Murky water is no problem when you have no water
Last week the lives of many Israelis were disrupted by two unfortunate events: The residents of Metropolitan Tel Aviv were told not to drink tap water, and thousands of people were caught in huge traffic jams at the entrance to Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Last week the lives of many Israelis were disrupted by two unfortunate events: The residents of Metropolitan Tel Aviv were told not to drink tap water, and thousands of people were caught in huge traffic jams at the entrance to Ben-Gurion International Airport. The water hitch lasted less than a day, the backed-up traffic at the airport – for security reasons – went on longer.
The near-hysterical reaction of the Israelis was extensively reported and even fanned by the media. “Rush on water” and “Close the faucets,” blared the headlines of the mass-circulation tabloids; and “It’s a long road to freedom” – no less – was the headline for one of stories about the traffic jams at the airport.
The advice given media consumers was commensurate with the situation: clothes could be laundered and people could take showers using tap water, but not brush their teeth; it would be preferable to give household pets bottled water to drink; potted plants could be watered as usual; and people leaving the country should get to the airport four hours ahead of their departure time. Bottled water was snapped from the shelves of the supermarkets and the media reported that travelers at the airport were in despair – their trip to Barbados would take a few extra hours. Some of them, just imagine, actually walked in the heat to the terminal from the checkpoint at the entrance to the airport. The national mood, already downcast, suffered another blow.
These were indeed two very bothersome and distressing disruptions of normal life. It’s not pleasant to wait in a huge line to buy bottled water, and arriving late for a flight can also be very nerve-wracking. Walking by foot from the airport checkpoint with suitcases can definitely throw people into despair. It’s a bit expensive to give pets mineral water to drink and waiting two hours in a line of cars at the entrance to the airport is out of the question. In the case of the water, at least, there is already talk of a commission of inquiry. The truth is that there is no reason to take lightly such occurrences. There is no place for them in a well-run country.
A few days before turbidity far in excess of the normal was detected in the water of Metropolitan Tel Aviv, another few hundred people, not far from Metropolitan Tel Aviv, were affected by a different type of unfortunate hitch. What happened was that Israeli troops and personnel of the Civil Administration arrived at the homes of shepherds in the southern Mount Hebron area; they then proceeded to demolish the homes and to seal up the local water wells, using cement, sand, scrap iron and stones. Now the water of those wells is far more turbid than normal, so much so that even the sheep refuse to drink it.
The advice that was given to the citizens of Metropolitan Tel Aviv to help alleviate their distress is unfortunately not really relevant to the members of the Nawaja and Dramin clans: They have no other source of water apart from the wells that were sealed up. They have neither faucets nor pipes. Last week they sat under the burning sun, among the ruins of their demolished homes and their sealed-up wells, totally drained of hope. Hardly anyone in Israel took an interest in their fate, in where they would go and what they would drink. A spokesman for the Civil Administration said the operation had been carried out by a “demolition detail” with the aim of “evicting trespassers.”
The day after the water problem in Metropolitan Tel Aviv was solved, while the lines outside the airport continued to stretch indefinitely, another unfortunate hitch occurred. At the Tene-Omarim checkpoint in the south of the country, not so far from Ben-Gurion International Airport, Rasmiya Jabarin, 39, was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while sitting in a taxi that was taking her and her colleagues to work in a poultry slaughterhouse in Kiryat Malachi. The soldiers said afterward that the taxi drove “wildly” on a dirt road that bypasses the checkpoint. Perhaps the water breakdown and the long lines at the airport will help more Israelis understand what their Palestinian neighbors have to endure day in and day out. More than 200,000 Palestinians have no running water in their homes at all, according to data of B’Tselem, the human rights organization. Turbid water is the least of their problems. They simply have no water to begin with.
As for the rest of the Palestinians in the West Bank, especially those who live south of Hebron, they are now in for another hot, hard, dry summer, during which water will be available in their homes only a few days a month. The water tankers, which were once a substitute – albeit expensive and highly inconvenient – for the dry faucets now find it difficult to make their way to the towns and villages where they are needed, because of the siege.
Similarly, the lines at the entrance to the airport would only bring a rueful smile to the lips of the residents in the West Bank. For months now most of the roads they use have been rendered completely inaccessible to them, while on others they have to wait for hours at Israeli checkpoints. For them the “long road to freedom” is an authentic expression and not a witticism conceived by a sharp editor. They can only dream about going abroad – even a trip to the nearby town is practically impossible.
The majority of Israelis couldn’t care less about these people. The height of cynicism was reached when settlers of the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem hurried last week to get water to the residents of the Hatikva neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, where the water had become turbid for a brief time – while their neighbors on the other side of the fence have to go without any water at all for months, because of the unfair division with the settlements.
The need to recognize the distress of the Palestinians is not just a moral and humanitarian imperative. Anyone who truly wishes to understand the reasons for Palestinian violence must first of all become acquainted with its roots. They are planted deep in the endless line of cars at the ubiquitous checkpoints, in the wells sealed up by the soldiers and in the faucet that emits only air when turned on.
For a moment, many Israelis had the chance to experience something of the Palestinians’ plight, in however small measure. The next step is to consider what we would do to those who imposed on us ordeals that are a thousand times worse than a traffic jam on the way to a vacation or turbid water for a day – during so many years of occupation.