watering hole hebron hills emil salman
A Bedouin man peers into a destroyed watering hole in the souther Hebron Hills. Photo by Emil Salman
Text size

The right to water is a basic human right deserving of constitutional protection by virtue of the constitutional right to human dignity, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

Recently retired Justice Ayala Procaccia, along with justices Edna Arbel and Joseph Alon, published their ruling yesterday on an appeal by six Bedouin residents of non-recognized communities in the Negev. The appellants had sought the overturn of a 2006 ruling by the water affairs tribunal rejecting their application to be connected to a Mekorot water company main.

The tribunal based its decision on the recommendation of a committee empowered to authorize connecting illegal residences to running water.

However, Procaccia, who read the ruling, also stated that illegal Bedouin communities throughout the Negev have become a major problem of national importance with extensive implications in all areas of life, due to people taking the law into their own hands in deciding where to live.

Therefore, when considering the request of people living in an illegal community to connect their homes to water, the authorities may take the illegality of their residence into account, the verdict stated.

People living in illegal communities, also known as unrecognized communities, get their water either by buying it at a central location and transporting it to their home at their own expense, or by obtaining permission from the water committee. The committee has the authority to recommend that a home be connected to the water main out of humanitarian considerations.

The court determined that two of the appellants had reasonable access to water. In the case of a third appellant, the court directed that his home be connected to the water main.

As for the three others, the court said it was unclear from the information provided by the state whether they had reasonable access to water in the event their homes were not connected to the water main. The court ordered the water committee to revisit the cases.

"In any case, reasonable access to water sources at a minimal level must be ensured, even if not by connecting the homes in illegal communities [to the water main]," the verdict stated. Attorney Sausan Zahar, head of the unit for socioeconomic rights of the human rights group Adalah, which represented the appellants, said yesterday that although the Supreme Court decision was important in principle, it was unfortunate that, particularly in light of previous verdicts that totally negated the rights of these residents, the Supreme Court did not rule that they were entitled to water on an equal footing with other Israeli citizens.

"Instead, the court ruled that they had a right to 'minimal access to water sources,'" Zahar said. "In its ruling, the court gave undue weight to the fact that the villages are unrecognized although most of the residents are not squatters and [successive] governments are to blame for the irregularity of their status," Zahar said.