Shoafat refugee camp
Shoafat refugee camp (background) and Oisgat Zeev, a Jewish suburb. Photo by Eyal Virshubski
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Some 50,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have been without water for three days, after their water supply was cut off on Tuesday.

The residents are from the Shoafat refugee camp and the neighborhoods of Ras Hamis, Ras Shehada and Hashalom – all within the Jerusalem municipality, and where a majority of residents having blue Israeli ID cards. However, they are on the Palestinian side of the separation fence.

Water is supplied to the area by Jerusalem’s water utility – Hagihon. The water systems were designed many years ago and are not adequate for the needs of the population, which has grown significantly in recent years

In addition, the vast majority of the buildings in the area were built without permits and the residents are not registered as customers of Hagihon. 

Hagihon work crews, like other Israeli authorities, do not often venture to the other side of the separation fence, due to security and coordination issues. And so, every year, particularly in summer, the residents have to endure repeated disruptions of the water supply.

But the latest one is is the worst ever. Usually, the water pressure decreases to the extent that it only reaches the lowest places. But this year, residents say, the shut-off is total.

Water tanks on the roofs have already been emptied and now peddlers selling jerry-cans and water tanks at exorbitant prices have begun making the rounds.

“We don’t have even a drop of water. How is it possible to live like this?” asks Jamil Sanduka, a local resident who promised to organize a protest “of 20,000 people outside city hall and the Knesset.”

Ronit Sela, director of a human rights project in East Jerusalem for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, wrote an urgent letter today to Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom: “In a conversation yesterday with Mr. Eli Cohen, deputy director-general of Hagihon, we were told that no problem has been observed in the facilities and measurement devices that monitor the water to the area," she wrote.

"But the reality remains unchanged: Tens of thousands of people, including babies, children, women and the sick, have been left without water. Let us not forget that the right to water is a basic right, and the lack of water has serious implications for the right to life and health.”

“This cut-off of water is an especially egregious example of the ongoing neglect of residents who are cut off from the city by the separation fence,” Sela concluded.

In its response, Hagihon said: “Water from Hagihon is flowing as usual to the neighborhoods on the other side of the separation fence (Shoafat, Hashalom and Ras Hamis), but the water infrastructure and sewer and drainage systems in the neighborhoods are not adequate for the size of the population living there and extensive development work is needed to bring the infrastructure up to par."

The company added that "most of the population in these neighborhoods (tens of thousands of people) are not registered customers of Hagihon but still receive a continuous water supply, out of humanitarian concerns, at a cost of more than NIS 10 million per year, paid for by Hagihon.

"Hagihon has warned the Water Authority many times of the urgent need to regularize the funding of the water supply and the improvement and maintenance of the infrastructure in the medium and long term, but the matter has yet to be addressed.”