The sabotage of water infrastructure by an Occupying power is prohibited under Protocol I of the Geneva Convention (1977), which states:
“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of a civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.”
The plunder of Syrian water
On the 24 March 2017, the UK joined the Israeli/US alliance against the United Nations, declaring that it will vote against all future UN Human Rights Council resolutions on Israel’s conduct in the Occupied territories unless the body ends what it calls its “disproportion and bias” against the Jewish state. The UK’s statement to the UN is an unprecedented attempt to justify Israel’s Occupation and colonisation of the Syrian Golan Heights by repeating the regime-change propaganda the world has become accustomed to with regard to Western policy towards the Middle East. Diverting attention away from Israel is standard Zionist practice. As with the Israeli military Occupation of the West Bank, the Zionist state’s deviousness is revealed in its continuing, avaricious colonisation of conquered lands. The British Government has surrendered reason to ideology if it truly believes that the longest military Occupation by a foreign power in modern history is not a matter for urgent and serious concern at the United Nations.
According to a BBC article, the Israeli-Occupied Syrian territory provides a third of Israel’s water supply, enabling the Zionist state to use the fertile, volcanic soil to “cultivate vineyards and orchards and to raise cattle”. Tourism is a thriving Israeli enterprise in the Syrian territory, which is now home to Israel’s only ski resort.
The UK’s tantrum was prompted by a UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report that accuses Israel of being an apartheid state. The essential meaning of the term apartheid is ‘separateness’. Israel actually calls the Wall it is building, mainly on Palestinian land, a ‘separation fence’. The Wall twists and turns, cutting Palestinian communities off, both from each other and from their farmland. There is nothing else like it in the modern world and, by illegally inflicting its Wall and associated military rule upon the Palestinian people, Israel singles itself out as a persistent violator of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Wall, and its accompanying belligerent military Occupation, facilitate land theft and illegal settlement (colony) building. The Wall bears witness to the Zionist state’s plunder of the Palestinian people’s natural resources, the most precious of which is water.
Apartheid water crime
Israel’s founding ideology justifies the Zionist state’s ‘right’ to plunder Palestinian water because the Palestinian people are not Jewish. The discrimination is criminal on two counts. One, because it violates international law regarding Israel’s status as a belligerent military Occupier of land beyond its recognised borders and two, because the discrimination and deprivation being imposed is race-based. Israel is acting in contravention of international conventions, such as the Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Israel sabotages Palestinian water infrastructure in two ways. One is by means of large-scale military operations that cause long-term damage and the other manifests itself in the obstruction of efforts to repair, maintain and develop future water infrastructure; this can be seen tragically unfolding in Gaza. In addition, Israel continues its discriminatory manipulation of West Bank water and sabotage of native efforts to gain a measure of equal access.
The Gaza Strip
The United Nation’s Goldstone Report, commissioned to document human rights violations in the wake of the 2008-2009 Israeli attack on Gaza (‘Operation Cast Lead’), affirmed what it saw as Israel’s “deliberate and systematic” destruction of water infrastructure. During the operation, Israeli political figures reportedly called for the water and electricity supplies to Gaza to be cut off as a weapon of coercion.
Reports by both the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme show that the water crisis in Gaza is likely to be critical and irreversible by 2020. They show that Gaza is almost completely dependent on a coastal aquifer that has now become filled with sea water. The loss of water infrastructure due to Israel’s so-called ‘Protective Edge’ blitz on Gaza in 2014 was estimated at $30 million. The main waste-water treatment plant was destroyed, along with the distribution network. Four wells, five reservoirs and countless network pipelines were also rendered unusable. As a result, more than 100,000 cubic metres of untreated sewage flowed through the streets of Gaza. The destruction of wells and waste-water infrastructure exacerbates the humanitarian crises and, with no access to safe drinking water, the majority of inhabitants must seek shelter and basic services away from their homes. Over-burdened hospitals have to cope with digestive and respiratory ailments, skin allergies and water-borne diseases. One Oxfam spokesperson stated: “We’re working in an environment with a completely destroyed water infrastructure that prevents people in Gaza from cooking, flushing toilets, or washing hands”.
The West Bank
The Occupying power is obliged to share “equitably and reasonably” the cross-border water resources between Palestine and Israel. To benefit its citizens inside Israel and in the illegal colonies called ‘settlements’ that it has established on Palestinian land, Israel grabs more than 85% of the region’s water for exclusive Israeli use. The Palestinian people are left to somehow survive on less than 15% of the joint water supply. While the Palestinian population has doubled during the period of Israeli military Occupation since 1967, the Zionist regime has actually reduced the amount of water it allows for Palestinian use. In addition, as at the beginning of this year, Israel is still arrogantly delaying ‘approval’ of more than 100 Palestinian water and sanitation projects. The almost 50-year Israeli military Occupation has imposed a total and savage ban on the sinking of wells, in spite of the need. An unmerciful inhumanity determines that any wells, which Palestinians might drill in desperation, are routinely destroyed by the Israeli Army. The Zionist regime even destroys Palestinian rooftop water storage as this video demonstrates. As an Occupying Power, Israel is actually responsible for protecting the local population and international law prohibits the exploitation of natural resources for the benefit the Occupier’s own population. Unashamed, however, the Israeli military cynically goes so far as to target the ancient cisterns that serve remote West Bank villages.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), has established the humanitarian measure of minimum water requirement at 100 litres per person per day. Israel forces the the average Palestinian to get by on an average of 73 litres per day with, Israeli military rule imposing on some areas, as reported by the World Bank, a daily water consumption as low as 25 litres/day. Each Palestinian family spends, on average, 8% of its monthly expenditure on water, as compared to the worldwide average of 3.5%. In some areas under Zionist rule, Palestinians must rely on water brought in by tanker, which can push the cost up to a brutal 50% of their monthly income. The Zionist state also forces Palestinians to pay the Israeli Government public water supply company Mekorot for what little water they are allowed.
The privilege of apartheid
For Jewish-only colonists in the Palestinian West Bank there are, of course, no water shortages. The average Israeli uses around 300 litres of water per person per day and settlers enjoy up to six times the amount of water than that allowed for nearby Palestinian communities. In the Jordan Valley, average water bills for settlers amount to a mere 0.9% of their monthly expenditure. During the dry summer months, those Palestinian communities linked to so-called ‘joint’ water networks, that also serve Israeli settlers, find themselves cut off from the water supply whenever there is the slightest possibility of inconvenience to settlers. Israeli settlers expect their swimming pools to be full, their lawns green and their gardens lush.
Another example of the water discrimination faced by Palestinians is the plight of Furush Beit Dajan villagers in the Jordan Valley. A visit by a delegation that included two British MPs in January 2015, co-ordinated by EWASH member Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), heard how the Israeli Occupation was choking the community’s access to water. Following the Occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the Israeli Army seized all the agricultural land in the area and now Palestinian farmers are forced into renting their own land back from the Israelis while remaining unable to obtain the quantity or quality of water necessary to effectively irrigate their crops.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the crime of apartheid as:
“inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
In 2013, the human rights organisation Al-Haq published a report entitled, Water for One People Only: Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the OPT, which provides an in-depth legal analysis of the structure of Israel’s
1. Demarcation of the population along racial lines
2. Segregation into different geographical areas
3. The use of ‘security’ to justify an institutionalised regime of domination and systematic oppression.
The report concludes that:
“Israel’s illegal exercise of sovereign rights over Palestinian water resources and its discriminatory policies and practices are integral elements of an institutionalised system of Jewish-Israeli domination over Palestinians as a group, in the form of a colonial and apartheid regime”.
A German hydrologist, Clemens Messerschmid, who has been working in the water sector throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1997, explained in an interview about Israel’s engineered water scarcity for Palestinians in the West Bank since 1967:
“Israel rules through military orders, which have the direct and intended result of keeping Palestinians short on water. It is not an ongoing gradual dispossession as with land and settlements, but was done in one sweep by Military Order No. 92, in August 1967. The West Bank possesses ample groundwater. There is high rainfall in Salfit, in the northern West Bank, now known for especially hard water cuts. The West Bank is blessed with a treasure of groundwater.
“ . . . Israel’s Military Order No. 158 strictly forbids drilling or any other water works, including springs, pipes, networks, pumping stations, irrigation pools, water reservoirs, simple rainwater harvesting cisterns, which collect the rain falling on one’s roof. Everything is forbidden or rather not “permitted” by the Civil Administration, Israel’s occupation regime. Even repair and maintenance of wells requires military permits. And we simply don’t get them. It is a simple case of hydro-apartheid – far beyond any regime in history that I am aware of.”
The Israeli plan to force Palestinians to depend on Israel for their water began in 1980 when Ariel Sharon was agriculture minister and the Occupation settlement growth was starting to accelerate. ‘Integration’ of the water supply was designed to make the Occupation irreversible. Messerschmid says that:
“What is important here is the structural apartheid, cemented and cast in iron in these pipes. A small settlement is supplied via large transmission pipes from which smaller pipes split off to go towards Palestinian areas. Israel is very happy with Oslo, because now Palestinians are “responsible” for supply. Responsible but without a shred of sovereignty over resources.
“ . . . the undersupply of Palestinians is desired, planned and carefully executed.”
Israel’s relentless water warfare aims at undermining Palestinian Resistance and the will to survive. The consequences include long-term environmental degradation as well as danger to public health, both immediate and long-term. Israel’s targeting of water infrastructure is aimed at preventing economic growth and driving Palestinians off their land. Israel’s water-marketing strategy is replacing traditional patterns of community water management in order to control, and eventually banish, any Palestinian presence.
In October 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin addressed the Knesset concerning the ratification of the Oslo II Accord in which he envisaged a ‘Palestinian entity’ that would actually be ‘less than a state’, the whole of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and what he called ‘Judea and Samaria’ filled with Israeli, Jewish-only settlements. Israel intends that any so-called Palestinian state would be treated with no less contempt than is the blockaded Gaza Strip. It would be allowed no means of defence or sovereignty over air space or borders. As Gaza has experienced since Israel’s ‘departure’ there would be no hope of meaningful security.
By forcing Palestinians to depend on Israel for their water, the Zionist regime has drawn attention to the actual geographical and economic unity of the land, and the people it conquered. Palestine’s natural resources, like its people, must be treated with respect. Tearing them apart has brought shame upon the perpetrators and ruin upon their victims.
Justice requires an end to colonisation and discrimination, with shared resources and equal rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity, in a single state for all.