Water - one of the most common elements of life. It’s everywhere - from the cells of our bodies to the far reaches of our universe. We cannot live without it. These days, we hear much about “global warming” and the impact it may be having on our planet, including droughts. Many parts of the Middle East are water starved and, as populations increase, there is often not enough water to meet everyone’s need. The situation in Israel-Palestine is no exception to this water shortage. Added to the natural issues of fluctuating rainfall, few rivers, pollution, salinized coastal aquifers, inadequate water collection and storage, wastage, and insufficient water reservoirs, we have the additional issue of unequal distribution of the existing water resources. Water has become a highly politicized issue. So much so that Middle East analysts have long been warning that the next war in the region may well be over water rights and usage.
Water consumption is another issue. The difference between water consumption in Israel and the Palestinian areas is astonishing. Regardless of the fact that the actual numbers disagree widely (and this is true of many kinds of statistics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), the proportional rate of difference shows that per capita Israelis use over 100% more water on a daily basis than do their Palestinian counterparts. In addition, access to water differs greatly. There are approximately 113,000 West Bank Palestinians living in about 70 villages that are not connected to the central water grid.
In Israel, we turn on the water tap and it always flows uninterruptedly. We seem to be able to use as much water as we are willing to pay for. Granted that water is a necessary commodity, it is nonetheless expensive. But - it is always available and, in the main, we Israelis are ready to pay the cost. What we don’t realize is that our usage is often at the expense of the water supply to the Palestinian population who live so close and yet their lives are immeasurably different than ours.
A recognizable feature of the Palestinian landscape is the large, usually black, water tanks on the roofs of all the houses. These tanks are necessary to store water for use in the dry season. It’s never enough to last the season. Often, my Palestinian friends have no option but to purchase water – either from water truck vendors or bottled water. Both of these options are extremely expensive. Their use of water becomes quite an issue with the very occasional bath water being used by several members of the family and toilet flushing only when absolutely necessary. My friends tell me they can only shower twice weekly on an average.
The Oslo Accords gave Israel 80% of the water from water sources in the West Bank: “80 percent for Israelis (on both sides of the Green Line), and 20 percent for the Palestinians. The water was to be taken from wells drilled prior to 1967, which the Palestinians continued to operate; from the Israeli Mekorot water company; from future wells to be drilled in the eastern basin of the mountain aquifer; from agricultural wells and springs. Many of the springs, by the way, dried out because of Israeli deep wells, or because the settlers took them over.” * Today the Jewish settlements in Palestine receive far more water per capita than do the Arab residents of the land (see diagram #2 below).
This blatantly unfair situation was meant to be in effect for five years but it continues until today. Israel has made efforts to supply more water to Palestinian residents but it is insufficient to meet the needs of the population. It’s currently estimated that Palestinians receive 14% of the allocated water.* It is now mid June and certain Palestinian villages have already been without running water for several weeks. The situation is primed to expand and continue during the hot summer months.
Being sensitized to this issue is not comfortable for me. Every time I turn on the water faucet to brush my teeth or wash the dishes or even flush the toilet, I now think about my neighbors who may not have water for many weeks. I’ve been told that upon hearing about the water issues, some Messianic Jews devised a plan to buy bottled water and take it into Palestine to help alleviate the situation. While the motivations are admirable, they are shortsighted. The essential problem is equitable distribution of the existing resources. Water supplies need to be universally and fairly distributed to all the local populace.
Water in Israel-Palestine is a humanitarian issue but it has been politicized and propagandized by both sides. The water narrative in the region is one of accusations and justifications coming from both sides. As in the historical narrative, both sides use the “facts” to support their dual narratives of victim and victor. However we choose to view the circumstances, in Palestine many private gardens no longer exist, trees have been allowed to die, people’s needs for water take priority over their animal’s needs and children remain thirsty.
* http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.726350 accessed June 24, 2016