FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Israel Weaponized Water

by

California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a water “state of emergency.”

Ordinary Californians are bearing the brunt of this disaster. While the governor has imposed restrictions to reduce residential water consumption, businesses in the fields of agriculture and hydraulic fracturing have been largely exempt. Brown’s unwillingness to take on these gargantuan corporate water-wasters lends a sharp political element to an otherwise natural disaster.

There’s another region in the world, however, where access to water isn’t just decided on the whims of politicians dealing with natural disasters. In fact, the very existence of water crises is official state policy for one country: Israel.

Dying of Thirst

Despite its location in a region thought to be perennially dry, the Holy Land actually has ample natural freshwater resources — namely in the form of underwater aquifers and the Jordan River. Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers live in roughly equal proximity to these resources, which theoretically would allow for equal consumption.

Israeli water policy, however, has made this prospect virtually impossible. In fact, there’s a shocking disparity.

A report from the United Nations found that the average Israeli settler consumes 300 liters of water per day — a figure surpassing even the average Californian’s 290. But thanks to Israeli military action and legal restrictions on access, the average Palestinian in the occupied West Bank only gets about 70. And for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who live off the water grid altogether, daily consumption hovers at around 30. That’s just 10 percent of the Israeli figure.

Both figures are well below the minimum 100 liters per day recommended by the World Health Organization. While Israelis are watering their lawns and swimming in Olympic-sized pools, Palestinians a few kilometers away are literally dying of thirst.

Weaponizing Water

This inequality has deep roots — and it’s no accident.

Almost immediately after the creation of Israel in 1948, the fledgling country took comprehensive action to secure control of the region’s water. These policies were ramped up again following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel first assumed control of the Palestinian territories.

That year, the Israeli armed forces issued Military Order 92 — an initiative that put Palestinian water resources under Israel’s military jurisdiction. This was shortly followed by Military Order 158, which required Palestinians to obtain permits from the military in order to build new water infrastructure. If they built new wells, springs, or even rain-collecting containers without Israeli permission, soldiers would confiscate or destroy them, often without prior notification.

These orders, among others, remain on the books to this day. They form the basis for the administration of water access for nearly 4.4 million Palestinians. Although control of water resources is now officially the domain of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, Israeli forces routinely perform operations with the explicit intent of destroying Palestinian water infrastructure.

A Veneer of Legality

Decades of peace negotiations have done little to grant Palestinians sovereign control over their resources.

Even after the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, which were supposed to grant the Palestinians some semblance of political agency in the territories, water access remains limited. In fact, the accords simply codified the unfair distribution of water in the region, imbuing these flagrantly harmful practices with a veneer of legality.

Even in Palestinian-administered portions of the West Bank, Israeli troops regularly demolish rain cisterns, pipelines, and agricultural water structures. The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq has meticulously documented a number of these instances, compiling them in a report examining the extent of the hardship these operations cause to West Bank residents.

One case study detailed the destruction of a farmer’s well in a village east of Jenin. His well, along with five others in the area, was destroyed by the military under the pretext that it had been built without proper authorization by Israel — despite the fact that an Israeli permit is supposedly not needed in the Palestinian-administered Area B of the West Bank, where these villages are located.

These operations showcase the coordination between civil and military channels to restrict Palestinian access to water, a system that’s been startlingly effective in its goal.

Even when Palestinians attempt to go through the “proper” Israeli channels, they’re met with innumerable obstacles. Two regulatory organizations — the Joint Water Commission (JWC) and the Israeli Civil Administration — have created a bureaucratic nightmare for West Bank residents attempting to acquire permits to either build new instillations or repair the region’s floundering infrastructure. Both organizations are capable of vetoing petitions without explanation, creating a system that prevents Palestinians from maintaining consistent and comprehensive water access.

Meanwhile, access is severely curtailed even where Palestinians have permission to pump water. The most striking inequality lies in the division of the Mountain Aquifer, the only underground aquifer that Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to access. Despite being the sole source for the territory, Palestinian extraction is limited to 20 percent of the aquifer’s total capacity. Israel, on the other hand, has access to 80 percent of the aquifer’s water — a stunningly unequal distribution, considering it also has unfettered access to the region’s remaining aquifers and the Jordan River.

A Worsening Crisis

California’s drought has captivated U.S. audiences, sparking concern and calls to action to prevent ecological disaster in the face of natural causes. On the subject of Israel’s deliberate drought, however, media attention has been virtually nonexistent.

This crisis has become the norm for Palestinians for decades now, though its severity continues to increase as water becomes more scarce. The UN estimates that due to Israel’s siege, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by the year 2020. Though the West Bank is relatively well-off in comparison, the water crisis there has resulted in severe economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, a situation that’s not conducive to long-term stability in the region.

This water disparity is emblematic of the power disparity between Israel and Palestine — a gulf that seems wholly unrecognized during regional peace talks. In order to have a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, both parties must enter negotiations on an equal playing field. This is only possible once Israel’s occupation in the West Bank is dismantled, and Palestinians are given access to the water resources they need in order to live their lives with dignity.

Laith Shakir is a fellow of the Next Leaders program at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. 

This article was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail