Israel Cut Off Refugee Camp North of Jerusalem From Water Supply, Activists Say

A third of inhabitants of Shoafat have no water at all, and rest can get only very weak dribble.

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Shoafat refugee camp (background) and Oisgat Zeev, a Jewish suburb.
Shoafat refugee camp (background) and Oisgat Zeev, a Jewish suburb.Credit: Eyal Virshubski

There has been a serious water shortage in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shoafat for almost three weeks, activists in the camp said.

One-third of the inhabitants in the camp north of Jerusalem have no water at all, and the rest can get only a very weak dribble coming out of the faucet, the sources said.

Over the last few days Jerusalem’s Gihon water company has installed an additional line and a tap at the entrance to the camp, but residents say this has not solved the problem.

The Arab affairs liaison at the police force’s Jerusalem district has warned his superiors that leaving the issue unresolved will foment unrest in the camp.

“This year the problems started earlier than expected,” wrote Doron Zehavi, the police liaison. “They claim that Israel is doing this in order to harm their basic rights to receive water, comparing it to what was done in Syria, where food supply to the Yarmuk refugee camp was stopped. All the authorities must find a reasonable solution to this problem, which will only increase with time.”

The police met with Gihon officials over the last few days, but Gihon says someone has to pay for the extra water if the company is to supply it. In the meantime, Gihon is increasing the diameter of a water line near the Shoafat roadblock, in the hope that this will increase the water flow within the camp.

The water shortage in the camp began with the erection of the separation fence, which left the camp, as well as the neighborhoods of Ras Khamis, Ras Shehade and Dahiyat al-Salam, on the Palestinian side of the fence, even though most of the inhabitants have Israeli identity cards and are Israeli residents.

As the Israeli authorities neglected to maintain the infrastructure in these neighborhoods, the number of residents grew sharply due to the removal of any supervision over construction there. This led to a situation in which aging infrastructure that had been intended to serve 15,000 residents now has to serve 50,000.

Nearly every summer there are prolonged interruptions to the water supply, but this year the problems appeared earlier than expected.

Gihon says the state needs to invest large sums of money to solve the problem, and the Israel Water Authority says it cannot resolve the issue with the amount of water currently available.

“Inter-ministerial cooperation is required in order to deal with the problems and risks involved,” the water authority said. “At this stage the Gihon company is making an effort to solve the problem despite the insufficient infrastructure.”

Last week the Knesset’s committee on public petitions, headed by MK Adi Kol, discussed the issue after Kol received a letter from the water authority stating that police had canceled a planned visit by Gihon officials who had been planning to examine the infrastructure in Shoafat. The reason for the cancelation was increased tension following the killing of three Palestinians in Jenin over the weekend.

Residents of Shoafat and adjacent neighborhoods say that over the last two Fridays the police prevented young people under 45 from passing through the roadblock, during morning and early afternoon hours. This resulted from tension on the Temple Mount and a decision to limit the age of worshipers.

However, this was the first time that people were blocked at the entrance to the municipal area rather than at the entrance to the Old City and the Temple Mount. This is “tantamount to the illegal imprisonment of thousands of residents behind a fence without the possibility of leaving for work, for other errands or medical treatment for themselves or family members,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a letter to the Jerusalem police.

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