Water in Palestine: Proof of Apartheid

Water in the arid Jordan Valley is extremely valuable

I am currently writing a report on the effects of the occupation on the Palestinian agricultural sector and the environment in the Jordan Valley. Inevitably, this has led me to do some significant research into the water troubles that are plaguing the West Bank. While the report is concentrating on the Jordan Valley – and thus, only the West Bank – it is important to note that the Gaza Strip is under similar restrictions, but only able to pump water from the coastal aquifer which contains high levels of saline making this water unsuitable for most uses. The following is an except from my report:

It is the restrictive and unjustifiably biased policies of the occupation that is reducing Palestinian water consumption to near inhumane levels. Indeed, while the Mountain aquifer has a potential of 725.3MCM per year, Palestinians are allotted merely 72.3 MCM per year.[i] Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II agreement stipulated that Palestine has the right to a mere 20% of the water located under the West Bank, though currently Palestinians are able to extract only 17%.[ii] Despite the Palestinian population growing by 50% in the 15 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, no adjustment has been made on the quantity of water allotted to Palestinians – Palestinians, in fact, receive less water today than in 1995 – creating a continuously decreasing per capita consumption rate among Palestinians.

The contrast between Palestinian and Israeli consumption is vast. Palestinians consume a total of approximately 120MCM per year of ground water originating in the West Bank while Israelis consume 483 MCM per year[iii] over 4 times as much water as Palestinians.[iv] The World Health Organization recommends that each individual be able to access 100 liters of water per day; the 120MCM consumed by the Palestinian population equates to a per capita statistic of between 50 and 70 liters per day.[v] While the average Palestinian consume 50-70 liters per day, one quarter of Palestinians receive less than 50 liters per day[vi] while some Palestinians, including many in the Jordan Valley, receive as little as 10 liters per day per person[vii] – an amount astonishingly lower than both the recommended daily intake and the absolute minimum daily consumption needed to avoid ‘mass health epidemics.’[viii]

The Jordan Valley is perhaps the hardest hit by Israel’s illegal water management. As noted above, most of the Jordan Valley is classified as Area C – a designation that obligates Palestinians to obtain authorization from the JWC and the Israeli Civil Administration before constructing any water or sanitation structures. While Palestinians have control over 5.62% of the Jordan Valley, 50% is controlled by Settlement Regional Councils and 44.37% is considered to be closed military zones.[ix] Said another way, in nearly 95% of the Jordan Valley, Palestinians must receive authorization from one Israeli dominated organization and the Israeli military – both of which are not in the habit of permitting Palestinian construction of any sort – in order to enjoy one of the most basic of human rights.

An empty Palestinian reservoir near Jiftlik

The predictable and unfortunate consequence for the Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley is an Israeli-imposed inability to connect to suitable water networks or to construct reliable alternatives. 49% of Palestinians – primarily in the Jordan Valley – are not connected to any water network and are forced to rely on wells, cisterns or water tanks for their water needs.[x] As Israel routinely denies permits to build new or rehabilitate existing water structures in the Jordan Valley, most Palestinians are forced to rely on water tanks to meet household needs (see box).

In addition to not authorizing construction of new water networks and repeatedly rejecting requests to be connected to existing networks, the Israeli Civil Administration often destroys or confiscates the modest structures that Palestinians build to collect water.[xi] Israel, through settlements and the Mekerot Company also do damage to existing Palestinian means to obtain water by drilling deeper, more advanced wells in close proximity to Palestinian wells or streams, causing a reduction in the yield of the Palestinian sources.[xii] Indeed, the flow of spring water has gone from 52.7MCM in 2004 to only 44.8MCM in three short years[xiii] forcing many Palestinians to depend on expensive water sold by Israel. During this same short period, 2004 to 2007, the amount of water bought from Mekerot increased from 42.6MCM to 49.4MCM,[xiv] meaning that nearly 50% of domestic water used in the West Bank is purchased from an Israeli company that pumps water from the West Bank and sells it back to Palestinians at an artificially high rate that is not imposed on settlers.[xv]

Without the ability to connect to existing water networks, construct other means of obtaining water and faced with unreasonably high prices for water from the Mekerot Company, many Palestinians are being forced from the land or made to adapt their lifestyles to survive in such a dry climate. Consequently, many of the Bedouin herders are forced to sell their livestock and farmers are unable to properly or efficiently irrigate their crops.[xvi]

The extreme water crisis felt by the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley is only magnified by the blatant overuse of water in nearby Israeli settlements. As mentioned above, the average Israeli consumes up to 350 liters of water each day, Israeli settlers typically consume even more, despite living among a majority Palestinian population denied proper access to water. There are 56,000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and 9,400 settlers. Although there are over 45,000 more Palestinians than settlers, settlers use six times more water than Palestinians.[xvii] This discrepancy in water allocation is particularly brutal in the hot summer months when Israeli settlements are provided with an uninterrupted flow of water while Palestinians are often cut off from the pumps.

In the north of the Jordan Valley, for example, the Palestinian town of Tubas is located a mere 12 kilometers from the illegal Israeli settlement of Beka’ot. On average, Palestinians in Tubas use 30 liters of water per person per day. In Beka’ot, this number jumps to 401 liters per person per day.[xviii]

[i] (Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, 2008, p. 4)

[ii] It is important to note that Oslo II was meant to be a temporary agreement to be annulled after the conclusion of a final agreement after a period of five years.

[iii] (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4) Israel consumes a total of 2,000 to 2,200 MCM a year, of which 1,500 is fresh water. The 483MCM is total Israeli consumption originating in the West Bank and represents about 25% of Israeli consumption (Gray & Hilal, 2007, p. 102).

[iv] (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), 2008, p. iii)

[v] Some studies find the per capita consumption to be 50 liters (EWASH Advocacy Task Force, p. 3), others have concluded 60 liters (Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, 2008, p. 2) while other have found as high as 70 liters per person per day (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4) and (International, Amnesty, 2009, p. 21). It is generally thought that the higher consumption estimates use water distribution statistics in lieu of water consumption statistics. This difference is substantial considering the amount of water lost through leaky pipes in the dilapidated state of the Palestinian water network. Thus, while approximately 76.7 liters per person per day are distributed, 17% is lost in the West Bank Water Distribution (WBWD) systems, 28% in the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) systems, and between 31% and 52% in municipalities (Gray & Hilal, 2007, p. 105). The Palestinian Authority and the PWA are unable to rehabilitate many of these systems without permission from the JWC and the Israeli Civil Administration as mentioned above.

[vi] (EWASH Advocacy Task Force, 2010, p. 3)

[vii] (EWASH Advocacy Task Force, 2010, p. 3), (International, Amnesty, 2009, p. 21), (The World Bank, 2009, p. 32)

[viii] (EWASH Advocacy Task Force, 2010, p. 3) The WHO recommends at least 15 liters of water per person per day to avoid mass epidemics

[ix] 3.54% is considered Area A and 2.08% is Area B (MA’AN Development Center, 2010, p. 3)

[x] (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4)

[xi] See examples of the villages of Humsa and Ras al-Ahmar whose residents were refused permits for water and sanitation projects as well as the village of Imreiha whose inhabitants tried for 10 years to be connected to the water network (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, pp. 11-12)

[xii] There are 325 Palestinian wells in the West Bank compared to only 42 Israeli wells. Yet the deeper Israeli wells drastically reduce the flow of water to the Palestinian wells; Israeli wells are dug as deep as 300-400 feet while Palestinian wells are no more than 60-140 feet deep (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4). Consequently, Palestinian wells extract 65.5 MCM/year while Israeli wells extract 56.9MCM/year (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), 2008, p. 13). An Israeli well pumps an average of 1.35 MCM/year while a Palestinian well pumps. 0.2MCM/year; the deeper Israeli wells extract 5.75 times more water per year than the antiquated and shallow Palestinian wells.

[xiii] (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4)

[xiv] (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4)

[xv] (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), 2008, p. 23)

[xvi] The effects of the occupation and Israeli policies on the Palestinian herders and farmers in the Jordan Valley also have grave environmental consequences that will be discussed below.

[xvii] (MA’AN Development Center, 2009, p. 4)

[xviii] (EWASH Advocacy Task Force, p. 3)

Photos from Chris (2010) and FHR

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2 thoughts on “Water in Palestine: Proof of Apartheid

  1. How about Jordan’s water? Can Palestinians get water from them? I don’t see it happening. Why don’t you dole out some nauseating Palestinian rhetoric against the real Apartheid towards Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria?

    1. Citizen, thanks for the comment.

      Re: Jordan’s water, I have two comments: 1) is it really fair or just to give Palestinians some of Jordan’s water because Israel is unfairly consuming Palestinian water? I can’t see Jordan agreeing to that; 2) Jordan is having a water crisis as well and has no water to share so the idea is impossible anyway.

      As for the situations of Palestinian refugees in other countries, it is awful. Now I have only been in camps in Lebanon and Palestine so I am unable to speak about the conditions in Syria and Jordan (though I have heard they are much better than that of Palestinians in Lebanon). You are right in regards to Lebanon – the situation there is terrible and inexcusable. Palestinians should be given more rights and in general be treated better. However, again 2 points: 1) Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (and other countries) do not see themselves as Lebanese (or Jordanian or Syrian) – they see themselves as Palestinians who will return. The situation is therefore disgusting and dehumanizing and completely different than Israeli apartheid; 2) the situation of Palestinian refugees in other countries is something that must be looked at, uncovered and shared as it is (at least in Lebanon) atrocious. However, that does not mean that the means of apartheid in Palestine are any better, any more justified, or any more atrocious. Because Palestinians in Lebanon are treated poorly does not change the fact that Israeli water policies are discriminatory based on Jewish/Palestinian. That is unacceptable.

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