Water tanks on the roofs of East Jerusalem houses.
Water tanks on the roofs of East Jerusalem houses. Photo by Emil Salman
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For the past month the water supply to tens of thousands of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem has been sporadic, at times no more than two days a week. The problem affects communities connected to the city water system as well as ones that receive their water from the Palestinian Authority.

Those affected are all Jerusalem residents with blue, Israeli-issued identity cards who live on either side of the separation fence.

The problem is predominantly on the Palestinian side of the fence in the northern Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras Khamis, Ras Shahada and Hashalom as well as the Shoafat refugee camp. Residents of these communities say that for the past few weeks they have had a regular water supply only two to three days a week. Sometimes there is water only at night, and usually the water pressure is quite low. Water to these neighborhoods is supplied by Gihon, the Jerusalem municipality's water corporation.

Residents say the problem has led to disputes over water use and connections to the water supply. Two people sustained gunshot wounds during one dispute between two families that escalated about two weeks ago. Residents pelted the Border Police officers who tried to separate the combatants with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Practically every family in the affected area has spent thousands of shekels on a rooftop cistern and pump so they can store water when the faucets are running for later use.

"We've started buying bottled water, and people have stopped showering. We used to bathe the kids every day, now it's once a week," said Jamil Sanduqa, the head of the Ras Khamis residents' committee.

Gihon claims the problem is the result of people illegally tapping into the water system.

"Why is it my problem that people are stealing water?" Sanduqa said, adding, "They have to solve the problem and not disrupt the lives of 70,000 residents."

It would appear that the 45 years that have passed since the city's unification were not enough time for the authorities to connect all of East Jerusalem's residents to the municipal water system. Thousands of them, mainly in the northern neighborhoods of Kafr Aqab, on the Palestinian side of the fence, but also in Beit Hanina, on the Israeli side, receive their water supply from El Bireh, near Ramallah. They too are experiencing disruptions to their water supply. They attribute the problem to the overall water shortage in the Palestinian Authority, which relies on the water allocations supplied to it by Israel.

On Monday, attorney Nisreen Alyan of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter to the head of Gihon demanding a resolution of the water supply problem in the areas under the municipal corporation's jurisdiction.

"The right to water is a basic right," says Alyan. "It is incumbent on the authorities that govern the area to supply this basic right, especially during the summer. The disregard of the fact that entire neighborhoods are not linked to the water network is unacceptable."

In a response, Gihon said: "There is a widespread phenomenon of water theft in this area, which we have been warning the Water Authority about for a very long time. At the same time, in the wake of the request by ACRI regarding the problem in the Shoafat refugee camp, it was agreed to hold a meeting with representatives of the association, in order to find creative ways to try to solve the problems. Gihon is continuously and individually dealing with consumers who report all sorts of problems with service, irrespective of their geographic location."