Anjuman Rahman & Anjuman Aleena
Middle East Monitor / October 6, 2023
The universal human right to water, ensuring “sufficient safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses” is a principle upheld by international conventions. However, in the Occupied West Bank, this right is systematically violated through Israel’s targeted assaults on civilian water infrastructure.
Just last week, Israeli occupation forces raided the peaceful village of Susiya, nestled south of Hebron in the Occupied West Bank, ruthlessly dismantling its main water network.
Fuad al-Amour, the Coordinator of the Protection and Resilience Committee in Masafer Yatta, expressed dismay over the destruction. He rightfully questioned the justification for such an act, especially considering that the waterline was entirely legal.
Prior to this incident, in August, as Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, reduced water allocations to the West Bank, Israeli settlers from the colonial settlement of Ma’ale Emwas invaded the village of Kisan, east of Bethlehem. They deliberately targeted drinking water pipelines owned by Hasan Ebayat, a local Palestinian farmer, reported WAFA.
This followed Mekorot’s drastic reduction of water supplies to the Occupied West Bank cities of Hebron and Bethlehem in July, leading to severe shortages for Palestinian residents who endured long queues and mounting frustration. Mohammad Al-Jaabari, a Palestinian from Hebron, voiced his exasperation as he observed settlers in illegal Israeli settlements enjoying unrestricted access to water, irrigating their trees and gardens, while his family faced uncertainty.
Mekorot has been repeatedly criticised for plundering and exploiting water resources in Occupied Palestine. Al-Haq, a Palestinian NGO, condemned Mekorot’s use of stolen water to augment the supply to illegal Israeli settlements, while neglecting Palestinian communities and cities in the Occupied West Bank. They pointed out that this systematic discrimination denies Palestinians their rightful access to water, calling on the company to cease its operations in the Occupied Territories to prevent further involvement in human rights violations and potential war crimes.
Furthermore, the northern Jordan Valley bore witness to its own water tragedy in June. Israeli occupation forces raided the Palestinian village of Bardala, closing the water holes that had been a lifeline for its residents. Aref Daraghmeh, a human rights activist, condemned this act, emphasising that it marked the tenth time in two years that the water holes had been sealed. This left Bardala’s residents grappling with the harsh reality of water scarcity, imposed by Israeli authorities’ control over vital water resources through the Mekorot water company.
These incidents are part of a disturbing pattern of assaults on Palestinian water resources. Israel’s relentless attacks on water infrastructure, such as pipelines, sewage treatment facilities and pumping stations, reveal an intent that goes beyond tactical advantage. The appeal of this strategy lies in its swift and devastating impact, designed to demoralise the Palestinian population.
In 1993, the Oslo Accords effectively granted Israel control over water management, resulting in its dominance over 80 per cent of West Bank water reserves. Presently, Israelis, including settlers, consume an average of 247 litres of water per day, while Palestinians in Area C, under complete Israeli military control, have access to a mere 20 litres, only one-fifth of the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.
The denial of water access not only inflicts immediate suffering, but also inflicts lasting damage to the Palestinian economy. Farmers in the West Bank struggle to cultivate their lands due to restrictive water supplies.
A UN report highlights that Israel’s policies, including denying Palestinians access to their natural resources, systematically undermine the Palestinian economy, continually diminishing its productive capacity and worsening living conditions.
Additionally, the International Labour Organisation’s report reveals that limited water access, combined with the expansionist policies of Israeli settlements, and exacerbated by climate change, has reduced agriculture to 2.6 per cent of the West Bank’s GDP.
Furthermore, Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian water resources has had significant environmental repercussions. Israel’s complete control of water sources in the Occupied Territories has resulted in over-extraction, leading to a decline in the water table and a disruption in groundwater flow. This increases vulnerability to extreme weather events, like floods and droughts which, in turn, damage Palestinian agricultural and residential areas.
When water, paired with violent intent, becomes a weapon, its potential for destruction is staggering. The lack of suitable water access stands as one of the most formidable developmental challenges faced by Palestinian communities. In light of these realities, the phenomenon of water weaponization by Israel against Palestine is not just a strategic move; it is a crime against humanity.
Anjuman Rahman is a journalist, United Kingdom
Anjuman Aleena on the West Bank