“Water is Life”

“Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly,
who despise the gain of oppression,
who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it,
who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shut their eyes from looking on evil,
they will live on the heights;
their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks;
their food will be supplied, their water assured.”

Isaiah 33:15-16

While Israeli settlements along the West Bank and Gaza are often the focus of international protests, Israeli control and restriction of water to the Palestinian people represents a human rights violation. The right to water has been recognized by the UN 17 times since the first United Nations Water Conference in March 1977, which stated: “All peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality equal to their basic needs.” The right to clean water has also been upheld during the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination on Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.N. General Assembly explicitly recognized water and sanitation as a human right in July, 2010 acknowledging that both are vital to the realization of all human rights. (Resolution 64/292)

Yet under Israeli military occupation , the rights of all are present for only the few. The flow of water, controlled by the Israeli government to the Palestinian people, equals approximately 79 liters per person a day – far short of the 100 liters per capita recommended by the World Health Organization. Israeli water consumption, at 300 liters daily, is more than four times that of many Palestinian people. Some rural Palestinian communities receive as little as 20 liters of water per day. In Area C, a rural community, the residents are not even connected to a central water supply and collect rainwater for daily use.

Whereas rural Palestinians have no access to running water, Israeli settlers have irrigated farms, lush gardens and swimming pools. Under Occupation, control of water has been weaponized by the Israeli government for use against Palestinians – particularly those in agricultural areas. Through the deliberate destruction of wells and ancient cisterns, the Israeli government has encouraged Palestinian people to abandon desertified land, thus enabling occupiers to redirect these water resources to support settlement growth.

Discriminatory Water Allocations

The Oslo Accords perpetuated a discriminatory water allocation between Israel and Palestine. This agreement, intended to be an interim 5 year agreement (ending in 1999) continues until today. Under the accords, 80% of the water from one of three underground water aquifers shared by Israel and Palestine is to be allotted to Israel. This allocates only 20 % of the water from this mountain aquifer to Palestinians. Additionally, there is no cap to the supply of water that Israelis may take, whereas the Palestinian water supply is predetermined according to terms active prior to the signing of the Accords. While the Palestinians proceeded in “good faith” in signing the accords, they didn’t account for the fact that now, years later, an interim agreement has calcified into a defacto permanent arrangement under the Occupation whereby access to water is used to impoverish and control the Palestinian populace.

In a paper on Palestinian Water Rights, the Center for Economic and Social Rights ( CESR) states that, Israel has continued illegal appropriation of Palestinian water resources since 1995 until the present. Although the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) was included in the Oslo II agreement, it continues to have no regulatory control over the total flow and volume of water available to occupied Palestinian territories. The PWA’s latitude is limited to merely allocating the amount of water provided by Israel. The report concludes that despite Israeli control of water resources for all cities and villages connected to the water infrastructure, the blame most often falls upon the Palestinian Water Authority, rather than Israel, for the scarcity of water to the Palestinian people.

Presently, the Palestinians in the West Bank must purchase water from Mekorot (Israel’s National Water Company). Even though, Israel sells the Palestinians water at two and a half times the volume originally specified by the Accords, it is a far cry from what is needed to fulfill demand. Israel must also approve the building of new wells, cisterns, or repairs to the water infrastructure. Because such approval within Palestine is rare, deteriorating pipes in the system break and leakage/water waste occurs.

Palestinian residents must deal with water shut-offs for days or even weeks at a time. Due to limited supplies, authorities must provide water by rotation or water must be trucked-in – at exorbitant cost to the people. This is especially trying during the summer season. In contrast, Israelis have unlimited running water year round.

With demand for water already outstripping supply, the water situation in this region is no longer sustainable. Water is a resource that crosses political boundaries. Use of this precious resource by the Israeli government as a weapon or as a means of gaining additional territory is a human rights violation. Conservation, de-salination, wastewater usage, and other technical advances may be part of an ongoing answer, but an improved political atmosphere that addresses the inter-dependence of Israel on Palestine is needed to move both discussion and action ahead. Israel must be committed to an equitable sharing of water resources with the Palestinian people. In so doing, they will honor Isaiah 33:15-16 and respect their “shared” humanity with their closest neighbors.


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