The problem of divvying up the scarce water resources
of the land between the river and the sea, home of Israel
and the Palestinians, has been the subject of serious study, agreements, and propaganda. It is complicated by the fact that aquifers in the West Bank have always served the coastal areas that are part of Israel
, by drought, by increasing water needs, burgeoning population. Above all, it is complicated by political squabbles that prevent rational allocation and development of water resources.
Amnesty International added to the propaganda pile recently with a sensational report claiming that Israel
is stealing Palestinian water and rationing Palestinians to a trickle of water. Among other things, the report showed pools at Israeli settlements.
The widespread prevalence of inexpensive public pools in Palestinian towns, reported earlier in Haaretz
, seems to contradict this claim:
"Swimming pools have become trendy in the West Bank," says Rajoub, 30...
Nowadays, every city in the West Bank has a pool or a recreational complex: Bethlehem has one similar to Al-Khahuf, while Ramallah has more than 10. One of Jenin's swimming champs committed a suicide bombing at Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant in August 2001. Nablus has a pool reserved for women, and an Olympic pool. Another pool and recreation complex sits between Nablus and Tubas...
Entrance costs NIS 10. "I make a living. And because it's cheap, Arab Israelis come here too.
In March of 2009, long before the Amnesty "report," the Israel Water Authority put out an extensive report on the water situation. According to carefully compiled figures and facts in that report, Israel has more than fulfilled its obligations regarding water under the Oslo agreement. Palestinians have ruined the water substrate because of uncontrolled wildcat drilling, and they refused to cooperate in a desalination project. Settlements do not get their water at the expense of the Palestinians. Some highlights are quoted below:
Israel offered the Palestinians the possibility of erecting a seawater desalination plant in the Hadera area, which would be constructed and operated for them by the donor countries, and which would supply water directly to areas in the West Bank. In addition, Israel proposed to the Palestinians the purchase of water for the Gaza Strip directly from the desalination plant at Ashkelon. The Palestinians are well aware of the need to develop a new major source of water (desalination), but are nevertheless not in a hurry to take steps in this direction...
The Water Agreement determined that water supply to the Palestinians would increase (during the period of the Interim Agreement) by 28.6 MCM/yr, of which 5 MCM/yr would be supplied to the Gaza Strip and 23.6 MCM/yr to the West Bank. It was agreed that this quantity would be in addition to the quantity consumed by the Palestinians in that year, namely, 118 MCM.
... it was agreed that water supply to the Palestinians during the Interim Agreement period would in the West Bank increase by 20%...
In practice, during the 13 years that have elapsed since the Interim Agreement was signed, water supply to the Palestinians in the West Bank has been increased by 60 MCM/yr (not including Gaza), i.e. by about 50%. Palestinian consumption has reached 180 MCM/yr... there is also an additional quantity from wells that were upgraded under approval and the output of unapproved wells)....
The Palestinians are violating the Water Agreement by drilling water wells in the Mountain Aquifer without the approval of the JWC... Since the signing of the agreement more than 250 unapproved wells have been drilled, from which the Palestinians are abstracting about 10 MCM/yr... The agreement with the Palestinians states that their future needs will be supplied mainly from the eastern aquifer... however, the unapproved wells were drilled mostly in the northern aquifer and in areas A and B. This means that Israeli production in the northern valleys within Israel has been affected...
The Palestinians are also making unauthorized "pirate" connections to the Mekorot water supply pipelines. Shortages of water are experienced in Hebron, Kiryat Arba, Bani Naim, Beita and additional villages, caused principally by the fact that water is being stolen by inhabitants of the Sair and Shuyukh villages for irrigating fields on the fringes of the Judean Desert that have never been irrigated in the past. The thefts have compelled Israel to lay a new water supply pipeline following a different route. Similar cases have occurred in other parts of the West Bank as well. Thefts of water from Israeli pipelines, carried out from both transmission mains and secondary lines, are estimated at 3.5 MCM/yr.
The Palestinians routinely state that the unapproved wells are affecting them as well and that they too are trying to combat the phenomenon. However, in fact nothing concrete has been done by them to stop the incidents, which constitute a serious violation of the Water Agreement...
In the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinians are in full control, over 3,000 unapproved wells were drilled immediately following Israel's withdrawal, causing a severe drop in water levels and seriously harming the quality of water in the Gaza Aquifer and the general Gaza water economy...
The absence of wastewater treatment by the Palestinians, and the parallel expansion of water supply works, has led to increasingly severe environmental pollution.
Hebron Stream.. has become a polluted wastewater channel. Nearby Palestinian villages and Israeli communities suffer badly from polluted water, odours, flies and mosquitoes. Nablus Stream, which flows in a westward direction, has become a wastewater channel for Nablus...[,] it also serves as a wastewater channel for Tulkarm. Flows containing wastewater from both sources debouch into the Alexander Stream, to the west of the so called "Green Line". The environmental hazards affect both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Many additional rivers have become wastewater channels for other towns and villages, from which untreated wastewater infiltrates the groundwater in the Mountain Aquifer, affecting its quality. Wells located in the downstream sections of the rivers are exposed to contamination originating from wastewater infiltration to the aquifer.
The result has been contamination of wells supplying drinking water, leading to their closure; examples are the Beit Fajjar well (owned by the Municipality of Bethlehem), three wells in the Jerusalem area (Ein Karem 13, 17, and Al Azzariya 1), and wells in the Jordan Valley area (Mitzpe Jericho well 6 and Naaran 2).
The quantity of wastewater generated by the Palestinians at present is estimated at about 52 MCM/yr. Of this, only about 4 MCM/yr is treated in Palestinian plants, and about 14 MCM/yr in Israeli plants. The rest of the wastewater, about 34 MCM/yr, pollutes the groundwater and the Israeli and Palestinian environment.
Apart from the wastewater treatment plant at El-Bireh, no new wastewater treatment plants have been constructed in the past decade. And even this plant is not maintained properly; its effluent is not used for agriculture, as planned, but is discharged to Wadi Qelt, contaminating it. The Palestinians are not advancing projects for wastewater treatment even though the donor countries (especially Germany, the USA and Japan) as well as the World Bank have expressed their willingness to allocate considerable funds (about US$ 300 million) for the construction of these vital plants.
Although the Water Agreement obligates both the sides to treat their wastewater, the Palestinians apparently prefer to let their wastewater flow into Israeli territory, polluting the environment and the common aquifer...
The report is much less sensational (and therefore more boring), but far more detailed, than the Amnesty claims, complete with extensive maps and tables. It is worth reading before you decide that Israel is the villain. What a pity that journalists rushed off to write about about Israeli "water theft" without consulting the Israeli report. The problems of wildcat well drilling have been known for years. Of course, if Israel raises these issues, which are all violations of the Olso accords, it will be said that Israel is an "obstacle to peace."
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Replies: 1 Comment
What struck me most about the AI report (as does with many of their reports) is its slickness and marketing-ready presentation. There are also questionable editorial choices (uses of language, attention to details not germaine to the report, etc.) as well as photographs meant to arouse certain emotions that would, I think, make any serious analyst of the situation start to ask some questions.
It's true a book should not be judged by its cover, but I feel like AI reports have gone the way of "Human Rights for easy consumption by the masses" not a serious analysis.
Charlie, Monday, November 2nd
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