meter for households in Israel.  



Military Occupation and Water for Agriculture in Palestine


Occupation brings about its own share of issues when it comes to agriculture and water availability. Water cisterns used by Palestinian farmers to collect rainwater are frequently demolished by the Israeli authorities (46 in 2011 alone), which further limits the ability of Palestinian farmers to grow crops. In addition to this Settlers have taken over a number of water springs on Palestinian land to supply the ever growing number of new settlements, denying Palestinian access to them. 


As a result many Palestinian Farmers have no other alternative than to purchase water from mobile tankers, the cost of which is up to five times more expensive than water from their usual source. This in turn increases the price of their produce making them less competitive. Overall, the lack of access to water has led to a fall in the viability of farming and loss of livelihood in an industry which it is estimated could create another 120,000 jobs if sufficient water supply was made available.




The Trading Away Peace Report 2012



The Palestinian community of Bardala in the northern Jordan Valley was once a thriving agricultural area. In 1969, Israel established the Mehola settlement, allocating agricultural land privately owned by Palestinians for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers.


Since then, the demand from the settlements for water to grow crops and service their homes has had a directly negative impact on Palestinians’ access to water. Deep, high-volume wells drilled by the Israeli water company Mekorot in the 1960s and 70s caused shallower Palestinian wells and springs to dry up. In principle, Mekorot agreed to provide water from its wells to affected Palestinians but Bardala residents told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that they have no control over the operation of the Israeli wells and have suffered severe shortages in summer.


Farmers from Bardala said they could only cultivate one-third to one-half as much land as they used to, due to lack of irrigation water. Some farmers have resorted to purchasing portable water tankers for irrigation, though Israeli forces have in some cases confiscated the water tanks and fined the owners. Meanwhile, the settlers have no problem with access to water: in addition to a swimming pool, Mehola’s generous water supply allows it to grow crops for export. According to the Israeli group who Profits, Mehola produces melons and dates for export to Europe.



If Americans Knew report, when supplies of water are low in the summer months, the Israeli water company Mekorot closes the valves which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as not to affect Israeli supplies. This means that illegal Israeli settlers can have their swimming pools topped up and lawns watered while Palestinians living next to them, on whose land the settlements are situated, do not have enough water for drinking and cooking.



 Harpers Magazine reports: In the 1970s, Israel was devoting more than three quarters of its freshwater—much of it drawn from the West Bank aquifers to irrigation, even though agriculture accounted for around 6 percent of its GDP. Despite some reduction of water subsidies and the use of sophisticated irrigation technology, the disproportion remains undeniable: agriculture currently accounts for less than 3 percent of Israel’s GDP but reportedly half its water use.


A 2002 Knesset inquiry determined that what had by then stabilized into Israel’s ongoing water crisis was “primarily man-made” and not caused only by climactic or environmental factors. But the quantity of water available for farmers, the report advised, should not be significantly restricted because “agriculture has a Zionist-strategic-political value, which goes beyond its economic contribution”.



Israeli farmers benefit from agriculture, starting with grants of up to 25% of the investment for the establishment of agricultural enterprises and tax benefits on profits ranging from 25-30% and on investments  used especially by settlement farms in the Jordan valley that produce mainly for export to Europe.



 Is Water being used as an Apartheid Weapon?



A French report Commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2010, which was the work of French MP Jean Glavany (Socialist Party) along with a team of legislators. Came to that very conclusion!. 


The author of the report MP Jean Glavany, was a former agriculture minister under French President Lionel Jospin and a cabinet secretary for President Francois Mitterrand.


According to the 300 page report water has become “a weapon serving the new apartheid… Some 450,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians that live there. In times of drought, in contravention of international law, the [illegal] settlers get priority for water”.


Israel is waging a “water occupation” against the Palestinians, says the report accusing the Israelis of “systematically destroying wells that were dug by Palestinians on the West Bank” as well as deliberately bombing reservoirs in the Gaza Strip in 2008-09.


Furthermore “many water purification facilities planned by the Palestinian Water Ministry are being blocked by the Israeli administration.”


Head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Dr Shaddad Attili, observed: “Palestinians need to be able to access and control our rightful share of water in accordance with international law. The Oslo Accords did not achieve this… Without water, and without ensuring Palestinian water rights, there can be no viable or sovereign Palestinian state.” 


And not content with robbing the Palestinians of their water, the Israelis are in the habit of flooding Palestinian fields and villages with untreated sewage from their hilltop settlements.


Israel has been accused many times of apartheid behaviour in its actions and statements towards the Palestinian people. An example is the following statement on water rights in Palestinian lands. 


“There is no reason for Palestinians to claim that just because they sit on lands, they have the rights to that water.”

Avraham Katz-Oz


Avraham Katz-Oz was a member of the Knesset from 1977 until 1996, and Minister of Agriculture from 1988 until 1990, was also the Israeli negotiator on water issues. 


Katz-Oz was noted for the following statement during discussions on the water disparities between Palestinians and Israelis. 


A person living in a high-rise apartment building in Tel Aviv with a sink, dishwasher, washing machine and toilet is likely to use a lot more water than someone in a Palestinian refugee camp where such amenities are minimal.


“I’m not saying that’s good,” said Mr. Katz-Oz, the Israeli negotiator. But that disparity, he said, is “a socioeconomic problem — it’s not a water problem.”

However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry slammed the French legislator’s report on the country’s “apartheid” water policies as “venomous,” inaccurate and strewn with anti-Israel propaganda.

The Israeli denial was presented with the title: Government slams French water ‘apartheid‘ report (French MK blames Israel for turning water into a “weapon”; Foreign Ministry calls report inaccurate propaganda) in The Jerusalem Post .

In their response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry charged the author with employing “hateful propaganda” in an unprofessional manner that prevents any rational debate and instead harbors “the most extreme of anti- Israeli discourse,” along with a “sweeping denial of all possibilities for dialogue.”

“The systematic evading of simple facts that are available for verification within the field indicate the blatant bias of the author,” a ministry spokesman said.



HAARETZalso published a report by Barak Ravid on the 17th of January 2012 with the heading: French parliament report accuses Israel of water ‘apartheid’ in West Bank.

The article stated that the Israeli Embassy in Paris had no foreknowledge of the French parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee report, which was published two weeks previous, and thus did not refute it or work to moderate it. 

Foreign Ministry officials called the incident “a serious diplomatic mishap.”


The Foreign Affairs Committee had assigned Glavany to report on the geopolitical impact of water in confrontation zones throughout the world. He visited Israel and the Palestinian territories on May 17-19 of last year and met with several senior government officials, including Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau and Water Commissioner Uri Shani. 


Both the Foreign Ministry and the embassy in Paris were aware of the visit and knew that Glavany planned to write a report. But Israeli Ambassador to France Yossi Gal did not follow up on Glavany’s work. No one in the embassy attempted to get a draft copy of the report so as to ensure that its conclusions were not overly harsh. Nor were Israel’s allies on the French Foreign Affairs Committee contacted to ascertain whether the report could be moderated.




Total World View .



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