Palestinians say water crisis is ‘political’, expect conditions to worsen

Qassam Muaddi

The New Arab  /  August 4, 2023

As Israeli water company ‘Mekorot’ announced its reduction of water share of Bethlehem and Hebron, Palestinians expect their already-grave lack of access to water to aggravate.

The Israeli decision to reduce the water share of the Palestinian governorates of Hebron and Bethlehem will “exacerbate the already grave water crisis”, Palestinians told The New Arab on Wednesday, 2 August.

In mid-July, the Israeli water company ‘Mekorot’, a water extraction company operating in the occupied West Bank, announced that it will reduce the water supply of Bethlehem and Hebron cities and surrounding villages and communities.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank depend on sub-soil natural water reserves filled by short, yearly rain seasons. The roughly 750.000 Israeli illegally settling on Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank and Israelis within Israel’s 1948 boundaries use the same water resources as Palestinians.

All water extraction facilities are located in ‘Area C’, under direct-Israeli military control. Israeli restrictions limit Palestinian water services’ access to these facilities.

Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, described ‘Mekorot’s’ decision as “racist, discriminatory and dangerous”, adding that it will “further deprive our people in both governorates of their right to water while increasing the share of illegal Israeli settlers”.

According to several sources, including the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Israelis’ daily water consumption amounts to 247 litres per person, three times more than the average consumption for Palestinians of 82.4 litres per person.

“Even before Mekorot’s decision, we are already in a permanent emergency”, Ali Jubran, spokesperson for the Palestinian public water authority in Bethlehem, told TNA.

“We, as a water authority, practically have no projects for developing the water service’s infrastructure, as most of our efforts are concentrated on making the best use of the little water sources we have access to”, he said.

“Only 30% of the water sources for Bethlehem come from Palestinian-undertaken wells, and the remaining 70% are Israeli-controlled wells, undertaken and sold to us by Mekorot”, explained Jubran.

“Mekorot’s reduction will reduce the already insufficient daily water supply of Bethlehem to 6,000 cubic meters per day, which will force us to prolong the span of water supply cycles, for the same quantity, from an average of 15 days to an average of 20 days, which can be longer for some areas in Bethlehem”, he added.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank use rooftop tanks and house collection wells to economize their water use between the short water-supply periods.

We receive running water only two days per month, which we use to fill tanks and collection wells”, Nader Hanna, a resident of Beit Jala, a town part of the more significant Bethlehem region, told TNA.

“In Beit Jala, we plan our water consumption based on these period cycles, and most of the time, we buy bottled water for drinking, especially during the summer”, said Hanna. “If the water cycles become longer now, it means that we will need to spend more money on bottled water, which means an additional financial load”, he added.

Beit Jala is widely considered among the privileged areas in Bethlehem in terms of water share, in comparison with surrounding villages and Bedouin communities, and even refugee camps within the city.

“In Dheisheh, we receive running water only one day per month, and we often don’t even get it”, Hani Bashir, responsible for the water service at the services committee of the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, told TNA.

“In Dheisheh, as in all refugee camps, we have an additional problem, which is that houses are built often without foundations and have poor structures, mostly several stories high and housing large numbers of people, which makes it difficult to place enough water tanks on rooftops”, he explained. “Very often, we find ourselves missing on our share of water because on the same day that the camp is supposed to receive water from the network, other densely populated parts of the city get it too, and the quantity isn’t enough.” 

“The financial load on families to buy bottled water is particularly high, given that the refugee camp residents are all low-income families, and after the new Mekorot’s decision, it will become even harder for them”, noted Bashir.

“This permanent crisis isn’t due to the lack of water resources or technical capacities, but to occupation”, stressed Bashir. “The occupation deprives us of our water resources for the benefit of settlements. This water crisis is a political one“, he stated.

Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups have repeatedly pointed out Israel’s control over Palestinian resources in the occupied West Bank.

In 2020, the UN published a database exposing companies that benefit from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Mekorot.

Qassam Muaddi is The New Arab’s correspondent in the West Bank