When you open your faucet today, think of the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of children and young people aren’t familiar with the wonder of drinking tap water. The adults have already forgotten how easy it is to give one twist, see the water flow and hear lowering tone as the glass fills.
- Israel must rebuild Gaza, big-time
- Israel and the Palestinians are marching together backwards in time
- Gazan time bomb is ticking ever louder
Now they have to go down to the street, wait for the truck with the purified water tank, fill some gallon jugs and carry them back into the building, hoping that the electricity and the elevator are working. Each cubic meter of desalinated water cost 25 to 30 shekels ($6.50 to $7.80), compared to 1 to 3 shekels from the water system.
When you wash your face today, think of the water that comes out of Gaza’s taps. It’s oily and leaves a salty film on one’s skin. Clothes come out of the wash feeling stiff because the water is mixed with seawater, sewage and pesticides.
Some 95 percent of the tap water in Gaza is not potable. That’s why there is high dependence on the 145 public and private installations for desalinating and purifying water. Now the Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH), a coalition of local and international organizations that deals with water and sanitation issues in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is warning that some 68 percent of this purified water is exposed to biological contamination.
Some 200 million cubic meters are extracted every year from the Gaza groundwater, which is recharged by only 55 to 60 million cubic meters – the same recharge as 80 years ago, when only 80,000 people lived there, compared to today’s 1.8 million. Israel sells only a minimal quantity of water to Gaza, between five and eight million cubic meters a year. The United Nations has already warned that by 2020 the damage to the aquifer will be irreversible.
The easiest, fastest and most logical way to stop this humanitarian and environmental disaster would be to pipe a lot more cheap water from Israel into the Strip. The nation of high-tech and drip irrigation can surely organize this.
But the Palestinian Authority and the donor countries are planning large seawater desalination facilities, whose construction has been delayed because of Israeli restrictions on the import of raw materials and the erratic electricity. The PA explains its commitment to this expensive and anti-environmental solution by its desire to minimize its dependence on Israel. Yet it has no problem buying more water from Israel for the West Bank – 50 million cubic meters annually, double what is specified in the Oslo Accords.
So the reason for its opposition apparently lies elsewhere: It fears that the Hamas government will not bother to pay the water bills, as has happened with the electricity bill. Israel will then deduct what is owed directly from the customs duties it collects for the PA and transfers to Ramallah. Once again, the Palestinian people are trapped by the Fatah-Hamas feud.
But the problem began long before the Hamas regime was established in Gaza. The Oslo Accords defined Gaza as self-contained when it comes to water production and consumption. That’s one of the clearest possible proofs that already back then Israel intended to disconnect Gaza from the West Bank, contrary to what was written. The same agreement imposed an outrageously discriminate distribution of the water from the mountain aquifer on the West Bank, with 80 percent of it going to Israelis (within Israel and in the settlements) and 20 percent to the Palestinians. The actual proportion has only gotten worse since then, because the Palestinian wells are old and the new drilling permitted by Israel has proven less successful than expected.
The grandiose plan to desalinate seawater in Gaza sweeps under the carpet the original environmental and political sin – relating to Gaza as an island divorced from the rest of the country. Most Gaza residents and consumers of the water that it doesn’t have are originally from cities and villages that are now in Israeli territory. On a symbolic level, obtaining the right to Israeli-produced water is almost like getting recognition for the right of return. On the political level, there can and must be a sharp increase in the amount of water supplied by Israel to compensate for the water Israel stole and steals from the Palestinians. That would be an acknowledgment of our obligation to equally share the country’s water sources between Arabs and Jews – a principle we aren’t ready to accept.