Walling Off Water

By Alicia Tozour and Mina Remy

Compared to their Arab neighbors, the occupied Palestinian territories are endowed with an abundance of freshwater. Despite this fact, Palestinians do not have access to enough water to meet their daily needs or support their small farms. Although Israel’s illegal expansion into the Palestinian territories is commonly viewed as a land grab, the placement of Israeli settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall is also a strategic water grab.

The Separation Wall, alleged by Israeli officials to be a security measure, does not follow the 1949 Green Line (the internationally recognized boundary between Israel and the West Bank/East Jerusalem). Instead it encircles settlement camps, isolating East Jerusalem from the West Bank and annexing most of the Jordan Valley. The Wall also closely follows the line of the Western Mountain Aquifer, which is the only source of water for Palestinians in the West Bank, and isolating them from it. Additionally, Palestinians have been denied access to water from the Jordan River since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. Israel, on the other hand, accesses all these precious water sources.
 
Not only does the Wall cut off water and land, for Palestinians, it unilaterally creates a new border miles from the Green Line that may very well serve as the starting point for any future peace negotiations. And such “facts on the ground” are what Palestinians fear is the Israeli agenda. If the Separation Wall becomes the de facto border between Israel and a future Palestinian state, then Israel has ensured that it will retain control of the Aquifer long after its occupation of the West Bank ends.
 
In 2009 Amnesty International released its report, Thirsting for Justice: Palestinian Access to Water Restricted, which details Israel’s control of Palestinian water resources. Such control allows Israel to both monopolize consumption and to profit from selling the water to Palestinians through the Israeli water authority Mekorot at greatly inflated prices. According to Amnesty, “In the Gaza Strip, 90 to 95 per cent of the water from its only water resource, the Coastal Aquifer, is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Yet, Israel does not allow the transfer of water from the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to Gaza.”
 
Many Palestinians living in rural communities have no access to running water and their rainwater harvesting cisterns are often confiscated or destroyed by the Israeli army. In the West Bank, water tankers are forced to take long detours to avoid Israeli military checkpoints and prohibited roads, resulting in sharp increases in the price of water. Permits to dig new wells, repair old ones, or install pumps is rarely given and if Palestinians dig or install them anyways the Israeli army routinely destroys them citing the lack of permits. It is also common for Israel to turn off the water flow to Palestinian cities for weeks at a time. Following Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-09, the United Nations found Israel’s destruction of numerous water networks to be “deliberate and systematic.”
 
Amnesty has noted that “In some rural communities Palestinians survive on barely 20 liters per day, the minimum amount recommended for domestic use in emergency situations…In contrast, Israeli settlers, who live in the West Bank in violation of international law, have intensive-irrigation farms, lush gardens and swimming pools.” Meanwhile, Palestinians might not even have access to drinking water and their average daily water consumption is less than 70 liters per person, while Israeli consumption is more than 300 liters per day. According to the World Health Organization, a minimum of 100-150 liters a day are required to meet health needs. For an in-depth analysis of the unequal access to water in Israel and Palestine, read Our Right to Water a report published this month by LifeSource, a Palestinian non-profit organization, and Grassroots International grantee.
 
The Separation Wall is yet another attempt to wrest land and water away from Palestinians living in the West Bank. However, Palestinians remain steadfast in their commitment to ending the occupation and colonization of their towns and villages. Throughout the West Bank, farmers, students, and other members of Palestinian civil society demonstrate weekly against the Wall. Palestinian civil society, including our partners in Palestine, has called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) from those who profit from the occupation. While numerous corporations directly profit from the Wall’s construction, the Israeli Defense Forces rely on Elbit Systems, a manufacturer of drones and surveillance equipment, to monitor and prevent Palestinians from accessing their land and wells along the Separation Wall. Because land and water are fundamental resource rights, Grassroots has joined our Palestinian partners and US allies in their call for divestment with our Elbit Campaign.