Israel is world’s leading practitioner of water apartheid

Palestinian children fill containers with water at a public tap in Jabaliya, northern Gaza, July 2014.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Israel markets its water expertise as an agent of change internationally but uses water as a weapon of war against the Palestinians, according to South Africa’s minister of water and sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane.

The minister was criticizing Israel’s policies in a speech during Israeli Apartheid Week delivered earlier this month at the Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Mokonyane said Israel’s water story has “two faces.” One is Israel as the “world’s leading practitioner of water apartheid.” Israel has full control of all water access and water use in historic Palestine – the West Bank, Gaza Strip and present-day Israel. This “skewed distribution” leaves Palestinians in the West Bank with 73 liters per person per day, Mokonyane said, compared to 240-300 liters for Israelis.

The Palestinian share is far less than the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 100 liters per person per day for domestic use, hospitals, schools and other institutions.

Water apartheid

In addition, hundreds of Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are not connected to water supplies, the minister told her audience. And Mekorot – Israel’s national water company – frequently shuts down water supply to Palestinians.

High water insecurity combined with daily hardships hamper “any reasonable development.” This, “unmistakably,” draws parallels to the brutality of South African apartheid and the Bantu homelands, Mokonyane said: Israel is using water as a weapon of war instead of an agent for change, a “tool to control the Palestinian state.”

The other face is Israel’s role as a leading water technology innovator with a vibrant industry selling its products and solutions to the world. Israeli water technology and related agricultural exports reached $2.2 billion in 2013, according to the minister, some of which was sold to South Africa. This face is what the Israeli government wants us “to see and focus on,” Mokonyane said.

Marketing water technology to counter BDS

It is a weapon Israel hopes to use against the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in support of Palestinian rights. Assisting Africa with water technology could help to counter the movement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested at the Milan Expo two years ago​.

“People today ​around the ​world have a ​better quality ​of life thanks ​to Israeli ​technology and ​innovation,” he said. “This is much ​stronger than ​any boycott.” ​

But Israel’s effort to present itself as a savior in South Africa failed last year when a water summit was canceled after protests against the planned participation of an Israeli diplomat.

Mokonyane concluded her remarks by calling for support of BDS efforts to put pressure on Israel to recognize the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

South African anti-apartheid veterans can speak with authority about Israeli apartheid. It is the reason the Israeli government and its lobby continue to attack South Africans who make the comparison between apartheid in South Africa and Israel. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Farid Esack, ministers of the South African government, including Mokonyane, and leaders in the ANC, the party once led by Nelson Mandela, have all been denied entry to or censured by Israel at some point or smeared with false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Such efforts will not halt comparisons between racist rule in South Africa and Israel, or calls for BDS.

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desalination might be a solution for the people of the Gaza strip as an other solution for their water supply.

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Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh