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PV Vivekanand: Settlers stealing water
March 21, 2012
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The Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are facing a new problem: Jewish settlers are stealing their water, in public. Armed settlers have taken over a large number of the springs in the West Bank, restricting the Palestinians’ access to water, both for drinking and farming purposes. The settlers, who are illegal residents of the occupied territories under international law, are also seen planning to take over dozens more of West Bank springs.

The seizure, which fits into the pattern of aggressive and arbitrary Israeli actions in the occupied territories, was exposed in a new report from the United Nations office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

“Settlers have developed 40 springs as tourist sites, deployed picnic tables and benches and given them Hebrew names ... It is generating employment and revenue for the settlements and it is a way of promoting or advertising settlements as a fun place,” UN researcher Yehezkel Lein said, adding that the Palestinians are kept away from such sites by settlers, who go around toting machine-guns.

The Palestinians currently have limited access to 46 other springs where settlers had moved in and threatened to take control.

All the springs are located in an area – 60 per cent of the West Bank – designated as “C” under the 1993 Oslo agreements and which remains under Israeli military control.

According to settler leaders, the springs were being turned into recreation sites primarily for the settlers themselves, and not as much for tourists. Not that it makes any difference to the actual quantity of water that is available to the Palestinians. “Despite the decline in their yield, springs have remained the single largest water source for irrigation and a significant source for watering livestock,” the UN report said, adding that some also provided water for domestic consumption in areas not connected to pipelines.

“The loss of access to springs and adjacent land reduced the income of affected farmers, who either stop cultivating the land or face a reduction in the productivity of their crops,” the report said.

“The main methods used by settlers to that end have been intimidation and threats, and the erection of fences around the targeted areas,” it added. “This phenomenon comes in the context of Israel’s longstanding policy of settling its civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of international humanitarian law.” (The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

The convention also forbids the occupying power from changing the demographic or geographic features of the territory under occupation.)

In principle, water-sharing is one of the key issues that need to be discussed and negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a sought-for agreement to settle their decades-old conflict.

Negotiations are at a standstill now, with Israel refusing to halt settlement activity in the occupied territories, including Arab East Jerusalem.

Water pumped from the West Bank accounts for 18 per cent of Israel’s needs.

Water available for consumption for the Palestinians in the occupied territories – 70 litres per capita per day – is less than the minimum acceptable and approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – 100 litres –  according to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Israelis living within the pre-1967 “Green Line” boundaries get around 200 litres per capita per day.

Jewish settlers in the occupied territories get 18 times more water than the Palestinians there.

The Oslo agreement contains a provision that offers Israel control of most sources of water in the occupied territories but the accord also calls for sharing of the precious commodity. However, by virtue of its military control of the West Bank, Israel has implemented only those measures that are in its favour and refuses to respect the spirit of the agreement.

According to Fayyad, “When we talk about the areas of shared water sources, we can say they don’t have the right to exploit 90 per cent of the shared sources for the benefit of Israel.”

Fayyad has said that in 2011, Israel destroyed about 46 water utilities in the West Bank, including wells collecting water and dating back to Roman times. Fayyad has also pointed out that Israel does not allow the Palestinian National Authority to dig water wells until it obtains licences from the occupation authorities.

The Palestinians have every reason to fear that they would be deprived of not only the springs currently under settlers’ control but also of dozens more.

Settlers, many of whom are openly racist and consider non-Jews as below human beings, are also eyeing more springs. They go on regular “tours” to at least 46 other springs, according to the UN report.

“While at the time of the survey, Palestinians could still access and use these springs, farmers and residents reported that the constant presence of groups of armed settlers in the area has an intimidating effect that discourages access and use,” the UN report said.

The report called on Israel to: “Stop facilitating the transfer of Israeli civilians into the occupied territories, including by allowing the expansion of settlements; restore Palestinian access to the water springs taken over by settlers, and ensure their safety; conduct effective investigations into cases of

settler violence and trespass and prosecute those responsible; and adopt measures to prevent ongoing settler “tours” to springs located on private Palestinian property.”

The UN knows only too well that its call would only have the impact on Israel of a cry from outer space. The Jewish state has no record of obeying UN calls and it has also been systematically violating UN decisions and international law and conventions.

However, the UN report on Palestinian water is a legal and valid document that highlights yet another Israeli crime against the Palestinians. Surely, there is hope that a time will come when Israel will be held accountable for its actions.

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