Adalah: The Water Tribunal Supported the Government’s Policy of Seeking to Move Arab Bedouin Citizens of Israel from their Land in the Naqab by Upholding Decisions of the Water Commissioner not to Supply them with Drinking Water
On 18 November 2006, Adalah submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court of Israel against a ruling delivered by the Haifa District Court (sitting as a Water Tribunal) on 13 September 2006 that upheld prior decisions of the Water Commissioner not to provide water to hundreds of Palestinian Arab Bedouin families living in unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev). The Water Tribunal based its decision on the political issue of the “illegal” status of the unrecognized villages.
Adalah argued in the appeal that the Water Commissioner’s decisions to deny the basic right to water to hundreds of families were based on improper and arbitrary considerations. First and foremost, the aim of these decisions is to support the government’s policy of seeking to relocate Arab Bedouin from their land to government-planned towns, by refusing to provide them with basic services such as access to clean drinking water. Adalah asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Water Tribunal decision, and to order the provision of water access points via the existing main water distribution network to the affected families.
Adalah Attorney Adel Badeer filed the appeal on behalf of six Palestinian Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, representing 128 families living in the unrecognized villages of Tel al-Maleh, Gatamat, Umm al-Hieran, Tel Arad, Tla’ Rashid, and a village located south of the main road between Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) and Arad. The appeal was filed against the Water Commissioner and the Israel Lands Administration.
In the appeal, Attorney Badeer argued that refusing to provide the families with drinking water of the necessary quality and quantity, constitutes a violation of their basic, constitutional right to dignity, which includes the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health as well as the right to life. Conditioning these rights on the application of a racist and discriminatory governmental policy is illegal, Adalah argued.
The refusal to provide drinking water to Arab Bedouin families living in the Naqab exposes them to serious risks to their health and ultimately to their lives. The appeal includes an expert opinion of Prof. Michael Alkan of Ben-Gurion University, whose research into water access concluded that Arab Bedouin living in unrecognized villages in the Naqab were at risk of dehydration, intestinal infections and other diseases associated with poor hygiene such as dysentery, as a result of the poor quality of their drinking water.
The appeal also included data from a survey of drinking water quality carried out in the unrecognized Arab Bedouin villages in the Naqab located in the jurisdictional borders of the town of Arad, commissioned by the Ministry of Health’s Southern Division in 1999, which is still relevant today. According to the results of the survey, in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab there exist “defective water-transportation systems … neglected or defective water tankers, improvised and defective water pipes - and all of these factors provide a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, parasites and algae, which can lead to diseases, as a result of pollution.”
Adalah argued in the appeal that in making his decisions, the Water Commissioner relied entirely, without independently exercising his judgment, on the recommendations of the Drinking Water Allocation Committee, which is administered the so-called “Bedouin Development Authority.” This latter body in turn operates in the framework of the authorities and powers of the Israel Lands Administration, which works towards implementing the aforementioned government policy. The intolerable ease by which the Drinking Water Allocation Committee inflicted damage on the families was not taken into consideration, and raises many questions, including about its very need to exist, given that it apparently designates its resources to controlling and oppressing those it is supposed to serve.
Adalah also contended in the appeal that the government’s policy discriminates against Arab Bedouin citizens of the state living in the Naqab. The clearest example of this discriminatory approach is the government’s actions toward what are termed “individual settlements” in the Naqab region. The ILA and others have allocated large parcels of land for the use of Jewish families in the Naqab and have provided all necessary basic services, including the provision of water. For the most part, these settlements receive direct water connections even before they have received the necessary approvals required by the Planning and Building Law (1965).