Understanding The Significance Of Water In The Israeli-Palestine Conflict

On July 13, 2017, Israeli and Palestinian officials announced that the two nations have reached a water-sharing deal in order to bring relief to Palestinian communities who have been without water for days and in some cases weeks.  US Middle East representative Jason Greenblatt announced the deal in Jerusalem. This deal will provide Palestine with about a quarter for its annual water for a significantly reduced rate. Essentially, Israel will provide the West Bank and Gaza Strip approximately 33 billion litres of water annually, starting immediately, according to Al Jazeera.

The struggle for water between Israel and Palestine has been going on since the ’60s. Since it first occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israel laid hands on Palestinian water resources through a series of water-sharing agreements. Israel fully prevents Palestinians from accessing the Jordan River and using its resources. The other main source of water, the Mountain Aquifer underlying the West Bank and Israel, is controlled by the 1995 Oslo interim agreement. The agreement gave Israel access to 71 percent of the aquifer water. On the other hand, Palestinians received access to a measly 17 perfect. The agreement, supposed to last only five years, is still in place today.

As a result, Palestinians are unable to access sufficient water supplies. This is especially troubling considering that the Palestinian population in the area has nearly doubled in size since 1995, meaning now more than ever sufficient access to water is necessary.

These agreements also prevent Palestinians from maintaining or further developing their water infrastructure through the Israeli permit regime. The Joint Water Committee (JWC) approves all such projects to improve this infrastructure, and Israel has a de facto veto. Nearly 100 percent of Israeli projects were approved, but only 56 of Palestinian projects were approved. Of this 56 percent, only one third had the potential to actually be implemented. As a result, Palestinians have refused to sit in the JWC since 2010.

Furthermore, all projects in the area require a permit by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) on top of JWC approval. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reform that the ICA has refused 98.5 percent of the Palestinian building permit applications.

These actions demonstrate the manner in which Israel exerts control over Palestine. As a result, Palestine is reliant on Israel for water supplies. However, Israel does not provide adequate amounts of water to the Palestinian people, further complicating the issue. Every year, when the weather gets hotter, water supplies are prioritized to Israeli people over Palestinians.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the minimum standard for the amount of water one must have access to daily to maintain a healthy and safe lifestyle (and this accounts for water for bathing, cleaning, drinking, and cooking) is 100 litres. Israelis have access to between 240 and 300 litres of water a day. This is compared to the 73 litres the typical Palestinian has access to per day, although this number often drops when water access is not turned on for these people. And this is for those in the lucky communities. Those in communities like al-Hadidiya in the northern Jordan Valley have access to as little as 20 litres per person per day.

In the face of this crisis, a number of individuals have come forward to share their stories of dealing with the struggle of the water crisis. Tumblr user ‘palestinianliberator’ took to social media, detailing the fact that their village had not had access to water for over 14 days, which eventually turned into a period of nearly three weeks. In the blogger’s words, “Our situation isn’t one of drought and poverty and poor infrastructure leading to a lack of water, but one in which our readily available water is taken from us and appropriated.”

This statement highlights the manner in which Israeli individuals have used water as a tool to maintain control and power over the Palestinian people. This is not a naturally occurring issue, but a man-made one. Denying individuals control over and access to their water supply, thus depriving them of a resource necessary to live.

While this recent water-sharing agreement appears to be a step in the right direction, it ignores the bigger issues associated with this complex topic. Israel, as the occupying power in this situation, is obligated to ensure the health and dignity of the population under its direct control, in this case, Palestine. This includes providing basic needs, such as water.

Not only is Israel failing to provide for such basic needs, its discriminatory water policies also prove that Israel is using water as a tool to dominate Palestinians, exercise its power, and punish an entire population by deliberately depriving its inhabitants the most basic of rights. As long as Israel continues to practice these discriminatory water practices and deny Palestine equal rights to the water they are owed, the issue will never reach a full resolution.

Furthermore, Israel needs to recognize its role in the decline of the water infrastructure in Palestine. A number of claims have been made by Israel, stating that the failing infrastructure is a result of water cuts in the West Bank. However, this directly ignores how the permit regime prevents Palestinians from repairing, maintaining current, and building new water structures. Until Israel admits their role in the situation, further discussions to solve the issue will likely not be fruitful.

All in all, Israel needs to take steps to guarantee Palestinian individuals their basic human rights. As it stands now, Israel is not treating the Palestinian population with the respect and dignity they deserve, establishing their dominance over them in a way that practically treats them as subhuman. Until there is a conscious effort to recognize the injustices carried out against the Palestinians by the Israelis on this front, the water issue will likely have difficulties reaching a proper solution.

Jordan Meyerl