“Israel is a small piece of land. We are not even 1 percent of the Arab space, you know. We don’t have water. We don’t have oil. Our greatness, if one may say greatness, stems from the fact we had nothing to start with. So we turned to human talent because there weren’t natural resources. The Arabs can do it too.” – Shimon Peres, Foreign Policy (March/April 2012 issue)
If by “human talent” the Israeli President meant illegally and unfairly managing water access for Israelis and Palestinians, then I might be inclined to agree. Now, the above quote was by no means the only condescending and misleading one to be found in the interview, but given the recent report released by the French parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee asserting Israel’s “apartheid” water management policies, it stood out as particularly cringe-worthy. (Note: a partial English translation of the report can be found here, and the original report, in French, can be downloaded here in PDF format.)
Palestinians get their water from two main sources: the Mountain Aquifer (the majority of which lies beneath the soil in the West Bank) and the upper Jordan River. Palestinians are given an unequal share of these water resources–approximately 20%–while Israel allocates the approximately 80% remaining for their own consumption, despite the Israeli population being roughly double that of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.B’Tselem notes that the World Health Organization recommends 100 litres of water per capita daily as the “minimum quantity for basic consumption,” and estimates West Bank daily consumption of water at 73 liters–although it is also noted that parts of the northern West Bank, such as Jenin and Tubas, consume approximately 44 liters and 37 liters respectively. Israel, on the other hand, consumes approximately 242 liters of water per capita per day. Furthermore, Israel exceeds its water needs by approximately 50%, according to World Bank findings. While Israelis have consistent access to water, many Palestinians in the West Bank are often subject to severe water shortages which are made more difficult by the desert climate and recurring droughts. The situation in Gaza is similarly distressing: approximately 90-95% of accessible water is contaminated and unsuitable for human consumption, and the Israeli blockade does not allow for water from the Mountain Aquifer or Jordan River to be transported to the people of Gaza. Furthermore, Israeli control of West Bank resources is in violation of international law, including Articles 1, 11, and 25 from the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Articles 43 and 55 of the Hague Regulations.
Opposition to Israeli management of Palestinian water resources is nothing new. Since 1967, restrictions have been imposed by Israel on Palestinian access to water from aquifers located on its own territory. Public outrage has increased considerably since construction of the Security Wall, whose trajectory does not follow the Green Line. Instead, it strategically limits Palestinian access to water and cuts many off from their own farming land, a fact that Noam Chomsky pointed out in his 2004 New York Times Op-Ed. Local humanitarian groups such as B’Tselem and thePalestinian Center for Human Rights have been joined by Amnesty International and other global organizations in the call for justice. It is a travesty to continually deny the consequences, or as Peres’ quote implies, the existence of practices that unfairly serve two groups who deserve equal rights. But it seems that denial is the name of Israel’s game when it comes to water policies that continue to chip away daily at the dignity of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Marianna Reis is an MA student at Columbia University. Her research interests include Palestinian identity, diaspora, and cinema. She is currently conducting research on representations of identity in political cartoons featured in Palestinian newspapers during the First and Second Intifadas.