ISRAHELL: Water apartheid

ISRAELI WATER THEFT: Mohammed Abbas is sick, with chronic diarrhoea. Not for the first time.

He and his family live in a Palestinian village with no running water, no sewage system, and no prospect of getting either any time soon.

Watching her son, eyes closed, clutching his stomach on a mattress on the floor, his mother, Sunna, told me she is desperate.

Water tanker, Faqua village, West Bank
Faqua residents complain they have to spend a lot of money buying water

“I’m angry that my son is sick. The doctor says it’s because of the water. We buy it from outside. I don’t know where it comes from. I give it to my children even though I know it’s contaminated. What else can I do?”

Sunna’s story is becoming increasingly common in the West Bank. The name of her village, Faqua, means spring water bubbles in Arabic, but access to water here disappeared long ago.

The village council says most of the underground springs were appropriated by Israel in 1948 when the state was founded.

An Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee was set up in the mid-1990s as part of the Oslo peace accords.

But Palestinians say Israel makes it virtually impossible for them to dig new wells or to join Israel’s water grid.


The West Bank is home to an important regional water source.

According to a World Bank report published this year, Israel keeps 80% of water it drills from the mountain aquifer for Israeli citizens.

West Bank map showing Faqua village

Palestinian water crisis deepens

Palestinians get the leftovers. It is not enough.

While driving around Faqua village we came across a private water tanker, its hose rolled through the street into the Sallah family’s backyard.

Murky-looking water gushed into an underground tank there.

The World Bank warns the water quality is deteriorating. So Palestinians pay dearly.

Unclean water makes people sick. Lack of water means prices are high. Munir Sallah says it makes a difficult life even tougher.

“We need a lot of money to cover this expense. We could use the money for other things like food for example.

“Every bit of money we have we use to pay for water. You’re not going to eat well. You’re not going to use much electricity. You need to save this money for water.

“In Faqua money is in short supply. The village fields lie barren, dry and dusty. Traditionally, Palestinian villages depend on farming. For that you need water.”

Trading blame

But Israel says it is not to blame here – Palestinian planning is.

Israel claims Faqua village never applied to join the water grid – although the local mayor disputes this.

Israel says the Palestinian Water Authority should be more effective across the West Bank.

Human Rights groups tell a different story. Sarit Michaeli works for B’tselem:

“Israel provides water on demand to any Israeli, including settlers in the West Bank.

“Palestinians are entitled to water. It’s their basic right under international law, but very often they are discriminated against in the allocation of this resource.

“Water is scarce throughout the entire region but the little water we have has to be equally shared out between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Farmer Ahmad Abu Salamah, Faqua
Ahmad Abu Salamah can see green Israeli fields from his own parched land

Up in the brown hills of Faqua, a frustrated Palestinian farmer shows us the lush fields of an Israeli Kibbutz next door.

Faqua village is just on the boundary line between the West Bank and Israel.

An Israeli army jeeps keeps a close eye on us from the other side of the metal fence – part of the separation barrier Israel is building in an around the West Bank.

Ahmad Abu Salamah says Israel has given the kiss of death to agriculture here.

“We in Faqua village live in Area C – the part of the West Bank under total Israeli control. Israel should give us water. If it did, our land would be as green as theirs. But they use all the water for their land

“Water along with land and religion lies at the heart of the conflict here. Fair distribution will have to be part of any solution.”

Ref: BBC


Access to water is fundamental to life and perhaps the most basic human right. For Palestinians living under occupation, it is yet another human right which is controlled by Israel. The human right to water refers to domestic needs, however by denying Palestinians access to water, the Israeli government is also denying the human right to food which incorporates water for agriculture, and the human right to sanitation.

Although it is often overlooked, the Israeli monopoly of water – already a scarce resource in the region – undermines Palestinian economic development and is a critical political issue. Water is one of the six permanent status issues to be dealt with in the negotiations between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and the Israeli Government. This conflict is about resources as well as land, and a viable Palestinian state will not be possible while Israel continues to ignore international laws and previously signed agreements regarding water with the same impunity that it ignores internationally recognised borders and previously signed agreements regarding land. Israel has denied the Palestinians the right to drill one single well in the Western Aquifer since 1967. In this way Israel ensures that the bulk of the flow continues to cross the green line into Israel, and Israel can continue to abstract most of supposedly shared water.

Palestinian water rights were recognised in Article 40 of the Oslo II Interim Agreement, bringing hopes that living standards in the Occupied Territories would improve and that water for agriculture would stimulate economic growth. According to the recent World Bank report, Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development, these hopes have “only very partially been realised”, as Gaza and parts of the West Bank suffer “chronic” water-related humanitarian crises. Problematically, while Article 40 recognised Palestinian Water Rights, it failed to define them as Israel preferred to postpone this to the final status negotiations.

The Joint Water Committee was established under Article 40 of the Olso II Interim Agreement of 1995 to manage the water resources of the West Bank. Typically, Joint Water Committees are established to manage a shared water resource and not just a portion of the resource as is the case with the Israeli-Palestinian JWC, the jurisdiction of which is limited to those water resources accessible from within the West Bank. Essentially, Israel was able to reinforce its 1967 military order placing all of the water resources of the West Bank under Israeli military control.

Under the system established by Article 40, any proposed infrastructure project or management measure within the West Bank must be approved by Israeli authorities. The World Bank report states that the way in which this has been implemented gives Israeli authorities total control over the allocation and management of West Bank water resources. Further, Israeli territorial jurisdiction over 60% of the West Bank (Area C), makes management of water resources “virtually impossible” for the Palestinian Authority.

According to the World Bank report, “fundamental asymmetries of power” prevent the JWC from functioning as a “joint” institution. The JWC is inherently flawed due to its limited jurisdiction over only those shared mountain water resources which underlie the West Bank instead of effective joint management over the entire shared resource.

The majority of the priority projects in line with Palestinian National Water Objectives have still not been realised after 14 years. Israeli projects to abstract water from the shared Mountain Aquifer are not even presented to the JWC. In some instances, Israel has taken action unilaterally, and charged the costs to the Palestinian Authority. Where sewage runs untreated towards Israel, Israeli authorities have taken to treating it and charging the costs to the Palestinian Authority, amounting to $43 million between 1996 and 2008. There is no formal billing: the Palestinian Ministry of Finance is simply informed of the decision and the charges are withheld from Palestinian tax revenue.

However, untreated waste water flows from the large Ariel settlement just 15 metres from the spring of Salfit: recently sewage flooded the spring, which is the source of Salfit water supply. Germany allocated money for a treatment plant for Salfit, but for three years Israeli authorities demanded a joint project. It was eventually approved but when work started, it was said to be close to the site of future settlements and construction was halted in 2000. A new site has been proposed, but as the new site is also in Area C, it is being held up by Israeli “planning considerations”. Since 1996, the JWC has postponed all wastewater projects proposed by the Palestinian Water Authority. In 2005, the entire Palestinian city of Qalqiliyya was flooded with sewage and waste water after the trunk line blocked, and it took three days for the army to get permission from Israel to clear the blockage. In this light, the Israeli Water Authority’s suggestion that “the Palestinians apparently prefer to let their wastewater flow into Israeli territory” (The Issue of Water Between Israel and Palestinians, Israeli Water Authority, March 2009) is unfair, if not provocative.

Records show that the Palestinian projects which have been rejected or delayed by JWC would have benefitted 1.1 million beneficiaries. This is a bare minimum: in reality almost all Palestinians have been negatively affected by Israel’s water policies. The World Bank states that in practice movement and access restrictions present a “formidable, often insuperable constraint” for Palestinians to get projects implemented: “Essentially the Israeli Water Authority has veto power, and in order to solicit approvals on vital emergency water needs, the Palestinian Authority is forced into positions that compromise its basic policy principles.”

Currently, Palestinians have access to one fifth of the resources of the Mountain Aquifer. Israel takes the rest, and overdraws the “estimated potential” by over 50% without JWC approval – almost double its share under Oslo Accords. This lowers the aquifer to the point that the shallow wells which Palestinians drilled before 1967, during Jordanian rule, now run dry. Over pumping aquifers also places the quality of the aquifer at risk. Around half of the households in the West Bank report problems in the quality of their drinking water supply, and only 31% Palestinians are connected to a sewerage network. Even those with access to a water supply network are not guaranteed supply: the infrastructure is useless without enough water in the lines. At Auja, the formerly productive Auja spring now runs dry thanks to the activity of five nearby Israeli production wells: the formerly water-abundant village must now buy back water from surrounding settlements.

As well as causing a crisis in sanitation, this has had a significant impact on the Palestinian economy. In the West Bank, average household expenditure on water is twice the globally accepted standard. Often it is the poorest Palestinians, unconnected to a water supply, who are the hardest hit: one-sixth of their household budget is spent on water costs, as Israeli restrictions on movement and access drive up the cost of tankers. The World Bank estimates these extra costs amount to $45 million annually. Further, the less entitlement Palestinians are permitted to their existing water resources, the more they must spend developing new ones.

The effect of Israel’s monopoly of the water supply has severely undermined the Palestinian economy by impeding the development of the water-reliant agricultural industry, a key sector for the revival of the Palestinian economy. This has particularly affected the irrigated agriculture which already suffers from movement restrictions: in the West Bank produce has to contend with 640 checkpoints and unpredictable closures, the cost of which must be passed on to the consumer. The World Bank estimates that the cost to the economy of foregone opportunity in irrigated agriculture in the West Bank could be as high as $480 million annually, and 110,000 jobs. In Gaza, aside from the border closures which deny access to markets, with water supply at crisis levels the potentially very profitable agricultural industry simply cannot develop. Damage to infrastructure during the war on Gaza has only compounded this, in yet another violation of both the Geneva Convention, and the Joint Declaration for Keeping Water Infrastructure out of the Cycle of Violence, agreed by the JWC in January 2001. The continued siege on Gaza has prevented the reconstruction of its water infrastructure.

Water scarcity in the Occupied Territories is not induced by natural conditions alone: it is a man-made crisis created by Israel, and imposed on the Palestinians. A 2002 report commissioned by the Israel Knesset entitled ’Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the Israeli Water Sector’, concludes that “(t)he water crisis was not brought about only by climatic changes that caused a fall in the quantity of rain, nor even by the steep rise in population and its standards of living in the last 50 years. The astounding failure is primarily man-made”.

The issue of water cannot be postponed any longer, and must be at the top of the list as a new round of peace talks is initiated. A recent study by the Palestinian Economic Research Institute (MAS) estimating future water needs in Palestine until 2020 provides guidelines which can be used in negotiations with Israel. The official PLO position is inline with International Water Law and the principle of “Equitable and Reasonable Utilisation”. However the World Bank report calls for minimal Water Rights to be granted to Palestinians, and Israel has rejected even these.

Given its well-documented disregard for international law it is unsurprising that, in its report “The Issue of Water Between Israel and Palestinians” released in March, the Israel Water Authority (IWA) stressed that the sides should focus less on “legal solutions” and “legal aspects”. Likewise, considering that Israeli water availability is more than six times greater per capita than water availability for Palestinians, IWA’s assertion in the same report that water agreements between countries are “not a question of principles” is also unsurprising.

Israeli discrimination in the allocation of water is part of the structural oppression of an occupied people, perpetuating a system of apartheid, an unsustainable economy and prohibiting any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. Water is a permanent status, and has therefore been negotiated over in OSLO, OSLO II, Camp David, Taba and Annapolis, yet water-related humanitarian crises remain chronic in Gaza and in parts of the West Bank. It is vital that Israel does not continue to postpone the issue of water rights for Palestinians in the next round of peace talks, however Palestinian people cannot wait for peace to be granted basic human rights and access to their own water.

ref. Palestine monitor

Also read: ISRAEL- Don’t make the desert bloom

Report: Israelis take water from Palestinians (Israel is a racist state)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis have access to four times as much water as the average Palestinian, and the water the Palestinians have is mismanaged, according to a World Bank report.

The report, issued Monday, recommends a change in the current water-distribution arrangement, which was arrived at as part of the Oslo II accords.

It also charged that Israel is taking 50 percent more water from the three aquifers it shares with the Palestinians than it was authorized under the arrangement.

The unequal division of water and the P.A.’s lack of resources have affected the area’s daily supply of water as well as the development of water resources, water uses and wastewater management, according to the report.

Sharing water is likely to become more difficult as the already dire regional water crisis worsens.

Ref: Jta

Also read VIDEO: Israel’s Water Crisis the PROPAGANDA >< REALITY VERSION

Water and Resistance

The view from the Palestinian village of Nahhalin, in the west Bethlehem area, is sobering. This small village—along with the villages of Husan, Battir, Wadi Fuqin, and Al Walaja—are becoming more and more isolated from Bethlehem.

As Israeli colonization in the Etzion bloc grows and as the Wall continues to cut deeply into the West Bank strangulating these communities, these Palestinian villagers have little access to the rest of the Israeli occupied West Bank. Even now, Israel is burrowing out a tunnel under the major settler bypass road running through the Etzion bloc, that will provide “transportational contiguity” for thisone of many isolated islands of land on 40 to 50 percent of the West Bank that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice want to sell to the world as “the state of Palestine.” [1]
Stuck between the “Green Line”—the 1949 Armistice Line that separates Israel from the West Bank—and the Wall, Palestinians from Nahhalin find themselves among some 60,000 Palestinians living in the “seam zone,” that is that western segregation zone between the Wall and the Green Line which includes roughly 11 percent of the West Bank and that will ultimately be annexed to the “state of Israel” in Israel’s unilateral plan to define its own borders.
When I last visited Nahhalin, I was joined by my friends at the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ). [2] ARIJ had begun a waste water treatment project in Nahhalin that will now be duplicated to provide rural Palestinian areas in the West Bank with new sources of water for irrigation. ARIJ’s water and environment research unit will install on-site waste water treatment systems for 180 homes, providing direct benefits to about 1,800 people. The project gets underway this year and will be completed in 2010.
Nader Sh. Hrimat from ARIJ pointed out to me that scarcity of fresh water supplies and restricted access to traditional water supplies creates ongoing shortages of water for agricultural purposes. These new systems will not only improve access to water, they improve management of waste water, said Nader, explaining that the re-use of treated wastewater for irrigation is now considered to be one of the most feasible and economical ways to utilize household waste water in a sanitary manner.
The anticipated success of expanding this project to 180 homes is expected to encourage more Palestinian villages to install on-site treatment systems. In addition to addressing water shortages and water pollution concerns, these systems are also expected to increase agricultural productivity and food security, a function all the more important considering that over a third of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are, with another 12 percent at risk of becoming, “food insecure.” [3] Treatment units will be manufactured locally and create much-needed employment opportunities here where rampant unemployment has contributed to a poverty rate of over 33 percent (with a quarter living in “deep poverty”). [4]
On the surface, this might simply appear to be another development project, one that is similar to many others around the world. However, in this context of ongoing Israeli colonization and occupation of Palestinian life and land, such simple acts of waste water treatment and sustainable development are not only peacebuilding initiatives in their own right but they also become powerful acts of nonviolent resistance.
Another example would be the next phase of a hydrology project in the northern part of the West Bank with the Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG). [5] I recently joined Abdul-Latif from PHG in a field visit to the Palestinian villages of Jayyus and Kafr Jammal near Qalqilya where farmers are cut off from their agricultural lands by the Israeli separation barrier. This hydrology project in its various phases has sought to assist farmers in keeping a presence on their lands on the other side of the Wall, the “seam zone,” by maintaining well pumps and irrigation systems.
Projects such as these give Palestinian people greater control over their natural resources, explained Nader. Water resources, he noted, are particularly vulnerable because Israel controls over 80 percent of the Palestinian groundwater resources in the West Bank, restricting access to water for agricultural irrigation and other purposes. [6]
Abdul-Latif also pointed this out to me. With Israeli control over water resources, and Palestinians captive to Israeli water companies, Abdul-Latif asks, “Where is the infrastructure for this ‘Palestinian state’?” Abdul-Latif then pointed out to me the citrus lying on the ground having rotted off the trees as another sign of the economic strangulation on these communities. These fruits go unpicked because Palestinian farmers have very limited access to a market of any sort to sell their goods due to the Israeli closure system in the West Bank. And when they can sell their goods somewhere, Israel has flooded the market with cheap fruits from Israel (and Jordan) that these farmers simply cannot compete with.
These indicators point to what many see as the imminent demise of a “two-state” solution to this terrible conflict and the solidification—through this structure of occupation, colonization, and apartheid—of Israeli domination over the Occupied Territories. And with the absence of any viable economic infrastructure, those calling for investment in Palestinian society as a “positive” response to the “critical” call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions need to understand the context of this structure that holds Palestinians captive in “Bantustans” as cheap laborers and consumers—a structure that will not benefit Palestinians or Israelis in the long run.
A hydrology initiative such as this is the form that a relevant nonviolent resistance has taken in the Occupied Territories. And it goes unnoticed by many in North America because it is not as recognizable as demonstrations or sit-ins. But in a context where so many pressures are exerted on Palestinian communities to leave their homes due to economic, social, or political forces (or other softer forms of what is essentially ethnic cleansing), assistance by the international community to help these communities simply be, simply exist, is the most salient form of nonviolent resistance that Palestinians live out on a daily basis.
This is why when I hear people ask, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi, or the Palestinian King, or the Palestinian Mandela?” (once again blaming the victim for their victimhood and absolving the oppressor by placing the responsibility and the initiative on the shoulders of the oppressed, which makesone want to respond with a “Where is the Israeli Mandela or de Klerk?”) I think of the Nader’s and Abdul-Latif’s of Palestine who exercise courage, persistence, and steadfastness in the face of all of these pressures of dispossession, colonization, occupation, and most recently international boycott, and through the seemingly mundane acts of farming, reclaiming land, and water and food security initiatives truly resist injustice and truly pursue a sustainable peace born of justice in this broken land.

-Timothy Seidel is a peace development worker with Mennonite Central Committee in the Occupied Palestinian Territories where he has lived for the past three years.
in the Occupied Palestinian Territories where he has lived for the past three years.

1. See Jeff Halper’s recent comments on this in “The Livni-Rice Plan: Towards a Just Peace or Apartheid?”, 2 May 2007,
2. See
3. See the IRIN report, “One-third of Palestinians ‘food insecure’,” The Electronic Intifada, 22 March 2007, and “Growing poverty, unemployment threaten Palestinians’ ability to feed their families,” UN News, 22 February 2007, or “Poor Palestinians unable to purchase enough food,” WFP Press Release, 2 February 2007,
4. See “Financial boycott sends Palestinian poverty numbers soaring, finds UN report,” UN News, 24 November 2006, and Rory McCarthy, “UN plea for millions in Palestinian aid amid fears of economic collapse,” The Guardian, 8 December 2006,,,1967251,00.html
5. See
6. See the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department summary on water at