Israeli settlers in the West Bank consume six times as much water as Palestinians living nearby, the human rights organization Al-Haq has found.
In a new report released today, the organization exposes how Israel operates a system of water apartheid. Palestinian communities are strangled by Israel’s water policies through unlawful exploitation and appropriation of water resources, confiscation and destruction of water infrastructure and restriction of water supply, it says.
Al-Haq concludes that Israel’s water apartheid policies are based on three pillars. The first pillar concerns the distinction between two racial groups. The second pillar consists of the policies and practices that facilitate the segregation of the population into different geographical areas. The third pillar rests upon the use of “security” laws to “justify” inhuman acts against Palestinians.
It is important underscore that Israel’s water policies are part of an institutionalized system of domination and oppression.
Two distinct groups
The first pillar of water apartheid requires the distinction of two groups, which is a core element of the crime of apartheid. The first group are the Palestinians who over the years have been unwillingly sub-divided into Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinian refugees living in exile. All are Palestinian, because of their identity as the indigenous people of historic Palestine. In addition, their right to self-determination is internationally recognized.
The second group is composed of Jewish-Israelis, meaning “Israelis with Jewish identity,” an official category imposed and monitored by the State of Israel. It recognizes a person as a member of the global Jewish community, thereby granting certain rights, such as residency. The Basic Laws — the closest thing that Israel has to a written constitution — distinguishes the group as “Jewish nationals.” While Palestinians living in Israel can be citizens, nationality of Israel is reserved for Jews.
Israel has used the distinction between the Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli groups to segregate the population into different geographical areas — the second pillar of water apartheid. Inside Israel, the distinction is used to grant citizenship to only those Palestinians who remained inside Israel after 1948. At the same time, Israeli citizenship is granted beyond its territory to all Jews, regardless of their geographical location, personal history or affiliation to the territory.
In the West Bank, the segregation policies have resulted in two parallel and unequal societies. A privileged Jewish-Israeli settler society lives in illegal colonies with good conditions, including an uninterrupted, abundant supply of water. By contrast, the indigenous Palestinian society is denied most of its basic rights, including sovereignty over its own water resources.
Palestinians are forcibly confined to land-locked enclaves with minimum water resources available. As a result, Palestinian communities are strangled and cannot fully develop as a group: denying such development is considered an inhuman act under the UN’s 1973 Apartheid Convention. The commission of inhuman acts against the subordinate group is the second core element of the definition of apartheid.
In its report, Al-Haq provides extensive information about how Israel’s discriminatory water policies lead to the strangulation of Palestinian communities. For example, water apartheid policies result in huge differences in water consumption. For example, the consumption of more than 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank is about six times higher than that of 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank.
Moreover, the Palestinian average water consumption of 73 liter per capita per day does not reach the minimum consumption level of 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Israelis living inside Israel use about 300 liters and Israeli settlers in the West Bank use 369 liters each per day.
By September 2011, around 313,000 Palestinians were not connected to a water network. And about 50,000 Palestinians from 151 communities had to live on less than 20 liters each per day, an amount WHO recommends for “short-term survival” in emergency and disaster situations.
In occupied East Jerusalem, more than 50 percent of the Palestinians living there — around 160,000 people — do not have legal water connections because Israeli law does not allow it, mainly because the required housing permits are not issued. Furthermore, some Palestinian areas on the eastern side of the Israel’s wall in East Jerusalem have been excluded from the boundaries of the city. This has left the residents of Beit Iksa, Kufr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp with no access to municipal services, including water and sanitation.
In the Jordan Valley, water apartheid policies have resulted in extreme differences in water consumption between settlers and Palestinians, ranging from 700 liters per day in the settlements of Mitzpe Shalem and Qalya to a meager 22 liters for Palestinians in the village of al-Hadidiya.
The 1.6 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip depend for their natural water supply solely on the Coastal Aquifer next to the Strip. But as a transboundary water resource, Gaza has to share it with Israel, which has access to other water resources. However, the Gaza Strip can use only one quarter of total extractions from the Coastal Aquifer.
A responsible use of shared transboundary water resources requires coordination, something which Israel refuses. As a result, the water quality in the Gaza Strip has progressively deteriorated due to over-extraction and pollution of the Coastal Aquifer. The deterioration is also partly due to Israel’s policy of denying construction materials for wastewater treatment plants and other water-related infrastructure into the Gaza Strip. Therefore, about 90 to 95 percent of the water it supplies is unfit for human consumption. It is estimated that the quality of water in the Coastal Aquifer will continue to deteriorate and may become unusable by 2016, when, in the absence of any alternatives, the Gaza Strip could become unfit for human habitation.
The third pillar of Israel’s water apartheid rests upon its “security” laws, policies and practices. The water policies and practices are integrated in an institutionalized system of Jewish-Israeli domination and oppression of the Palestinians as a group — thus amounting to a system of “water apartheid.”
For example, by occupying the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 War, Israel increased its direct control over water resources in the region with nearly 50 percent. Immediately after the war, the water system for the West Bank and Gaza was integrated into the Israeli system through a series of military orders which are still in force today. Israel declared the banks of the lower Jordan River a closed military zone, denying access to Palestinians.
Furthermore, the construction of Israel’s wall in the West Bank has given Israel control over 28 agricultural wells.
Israel has caused extensive damage to Palestinian water infrastructure during military attacks on the Gaza strip. For example, during Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, about 919 water wells, 229 irrigation pools and 243 water pumps were destroyed. Since 2005, more than 300 water wells have been destroyed in the so-called buffer zone.
In 2011, Israel demolished over 20 water wells, around 35 cisterns, and around 10 water tanks and springs in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). At the same time, Israel confiscated 45 water, sanitation and hygiene structures in the same area. The water infrastructure was indispensable Palestinian rural and herder communities. In 2012, Israeli forces demolished at least 32 water structures took place between January and October.