Israel causing drought in Palestine

Monjed Jadou, Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

Israel is creating drought conditions in the West Bank as part of its campaign against the Palestinians, writes Monjed Jadou in Ramallah

Israel causing drought in Palestine

 

The extreme right wing Israeli government continues to torment Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank through all the means at its disposal.

While an overt war of annihilation is being waged in Gaza, destroying everything including wells and pipelines, Israel is conducting a quieter war against Palestinians in the West Bank by cutting off their water supply.

This has left Palestinian residents without water during the summer season, despite the fact that the groundwater wells in the West Bank are more than sufficient to meet their needs.

Instead, Israel is stealing the groundwater and pumping it to Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law. The settlers enjoy swimming pools and lush gardens, while Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps sometimes lack drinking water, forcing residents to buy it at exorbitant prices.

This silent water war, which Israel began at the start of summer, was marked by an announcement from the Israeli company Mekorot that controls Palestinian groundwater resources.

Its control is in violation of international laws and norms, which clearly prohibit an occupying power from exploiting the natural resources of an occupied territory. However, Israel consistently disregards these international laws, considering itself protected by US support.

Mekorot has announced a decision to halve the amount of water it sells to the Palestinian Water Authority during the summer, despite the fact that this water is Palestinian and is extracted from groundwater wells located in the West Bank, which is considered occupied territory under international law.

A World Bank report has indicated that Israel steals up to 85 per cent of Palestinian water, selling the remaining 15 per cent to the Palestinian Authority (PA) at high prices. This has led to a deficit in the PA’s ability to meet the needs of Palestinians, particularly during the summer.

In the Aida Refugee Camp north of Bethlehem, affected by the Israeli decision to reduce water supplies by 35 per cent, residents are suffering from water cuts lasting between 30 and 40 days. Prior to the reduction, the cuts ranged from two to three weeks.

Khader Zarina, a 57-year-old Palestinian refugee, described life in the area as “hellish,” emphasising that water is necessary for life. Every summer, the area suffers from water shortages and the inability to get water to homes. Zarina said that like other refugees he has bought a pump to pump water into storage tanks on the roofs of houses, as is commonly done every year.

Zarina told Al-Ahram Weekly that this year’s situation is even more difficult than usual due to the genocide faced by the Palestinians in Gaza, where people are being killed, their homes destroyed, and their suffering from hunger and thirst increased as a result of the Israeli war.

In the West Bank, Israel has announced its intention to kill the Palestinians more slowly than in Gaza, he said.

He added that conditions in the West Bank have been tough since the war began, with Israel besieging cities and camps using its army and settlers.

The Israeli military enters homes, demolishes them, and kills young men, Zarina said. Unemployment has risen due to the ban on Palestinian workers in Jerusalem and inside Israel, the halt in tourism, and the stagnation of industry.

The new decision to stop pumping water to Palestinian areas amounts to a new war on the Palestinians, he said.

Zarina stays up all night waiting for the pumps to start. As soon as he hears the sound of water, he starts his pump to pump water up into storage tanks on neighbouring roofs. However, often he does not get any water because the days marked for pumping have decreased, and the amounts of water have diminished.

Sometimes, he has to buy water from tankers that sell water to residents at high prices.

His wife Munira Zarina said that due to the water cuts, her five sons and daughters cannot bathe, laundry piles up, and toilets and bathrooms are left without water, making their daily lives miserable.

The Zarina family said that water is a basic human right, yet Palestinians are denied this right due to Israel’s racist decisions aimed at increasing the levels of thirst and hunger among them. The family asked why the world is remaining silent about the actions of the Israeli Occupation Authorities.

 

POLITICS OF WATER: According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the average daily water consumption per person in Palestine is 85.7 litres, 86.4 litres per person in the West Bank and 84.6 in the Gaza Strip – though this has dropped to less than 15 litres since the Israeli war started.

This is below the global minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is 100 litres per day, while Israeli consumption is estimated to be six times higher than that of Palestinians.

Mazen Ghneim, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said that the reduction of the water supply by Mekorot is a political issue, with its primary aim being to make life unbearable for Palestinian communities associated with agriculture and strategic projects, especially those near settlements in areas of the West Bank designated as “C”.

The goal is to displace the Palestinians and seize their land for settlement expansion, thus using water as a tool of blackmail against the Palestinians.

Ghneim said that the Israeli water company annually claims that the issue is “technical,” pointing out that last year a similar water crisis lasted several months, particularly in the southern West Bank. However, in reality, Mekorot prioritises the Israeli settlers at the expense of the Palestinians.

He said that the percentage of water purchased from Mekorot for domestic use is about 55 per cent, amounting to 75 to 80 million cubic metres annually for the West Bank out of 128 million cubic metres of consumption. This represents 60 per cent of the potable water available.

In Gaza, the amount is 53,000 cubic metres out of 330,000, representing 55 per cent of the available potable water.

Regarding the possibility of finding a solution to the water crisis, Ghneim said that “the geographical divisions and barriers created by the Occupation prevent the establishment of any independent water system in Palestine.”

“Unlike the rest of the world, which possesses integrated management systems with multiple sources feeding into it, this is impossible to establish in Palestine due to the geographical fragmentation and insufficient quantities to cover deficits in other areas.”

“All the projects we implement are related to rehabilitating networks to minimise losses to the bare minimum, whether at the distribution level within service-provider areas or at the wholesale and carrier line levels,” Ghneim said.

“The minimum percentage of water loss is 50 per cent, which goes to agriculture, creating a burden for us. We are thinking about relying on alternative sources and reducing costs by reusing treated water in agriculture.”

Ghneim said that “all the solutions we seek are intended to alleviate the crisis. However, the ultimate solution lies in ending the occupation, establishing an independent Palestinian state, and benefiting from the aquifers and water sources beneath the ground to establish an integrated water system.”

“We are working to enhance the efficiency of our systems as much as possible. There have been significant improvements in the water situation compared to 15 years ago, but these remain limited due to the occupation. Particularly in the last four years, there have been increased restrictions, settlement expansions, and infrastructure developments for settlements.”

Awni Jubran, spokesperson for the Bethlehem Water Authority which covers the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, and the nearby refugee camps, said that Israel’s decision to reduce the amount of water available has doubled the problems of the authority.

The quantities available before the reduction were already insufficient and reducing them further by 40 per cent only exacerbates the situation, he said. He noted that what is needed is to increase the amount of water reaching Bethlehem, not to reduce it by half.

Speaking to the Weekly, Jubran said that the Israeli decision has disrupted services and ruined the water distribution programme for areas under the Bethlehem Water Authority’s jurisdiction.

This has increased complaints from people who have the right to access water, but the incoming quantities are insufficient. Consequently, distribution is done according to a schedule updated based on the amount of water entering the wells managed by the authority.

Bethlehem is experiencing a severe water crisis, especially with rising temperatures. Jubran called on the international community and humanitarian organisations to intervene with the occupying state to restore water supplies to Palestinian areas.

 

BUYING WATER: Due to frequent water cuts and reduced supplies from the Israeli company, many Palestinians are forced to buy water from tankers to compensate for the shortage, despite the difficult economic conditions.

Ali Hamad from Ramallah, who operates a water tanker, said the price of a three-cubic-metre tank varies by region. In some areas, it sells for 250 shekels (about $70), while in others, it can reach 400 shekels (approximately $130).

He said that demand for water from tankers has increased due to the crisis created by the Israeli company and the higher water usage associated with higher temperatures.

Abdel-Rahman Al-Tamimi, director of the Palestinian Hydrologists Association, emphasised that the issue is fundamentally a political one, aimed at blackmailing the PA.

He pointed out that the Oslo Accords had stipulated that the relationship should be between the PA and the Israeli company on a commercial basis, not with the Israeli government.

The latter has exploited this clause for political effect and to justify price increases. These took place in previous years when Mekorot raised its prices during incidents of Israeli blackmail.

In a press release, the company said that the issue of water rights had been deferred in the Oslo Accords to the final negotiations. These rights include the entitlement to groundwater within the West Bank and Gaza boundaries, the right to exploit the waters of the Jordan River, and sovereignty over all water sources in Palestine.

However, Israel does not recognise Palestinian sovereignty over water sources and imposes its control over them.

Al-Tamimi said that other problems include population growth and uncontrolled urban expansion. This has driven people to migrate from rural areas to cities, he said, and has made worse a crisis created by Israel’s reduction of the water allotted to the Palestinians.

Israel “seeks to turn us into customers of Mekorot by reducing water supplies, rather than citizens with the right to control our own water sources,” Al-Tamimi said.

International covenants, treaties, and declarations guarantee the right to safe drinking water and sanitation as essential for living a dignified life and other human rights. The Israeli Occupation continues to violate this right, among others, foremost among them to right to life.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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