Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights formally reported on Friday on the unjust water situation in the Palestinian West Bank, which is under Israeli military occupation and subject to an illegal colonization effort by Israel to displace the indigenous population with Israeli squatters.
A draft of the report was released a week ago unedited and is available here.
The Palestinian West Bank and Gaza were not sites of Jewish immigration into British Mandate Palestine in the twentieth century and were not awarded to Israel even in the flawed, pro-Zionist 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan. Israel had coveted these territories for a decade and seized them by military force during the confusion of the 1967 war.
Now, the 5 million Palestinians under Israeli military control in the West Bank and under Israeli blockade in Gaza are stateless and without basic human rights. One of those basics is the right to water.
The report says,
- “26. Water in the West Bank is unavailable in a sufficient and continuous manner. It is estimated that nearly 660,000 Palestinians have limited access to water, with 420,000 persons consuming less than 50 litres on average daily per capita, which is well below the 100 litres recommended by WHO. Water shortage is a feature of life for all Palestinians, in both urban and rural areas and is directly linked to a lack of appropriate water infrastructure. Roughly 14,000 Palestinians in approximately 180 communities in Area C have no connection to a water network, are without water infrastructure, and are considered at high risk for water scarcity.”
So the World Health Organization says that every person should have access to a minimum of 26 gallons (100 liters) of water every day, for drinking, cooking with and personal hygiene.
26 gallons. Just to put things in perspective, the average American family uses 300 gallons of water every day, about a third of it just to water the grass and gardens.
Unfortunately, some 660,000 of the Palestinians laboring under Israeli occupation don’t even get the 26 gallons per person per day that is recommended. And, 420,000 of them, 8 percent of the Occupied Palestinian population, get less than 13 gallons per day per person.
This shortage comes from a lack of piped water infrastructure, and thereby hangs a tale. Palestinians would need an Israeli permit to improve water infrastructure, which is mostly not forthcoming. Amnesty International observes, “In November 1967 the Israeli authorities issued Military Order 158, which stated that Palestinians could not construct any new water installation without first obtaining a permit from the Israeli army. Since then, the extraction of water from any new source or the development of any new water infrastructure would require permits from Israel, which are near impossible to obtain.”
You might object that the Oslo Accords gave the Palestine Authority some say over such matters in Areas A and B. You’d only be technically correct. In practice, you can’t do water infrastructure in the West Bank, even if you are the PA, without Israeli permission and active cooperation, which hasn’t been forthcoming, as the UNHCR draft says: “28. Despite the Palestinian Authority maintaining a degree of autonomy within Areas A and B, it relies on infrastructure projects, including water and sewage pipes, that require Israeli-issued permits or that cross through Israeli-controlled Area C . . . reports indicate that in practice, Israeli members of the JWC [Joint Water Committee] vetoed projects proposed by the Palestinian Authority, resulting in the effective blocking of Palestinian projects relating to developing and maintaining water infrastructure.”
The Israelis would just as soon all the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed to neighboring Jordan, so they don’t do anything that might make it easier for the natives to stay on their own ancestral lands.
About 180 very small towns in western Palestine over at the Jordan Valley have 14,000 residents who aren’t hooked up to running water at all and could end up without water.
The UNHCR director of field operations, Christian Salazar Volkmann, adds,
- “In addition, Israeli authorities treated the nearly 450,000 Israeli settlers and 2.7 million Palestinians residing in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) under two distinct bodies of law. This resulted in unequal treatment on a range of issues, including access to water.”
The Israeli squatters on land owned by Palestinian families are, in fact, water hogs. The draft report said, “as estimated in 2014, 87 percent of the mountain aquifer waters were used by Israelis and only 13 percent by Palestinians.” Aquifers are non-renewable underground water resources that are being drawn down, and I think it is clear who is drawing them down most rapidly.
As for Gaza, the UNHCR says, “In Gaza, about one million people – half of the population – was estimated as being in need of water and sanitation interventions. The quality of water in Gaza was of low standards and 96 per cent of households received water that did not meet drinking water quality standards. Israeli practices and policies affecting water infrastructure, destruction during military escalations, the impact of closures, power shortages and challenges in water governance, had all contributed to this situation.”
The main aquifer in Gaza is being infiltrated by the Mediterranean Sea, so the water from it is salty. People say they can taste the salt in their coffee. Water sanitation also leaves something to be desired, and is impeded by limited electricity. Since Gaza is under Israeli blockade, its people aren’t allowed to do much in the way of building infrastructure.
The draft report says,
- “48. Israel has restricted the import of materials and equipment categorised as “dual-use” (materials considered by Israel to be usable for both civil or military purposes), including those needed to maintain, repair and improve the water and sewage systems. These include materials such as cement and iron, which are essential to repairing water and sanitation infrastructure.”
The May attack on little Gaza by the Israeli Air Force was bad for residents’ water access. The draft report observes, “In addition, the North Gaza Seawater Desalination Plant stopped operating due to the risk to workers and a damaged electrical supply line, affecting the access of about 250,000 people to drinking water. Approximately 160,000 people from Gaza City had limited access to piped water due to increased power cuts.”
The age of oil wars is subsiding as we turn to electric cars. The age of water wars is only beginning, and in this case Israel is waging a water war on Palestinians who can’t fight back.