Water Shortages in the West Bank: Another Form of Apartheid 

30 September 2016

water shortageWater is a precious commodity and is essential to the life of every human beings. Water is so sacred in the daily life and in the environment of all people that the United Nations General Assembly recognized it as a fundamental right in 2010. However, the Right of Water for Palestinians is constantly violate by the Israeli policies and laws.

In the Occupied Territories, the scarcity of water is a recurent issue, which put hundreds of thousand people at risk, especially during the summer heatwaves. Although the shortages of water is not new for Palestinians, they are representative of the discrimitative polices of the Israeli government towards them. It is important to recall that under the current law, Israel has the control of over 70% of the water extracted from the ground (Mountain Aquifer) and in addition the Palestinians are forbidden to access the water from the Jordan River, which is the other fresh water source in the West Bank. Therefore, the shortage of water is not due to the natural environment but clearly engineered by the Israeli laws. In other words, the Israeli government opens and closes the tap of water at its will. This is a very powerful tool at the hand of the occupier, who affects not only the day-to-day life of the people of Occupied Territories but also their economical sector, especially the agriculture sector.

The harsh reality on the ground is that since the Oslo Accords, the access of water for Palestinians has just got worse. Indeed, according to some studies conducted by various organizations, Palestinians living in the West Bank today have less acces to water than 20 years ago. Currently, the West Bank habitants connected to a water grid consume approximatively 70 liters per day, but for the less fortunate people without connection, the consumption can drop until 20 liters per day. These figures are critical to highlight because on one hand, the consumption in the Occupied Territories are well below the recommendation of the World Health Organization, which is 100 liters per day and on the other hand, the Palestinian consumption is a pittance comparing to the Isreali one, which reaches approximately 180 liters per day (see B’tselem graphics).

Without any doubt the Israeli policies undermine the Right to Water for the Palestinians population as well as its distribution and the town of Beit Ummar is no exception. These policies, which are against international conventions, affects the health of people, especially children and elderly, but also the economic sector of this agricultural town. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the distribution of water is stop during heatwaves, which compel the people to buy mineral water or bring large tankers of water. Of course, these solutions are not sustainable as they are financially out of reach for many families. It is also important to mention that the farmers are also suffering terribly from these unjustified water policies. For instance, according to several farmers testimonies, many of them in Beit Ummar have decided not to cultivate any vegetables this year as they require intensive irrigations. Although such decisions seems reasonnable from the perspective of the farmers, it also leads to some unfortunate economic consequences. Indeed, as the farmers don’t cultivate vegetables, there will be a lack of income for them but moreover, this situation will lead to a price increase on the market and will force the people to buy Israeli products instead.

The water situation in Beit Ummar has become a major concern for the population of the town, which sustains through its agriculture activities. Although several constructions of wells used to irrigate agricultural lands help the farmers to sustain their activities, the situation cannot last on the long term. It is clear that Israel uses water as a tool to punish as well as to control the people of the West Bank. As often, the occupier has to show his power without thinking a second about the suffering of the people. In addition, by allocating even more water to the settlements, the Israeli government only provokes and humiliates the people of the West Bank. The situation has been best described by Clemens Messerchmid in a recent article written by Charlotte Silver in the Electronic Intifada. The German hydrologist working for two decades with Palestinians on water supply, quotes the term “hydro-apartheid” to analyze the current situation in the West Bank, which is right on point. Indeed, the control of the source of water is solely in the hands of Israel, the Palestinians are forbidden to drill wells, and the water reservoirs are systematically destroy by the army. Thus, if the West Bank is not under an apartheid regime, what political regime is it?