Water Apartheid: Palestine Runs Dry

Israel has been drying the West Bank to drive out Palestinians from their lands for years. Most recently, on Saturday, the water crisis drove around 600 Israeli, Palestinian and international activists to march across Masafer Yatta in the Occupied West Bank to deliver a water tanker to Palestinian villagers. 

Their message was clear: “Water is a human right, and Israel is depriving Palestine of this basic necessity.” Demonstrators walked alongside a tractor transporting the water tanker from the village of At-Tuwani. Nevertheless, protesters turned back at the village of Mfakara to avoid a confrontation with the Israeli army waiting for them atop a nearby hill.

Demonstrators attempt to deliver a water tank from the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani. (MPN)

Israel directly controls 85% of water resources in the West Bank and how the rest is distributed, Palestinian officials have told. In addition, the Israeli authorities refuse to grant licenses to drill wells or install booster pumps to the Palestinian water authorities in the areas classified as C and under complete Israeli security and administrative control.

On Monday, Combatants for Peace (CFP) and other human rights organizations have submitted an urgent appeal to international bodies, demanding to pressure Israel to allow access to water to Palestinians living in Area C in the Occupied West Bank. In the past, such callings have fallen on deaf ears.

IOF aiding settlers in water attacks

Although Saturday’s protest was calm, previously that week 60 masked Israeli settlers raided Mfakara throwing stones, cutting water pipes, and slitting the throats of sheep. As journalist Buxbaum recalls five children were injured during the attack, including a four-year-old boy who was sent to the hospital after being pelted in the head with rocks.

Amid this violence, Israeli soldiers watched from the sidelines intervening only to fire tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinians. Earlier in September, a CFP protest to deliver water to Palestinian communities was met with violence from Israeli soldiers. Six Israelis and two Palestinians were injured.

On days without water, Mfkara operates much like a commune where they borrow from each other and then redivide the water when it comes. Daily activities such as doing the washing up or bathing the children are put off until the water is replenished.

It is worth mentioning that the residents of Mfkara can receive around 19 liters of water that cost 500 shekels ($155), but the same amount costs to Israeli settlers about 100 shekels ($30). According to the Palestinian Hydrology Group, Palestinians in the West Bank consume around 70 water liters per day, below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 100-117 liters of water daily to maintain a basic standard of living. Israelis use about 80 gallons of water per day and Israeli settlers may use up to 320 liters daily.

A long history of water deprivation

During the past decade, there have been multiple protests demanding water. The water man-made shortage has been happening since the 70s. After the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza and took control of the areas’ water resources. It established pumping quotas and banned the construction of new wells in the occupied territories. They were all under the authority of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company from 1982 on.

When the 1995 Oslo II Accord process took place, the Palestinian Water Authority and the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee were created, but Israel retained the command of the flow and volume of water given to the occupied Palestinian territories.

This deal is still going on today, and the Palestinian Water Authority only distributes to the Palestinians the limited water supply that Israel allows it. 80% of the West Bank’s water is for Israeli use and 20% is for Palestinian use, and Israelis enjoy an unlimited supply of water while Palestinians have their supply restricted.

Palestinians are suffering from the lack of water due to the higher growing population (double than the one in the 90s) not being met with an Israeli increase of the water quota. The water shortage is also due to the Oslo II Accord prohibiting Palestinians to do groundwater drilling and Palestinians being blocked from developing wells and springs in the region by the Israeli military.

Additionally, this summer, the Israeli water company Mekorot reduced the quantity it supplies to 35,000 cubic meters of water a day from 38,000 cubic meters in previous years. Those 3,000 cubic meters were transferred to the settlements surrounding the Ramallah area.

There is also a systematic policy of demolishing and confiscating water equipment and resources by Israel. Italian NGO WeWorld reported that nearly 10% of the buildings demolished by Israeli forces in 2020 were water, sanitation, and hygiene structures.

On multiple occasions, the Palestinian Authority has demanded Israel to increase the quantity of water it sells, but Israel has responded that the infrastructure is not ready for any boost in supply. However, Israel has indeed offered increased quantities, but with higher fees.

Water access varies by region in the West Bank. Some urban and more-developed areas have more access to running water and other villages go without receiving water for weeks. Shamelessly, Palestinians must pay a relatively high price for potentially unsafe water because their water is transported in tankers that must be transported on rough terrain. The ongoing water deprivation in Area C highlights the severe discrimination Israel perpetuates, with some analysts calling it water apartheid.

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