Water Torture for the Palestinians

Water discrimination is another tool being used to wear down the Palestinians socially and politically.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Why is the Israeli establishment so bent on denying the existence of water discrimination? Because this time the Israeli establishment cannot wrap it in the usual security excuses it resorts to with other sorts of blatant discrimination.

When it comes to the water situation, the Israeli propaganda machine and its helpers, the Zionist lobbies in the Diaspora, are in big trouble. As was clearly shown when the German Martin Schulz had the audacity to inquire in the Knesset – that den of traffickers in the Holocaust – if the rumor he had heard was true [he queried whether Israelis were allotted four times as much water as Palestinians].

The systematic discrimination in water allocations to the Palestinians is no false rumor. Israelis’ water welfare is not dependent upon it, but without it the whole settlement enterprise would be way more expensive, and perhaps even impossible to sustain in its current and planned scope.

No wonder Habayit Hayehudi, the party most identified with the settlers, reacted so furiously to Schulz’s remarks and walked out of the Knesset.

Water discrimination is another governmental tool being used to wear down the Palestinians socially and politically.

In the West Bank, tens of thousands of families expend huge amounts of time, money and emotional and physical energy just to take care of basic things like showers, laundry, and washing floors and dishes. When there’s no water in the toilet cistern, even family visits become rare.

Families in the Jordan Valley haul drinking water in tanks from long distances, and furtively – lest they be discovered by the Civil Administration – while they live right near the Mekorot Water Company’s pipelines that convey plentiful water to settlement farms growing herbs for export.

Gaza, just on the other side of the late Ariel Sharon's Sycamore Ranch and Kibbutz Be’eri, is dependent upon water purification plants that guzzle electricity – often in short supply; it might as well be India.

The time, money and energy that go into obtaining water come at the expense of other things on both the personal and community level: enrichment classes for the children, a computer, family outings, industrial development projects, tourism development, organic agriculture, political and social activity.

While the Palestinians know that Israel is responsible for the water shortage, their anger is directed at the more accessible lightning rod – the Palestinian Authority.

And the employees of the Palestinian water authority, who spend their days in wearying battle with the Israeli occupation bureaucracy to obtain approval for every water pipe, are regarded as uncaring, unprofessional and inefficient. How convenient.

The reality of disjointed Palestinian enclaves that Israel is creating is emerging – through a different patchwork of laws and to different extents on either side of the Green Line – from the seizure of land and water sources, and the denial of freedom of movement.

The religion of security, which is used to justify the land theft, checkpoints and blockade, has yet to come up with an explanation for why a Palestinian child is entitled to less water than a Jewish child.

What can the public diplomacy experts say? That in Jenin the average per-capita allocation is 38 liters for home consumption, because the city is a stronghold of Islamic Jihad, which threatens our small country? That in the summer there is no regular water supply because the Shin Bet security service is busy uncovering cells of armed militants, and that in Gaza, more than 90 percent of the water is unfit for drinking because the Hamas chiefs are planning terrorist attacks in the West Bank?

Even the Jewish communities most dedicated to Israel will have a hard time justifying the discrepancies. And so the establishment has come up with a four-part plan of attack:

1. Bombard the media with partial and faulty statistics;

2. Blur the starting point: Israel controls the water sources. Based on the temporary Oslo Accords, which has since become permanent, the Palestinians are limited in the amount of water they are permitted to independently extract from these sources and in the improvements they can make in the water infrastructure;

3. Rely on the Israeli home front, which dismisses Palestinian reports and ignores reports from organizations such as B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and the documentary film “The Fading Valley” from Irit Gal, and studies published by the World Bank and Amnesty International;

4. Count on most Israelis not troubling to just take a look for themselves at the actual situation. And if they do, and find there to be outrageous discrimination, then count on them saying, “So what?”

A Mekorot Water Co. station. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz