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Michael Jansen: The water war
July 08, 2016
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During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Israel dramatically reduced or cut off water supplies to Palestinians living in the northern West Bank, violating international law and humanitarian law dealing with the treatment of civilians living under hostile occupation. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah accused Israel of “waging a water war against the Palestinians.”

He said Israel aims to prevent Palestinians from “leading a dignified life and uses its control over our water resources to this end.” “Our” was the key word in his remarks. While Palestinians are compelled to pay high prices for off-and-on water belonging to them, illegal Israeli settlements have a constant supply for homes, factories, businesses, agriculture and swimming pools. The pools, sparkling in the hot summer sun, are a particular provocation for Palestinians.

According to the liberal Israeli daily, Haaretz, the Israeli Mekorot water monopoly has told Palestinian officials the cuts would last all summer as, Israel claims, there is a water shortage. Reservoirs serving the West Bank, located in Israeli colonies, must remain filled to capacity so pressure is strong enough to pipe water to other colonies and Palestinian communities.

Jenin city, Salfit city and surrounding villages and several Nablus area villages are the most gravely affected by a policy of manipulating supplies adopted by Mekorot. While Jenin has received half the allocated amount, other areas have had no water since mid-May. Palestinians have been forced rely on springs near their homes or to purchase water delivered by lorries of Israeli-owned companies which charge ten times the price of piped water.   

Entire families are being obliged to live on 2-10 litres per capita daily at a time temperatures are soaring to 35-40 degrees Celsius. The World Health Organisation says 100 litres per person a day is required. At the best of times and under the best conditions a Palestinian receives 73 litres while an Israeli colonist receives 200-240 litres and an Israeli living in Israel “proper” 350 litres.  

The Jenin municipality has, reportedly, warned Mekorot that it would hold the company legally responsible for illness and deaths resulting from water cuts to the city’s 40,000 residents.

The Oslo accords, signed in 1993-94, made the Palestinian Authority (PA) responsible for supplying water to Palestinians but Israel has a veto on any projects proposed by the PA, whether to drill wells, lay new pipes or install pumping stations. Israel, which enjoys full military control over the entire West Bank, decides what the Authority can do and what it cannot do. Israel naturally blames the PA for failing to build and maintain the infrastructure for delivering water to Palestinian cities, towns and villages.

Under the accords, Israel has been allocated 80 per cent of the water from the West Bank Mountain Aquifer. Palestinians should never have agreed to this arrangement because it legalised a de facto situation imposed by the Israeli occupation regime soon after the take-over of the West Bank in 1967. 

To make matters worse for Palestinians, Israel also takes water from the West Bank ground water basins, the only source for Palestinians dwelling there. Palestinian municipalities and farmers are not permitted to sink wells or drill bore holes without Israeli permission which is nearly never granted.

Amnesty International reported that 200,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have access to running water, although Israel has been occupying this region for 49 years and is ultimately responsible for the welfare of the Palestinian population rather than the powerless, cash-strapped PA.

Israel’s claim that water is in short supply could very well be fraudulent. At least 35 per cent of the drinking water consumed by Israelis is produced by desalination. In May 2014, the Associated Press put out a story hyping Israel’s aggressive desalination programme in which Avraham Tenne, head of the desalination division of Israel’s Water Authority, was quoted as saying, “We have all the water we need, even in [a] year which was the worst year ever regarding precipitation. This is a huge revolution.”

Israel’s “water war” against Palestinians coincides with the worrisome, for Israel, increase in the Palestinian population in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. According to official population figures, Israel’s Jewish population, at 6.377 million, is a minority if compared with 6.8 million Palestinians. Some projections put the Jewish population at 46 per cent by 2035 but it is highly likely that this will happen much sooner.

By making life difficult for Palestinians, Israel seeks to force them to leave their homes, lands, cities, towns and villages. This is working, although a high Palestinian birth rate more than compensates for those who emigrate. By denying life giving water to the Palestinians, Israeli policy makers certainly hope to encourage and hasten Palestinian departure on their own volition. This very policy was recommended more than a century and a quarter ago by Theodor Herzl, Israel’s founding father, who said the Zionists should push the native Palestinian population across the frontier “surreptitiously.”

Palestinian youths are fighting back in what has been termed the “lone wolf intifada” by staging mainly suicide knife attacks on Israeli soldiers and colonists in the 1967 occupied territories and citizens of Israel “proper.”  

The cities that have seen the most attacks have been East Jerusalem and al-Khalil (Hebron). Citing the pretext of providing security for Israeli colonists, al-Khalil, the largest Palestinian West Bank city, was last Friday sealed off following the stabbing death of a US-Israeli girl of 13 in the Kiryat Arba colony in an attack carried out by a 17-year-old Palestinian teenager and the shooting death of an Israeli man in a drive-by incident.

Nearly 700,000 Palestinians were confined to the district, except for medical emergencies. Israeli military spokesman, Peter Lerner said that at least 80 attacks on Israeli citizens had originated from this district where Israelis are constantly in conflict with Palestinians. The water-deprived northern Nablus-Jenin region could also erupt at any time as Palestinian frustration deepens.

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