Israels drought relief comes at a (Palestinian) cost

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The June 19 article in J. headlined “Israeli water masters bring expertise to Sacramento” is reminiscent of the New York Times’ article by Israeli correspondent Isabel Kershner on May 30 celebrating the end of the drought in Israel as a result of Israeli ingenuity and innovation. The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa reprinted it.

Both accounts fail to place these Israeli competencies within a broader, more complex reality: that Israel has achieved its “end of drought” for its own citizens while gravely impinging on the rights of Palestinians.

The two main sources of water for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank are compromised by Israeli actions:

1) Mountain aquifers: The Oslo accords in 1995 allotted to Israel more than three-quarters of the water from the mountain aquifers that lie mostly in the occupied Palestinian territories. According to the World Bank, Israel has since extracted 80 percent more water than allotted while the Palestinians extraction has actually declined. How has this happened? Israel has dug huge, very deep wells that have reduced the level of the groundwater. The Palestinians’ wells go dry because Israel refuses to give them permits to dig existing wells deeper or to dig new wells.

2) Jordan River. The river flows along the eastern border of the occupied West Bank and largely serves as the boundary between the occupied region and Jordan. Only 3 percent of the river actually abuts Israeli territory (i.e., not the Palestinian West Bank), yet Israel obtains about one-quarter of its water from this source while the Palestinians are denied any access to this water.

If Israeli intelligence and skills have allowed it to no longer worry about water, why do Israeli policies continue to impede Palestinian access to water? The separation wall has been built in many places so as to annex to Israel lands east of the Green Line where many of the most important underground wellsprings in the West Bank are located.

Many Palestinian villages are denied the right to hook up to the water system reportedly because they are within “closed military areas” or are “unrecognized” by Israel, despite Palestinians living there for generations. The alternatives for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are to use rainwater-collecting cisterns, which are routinely destroyed by Israel, to use wells that are not deep enough to extract water or to buy water from Israeli private companies. However, these private companies charge them almost three times the price paid by such Israeli settlements as Ariel and Karnei Shomron, according to a 2013 report from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.

What is the result of all these Israeli policies and actions? According to the World Bank (2009), water extractions per capita for West Bank Palestinians are about one-quarter of those for Israelis and have declined over the last decade. In 1999, Palestinians in the West Bank used only 190 liters per capita per day from the West Bank resources; the settlers used 870 liters per capita per day, or roughly 4.5 times that amount.

As a matter of international law (Article 55 of the Geneva Convention), an occupying state is obligated to guarantee the provision of food, water and medicines and to protect and prohibit the destruction of water facilities. Why does Israel flout these laws? If it is clever and industrious enough to vanquish the drought, why does it need to violate international law with respect to access to water for the Palestinians under its control?

Joan Meisel is a health care policy analyst and strategic planning consultant, and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She lives in Cloverdale.