The West Bank Mountain Aquifer, Palestine’s principal water reserve, once blessed the land and its people, enabling a remarkable agriculture to flourish. A Chambers Encyclopaedia essay on Palestine and its people, published in 1878, included the following observations:
“The botany of Palestine is rich and varied, resembling that of Asia Minor. Among its trees are the pine, oak, elder and hawthorne in the northern and higher districts and olive, fig, carob and sycamore elsewhere. The cultivated fruits are the vine, apple, pear, apricot, quince, plum, orange, lime, banana, almond and prickly pear. Wheat, barley, peas, potatoes and European vegetables, cotton, millet, rice, maize and sugar cane are among its products. The date now only ripens its fruit in the south and on the sea-board. The brilliant flowers which in spring enamel the surface and tinge the entire landscape, comprise the adonis, ranunculus, mallow, poppy, pink, anemone and geranium. In the Jordan Valley, 900 or a 1000 feet below the sea-level, the vegetation is tropical in its character resembling that of Arabia; the nubk (Spina Christi), the oleander and the small yellow ‘apples of Sodom’ are conspicuous. The most valuable products of the vegetable kingdom are derived from the vine, fig, olive and mulberry trees. Wine for home use is made in all the central and southern districts; the best is made at Hebron from the grapes of Eshcol. Olive oil is a valuable export.”
Palestine’s precious water is now controlled by Israel. The foreign military Occupation diverts the water for Israel’s benefit so that Palestinians have access to even less water than that recognised by the UN as the minimum for survival – a third less, in fact. Palestinian agriculture is cursed even further by the Occupying power, depending on the area, either by denying Palestinian farmers proper access to their land or by annexation. According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel takes for itself 86% of the water from the aquifer.
Under belligerent military Occupation, the Palestinian people, in a hopelessly unequal bargaining position, signed away 80% of the aquifer to Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement signed in September 1995 known as Oslo 2. Israel, taking advantage of its stranglehold on Palestine, has already reduced to 14% the remaining 20% that it agreed would be allocated to Palestine. Palestinians need Israel’s permission to develop their own water resources and infrastructure and are severely restricted by the so-called Joint Water Committee (JWC). The JWC was established to implement and oversee the shared resource and, although Palestinians are allowed to sit on this committee, Israel has veto power and the final say.
Plundered Palestinian water
The Israeli Occupation uses force to prevent Palestinians digging wells and irrigating their land, both in order to make them dependent as well as to break their spirit of resistance. A German hydrologist, Clemens Messerschmid, says it is clear that Israel intends to keep Palestinians short of water. In 1982, the Israeli Army handed over the West Bank water infrastructure to the Israeli national water company Mekorot. The company sells enough water to the Palestinians to make a profit but is careful to not meet their real needs. Mekorot makes them pay a far higher price for the water than that paid by illegal Jewish colonists, who are encouraged by Israel, through generous subsidies, to move to the settlements on Occupied Palestinian land. While Palestinians go without even the bare minimum recognised by the UN, the Israeli business website ‘Globes’ celebrates the fact that Israel enjoys a water surplus. A United Nations Human Rights Council report confirms that Mekorot, and another Israeli company, siphon off water from Palestinian wells and springs to supply illegal West Bank Israeli settlements (colonies), thus reinforcing the creeping annexation. These companies pipe the water into Israel at no cost and return a fraction of it to Palestinians – but at huge cost to the militarily-Occupied population.
Palestinians are prohibited even from collecting rainwater
Israel’s Military Order No.158 forbids Palestinians any rights to drilling, irrigation or conservation of water. The building of reservoirs or collection of water in rooftop tanks is prohibited, with the Israeli Army destroying wells and invading homes to destroy rooftop water storage. This is what the so-called ‘peace talks’ and Oslo Accords mean in practice. While the Oslo charade gave the world the impression that Palestinians would at last be allowed to drill wells, in fact it ensured that such access would be subject to Israeli permits which, of course, continue to be denied to the Occupied population. Because of Oslo and the ‘integration’ of the water supply, the Israeli Occupation looks irreversible and, although on paper the Palestinians are ‘responsible’ for their water supply, in reality they are permitted no sovereignty over it. By denying the Palestinian right to drill wells, Israel is fully aware that the water, which should benefit the people, will flow underground towards the hills and into Israeli hands.
Israel’s annexation Wall
The Wall Israel is building in the West Bank winds through Palestinian land, well beyond the Green Line. The annexed land includes rich, fertile farmland and large groundwater aquifers, particularly around the provinces of Jenin, Qalqiliya and Tulkarem. Many wells and reservoirs have thus been lost to the Palestinian community.
A report by the UN describes how “Palestinians have increasingly lost access to water sources in the West Bank as a result of the takeover of springs by Israeli settlers, who have used threats, intimidation and fences to ensure control of water points close to the settlements.” The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) examined 50 springs on Palestinian land close to Israeli settlements and found that Palestinians were deterred from accessing their springs through “intimidation, threats and violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers” and that “Palestinian access has been prevented by physical obstacles, including the fencing of the spring area, and its ‘de facto annexation’ to the settlement.”
In October 1993, The New York Times reported Israel’s negotiator on water, Avraham Katz-Oz, asserting Israel’s position on the West Bank Mountain aquifer: “There is no reason for Palestinians to claim that just because they sit on lands, they have the rights to that water.” So by this Zionist logic it would appear that Israel would have the world accept that belligerent foreign military Occupation confers rights to the conquerer that supplant those of the native people. The proponent of another state-sponsored ideology, Adolf Hitler, writing in Mein Kampf expressed the concept this way: “For it is not in colonial acquisitions that we must see the solution of this problem, but exclusively in the acquisition of a territory for settlement, which will enhance the area of the mother country, and hence not only keep the new settlers in the most intimate community with the land of their origin, but secure for the total area those advantages which lie in its unified magnitude.” Israeli settler fanatics claim that the whole of Palestine is their land!
Gaza and Israel’s criminal water blockade
Israel has installed a large number of deep wells along the Gaza border in order to extract as much groundwater as possible before it can reach the blockaded territory. See detailed information and maps concerning the Israeli Occupation control of Palestine’s water. Israel also targets Gaza’s water resources and water treatment facilities when carrying out its periodic blitzes on the region. Reservoirs, pumping stations and agricultural water storage facilities sustain direct aerial attack by Israeli war-planes. From 2005 to May 2014, Israeli military incursions had destroyed at least 300 agricultural wells in Gaza.
Nature may prove to be Israel’s nemesis
An electricity crisis began in June 2006 when Israel destroyed the transformers in Gaza’s power station. Although it was later partially restored, power from the station remains woefully inadequate. In May this year, with the collapse of the sewage system, raw sewage entered the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council’s reservoir in Israel. “Without electricity, water cannot be produced and wastewater cannot be treated,” said Eilon Adar, a hydrologist and the former director of Ben-Gurion University’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology in Beersheba. This is just the beginning. Adar fears that a catastrophe is in the making. Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies warns of immediate risk and the urgent need for efficient wastewater treatment.
Beit Ummar’s water shortage
One example of the psychologically damaging effects of Israel’s malevolent water control is to be found around the West Bank village Beit Ummar. One farmer has had to cut agricultural production by nearly 85%. He will no longer be able to pay for his children’s university education and on top of that he faces a massive loss of land to local Israeli settlers. The colonists, who have already destroyed 35 of his apricot trees, now threaten his land because they want to join the settlements of Gush Etzion and Beit Al-Barakeh into one large area. When they complained to the Israeli police about the loss of the family’s trees, the settlers came and set fire to three of the farmer’s tractors. While Palestinian crops are dying for lack of water, settler farms are flourishing and their homes sport green lawns and well-filled swimming pools.
Last year the European Union, USAID, UAWC and other NGOs funded water tanks for Beit Ummar – Israel has issued destruction orders on all of them. In May this year, Israel also ordered the destruction of four wells and agricultural facilities in the village of Qusra that had been built with Dutch financial support. Western leaders, politicians and diplomats cannot possibly get away with saying that they have no knowledge of Israel’s intentions. Former Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, informed the Knesset in October 1995 that Israel would not compromise on its claim to annexed West Bank territory, which he referred to as Judea and Samaria. Further, he declared that no so-called Palestinian State would ever be allowed full sovereignty and that East Jerusalem must remain annexed to Israel. Rabin declared that: “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.” The silence of Western governments with regard to Israel’s self-serving appropriation of Palestinian water amounts to acquiescence.
Subsidising water supply – send the bill to Israel
Here is further proof that the Israeli Occupation-induced Palestinian water catastrophe is recognised globally: an international NGO called GVC, together with UNICEF, is about to co-ordinate with the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) in a project to help communities whose water consumption has been cut to less than 30 litres per capita per day (30 l/c/d). Thirty-three schools belonging to these communities will also be allocated five litres per day per pupil and two clinics will receive 10 l/c/d, free of charge. The distribution will be based on a coupon system sold by community representatives in co-ordination with the Joint Service Councils of the targeted areas. The project is expected to start this month and will cost approximately US$500,000.
UN report says Israel could be prosecuted for war crimes
In 2013, UN human rights investigators called on Israel to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half-a-million Jewish settlers from the Occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes. Christine Chanet, the French judge who led the inquiry, told a news conference that: “These offences are falling into the provision of Article 8 of the ICC statutes. Article 8 of the ICC statute is in the chapter of war crimes . . .” The settlements contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into Occupied territory.
The report’s independent UN investigators heard testimony attesting to the damage to Palestinian livelihoods as a result of Israeli settlement colonies. The settlements impeded the Palestinian population’s access to its own water and the economy was being sabotaged by land theft and the destruction and/or removal of olive trees. Referring to Jewish settler aggression, the report emphasised that, “the motivation behind this violence and the intimidation against the Palestinians as well as their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands and allow the settlements to expand.” The effect of all this on the lives of the Palestinian population was also referred to. The settlements, it said, were “leading to a creeping annexation . . .” and that to “maintain such a system of segregation you need strict police and army control. It means a lot of checkpoints, violation of freedom of movement, no access to natural resources, demolition of houses and sometimes even destroying the trees.”
National’s ‘independent’ voice remains silent
In May 2015, New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, pledged that our country would provide an independent voice as it took up its seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. “New Zealand’s term on the Security Council will place us at the heart of international decision-making for the next two years,” said McCully. New Zealand’s term on the Security Council runs until the end of 2016 but, far from being independent, New Zealand has obediently toed the official line, promoting the ‘two-state negotiated settlement’ fraud that buys time for Israel to continually expand its settlements. New Zealand has uttered not one word at the Security Council in condemnation of Israel’s self-serving takeover of Palestinian water, neither has it in any way called for Israel to be brought to account. The UN report referred to above provides sufficient reason for New Zealand’s Ambassador at the Security Council to speak out for justice and human rights. If he should remain silent, then we must demand that our Government take appropriate action to raise the matter!
Labour comfortable with Government inaction at Security Council
In 2008 New Zealand’s Labour Party claimed that its aim was to “create an international system which is rules-based rather than one where countries impose their will on others by virtue of their size and power.” Yet Labour has raised no note of criticism over the National Government’s failure to witness for truth at the Security Council, rather the opposite. In March this year, Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, David Shearer, speaking about New Zealand’s performance at the Security Council, said: “We’re doing a really good job and we’re being well respected.” If Labour has a conscience it will surely stir itself and take the National Government to task over its failure to condemn the water crisis that Israel imposes upon the Palestinian people.
We can do better
Last month US Congressional Representatives warned that the absence of immediate action to purify Gaza’s waste-water would lead to severe environmental hazards that would threaten the health of both Palestinians and Israelis. In a letter to Israel’s Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz, the Congressional Representatives clearly outlined Israel’s responsibility for the abysmal state of Gaza’s water supply and the lack of sewage treatment. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn continues bravely to hold his ground in support of Palestine and international humanitarian law and there is no excuse for the Labour Party in New Zealand to stay as quiet as the National Government.
Outside interference and power politics have wreaked havoc in the Middle East and for that, in various ways, we all bear responsibility. Whatever their shortcomings, the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council present platforms for debate and reform based upon international law. For too long the Fourth Geneva Convention has been set aside – and the result has been catastrophic. Instead of listening solely to each other, world leaders should heed the voices of the global community. They ought to take seriously the example of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that is so much in harmony with the spirit that led to the establishment of international humanitarian law. End the silence – we must all speak up and force the debate – not only in our Parliament but also at every international forum, in the news media, the street and everywhere humanity meets to exchange ideas and co-operate. Saying we did not know is inexcusable.