Titled “Water For One People Only: Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the report is a product of the Ramallah-based non-governmental organization Al-Haq.
The document slams Israel for providing “discriminatory access” to water and enacting “water apartheid” policies that result in the 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem receiving six times the amount of water that the 2.6 million Palestinians in the same area do.
Although Israel has integrated the Palestinian water system with the Israeli one, the government denies the Palestinians control over their resource – forcing them to rely primarily on water from Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, the report argues.
Before the 1995 Oslo II Accords, the Palestinians expected that such an agreement would grant them more undisputed access to their water resources, yet the pact “merely formalized a discriminatory management regime that was largely already in place,” according to the Al- Haq document. The authors blast Israel for maintaining exclusive control over the Mountain Aquifer and accuse Mekorot of continually reducing Palestinian water supplies to satisfy settlement water needs during the summer months.
Describing Israel’s role as that of an “occupying power,” the authors go on to criticize the country for violating international humanitarian law, under which is it not supposed to receive sovereign rights over the occupied territory or its natural resources.
“Israel has extensively and unlawfully appropriated Palestinian water resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the sole benefit of those residing in Israel and Israeli colonies, while maintaining a practice of extensive destruction of Palestinian water infrastructure,” the report says.
Due to the country’s so called exploitation and appropriation of Palestinian natural resources, the authors of the report deem Israel a colonial nation. Whereas Jewish Israelis have the privilege of “an uninterrupted and abundant supply of water,” Palestinians “are denied their basic right to water and full development as a group,” the authors write.
The authors recommend that Israel and third-party states take immediate steps to end the situation and devise structural changes to the management system for shared water resources. In the short and intermediate term, such changes would entail removing the physical obstacles the Palestinians face to accessing water resources, as well as ceasing Israeli extraction of water from the Palestinian portion of the trans-boundary resource, the document says. In the long-term, however, the authors believe that the only solution to a proper division of water resources will be the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
In response to the document, the Israeli Water Authority stressed that “it was not for nothing” that both sides signed the Oslo agreement, which also received the approval of the United States, Russia, the European Union, Norway, Egypt and Jordan.
“It is surprising that the Palestinian Authority uses the subject of water as a ‘political weapon’ while the water agreement granted the Palestinians quantities of water and well-being that they never had before,” the Water Authority said. “If only the Palestinians were focused on implementing the agreement as written – the situation would be even better than it is today.”
Aiming to disprove many of the assertions made through the report, the Water Authority provided a detailed list of water consumption data for both West Bank Jews and Palestinians.
The Water Authority stressed that Israel uses less water from the Mountain Aquifer than in 1967, while the Palestinians are drawing much more from the aquifer compared to before 1967. Meanwhile, settlers use less water than Israel sends into the West Bank, the authority said.
Palestinians consume about 190 million cubic meters of water per year, compared to 60 million cubic meters in 1967 and 118 million cubic meters in 1995 – the year the accords were signed, according to Water Authority data. Whereas only 10 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank were connected to an organized water system before 1967, 95% are today, making their conditions much better than those in most capital cities of Arab countries neighboring Israel, the authority said.
Countering the report’s claims that Israel has sovereign power over decisions regarding water distribution, the Water Authority noted that the Joint Water Committee includes representatives from both Israel and the PA, with the sides enjoying equal status. The Joint Water Committee has approved hundreds of projects, most of which are Palestinian and of which 100 are water wells, the authority added.
To help the Palestinians develop their water system, Israel provides Palestinian water professionals with training and courses on sanitation, waste-water treatment, water reuse and desalination, the Water Authority response stressed.
Opposing the claims that Israel has been violating the Oslo Accords, the Water Authority said that the Palestinians are the ones infringing the agreement. Although the PA is required to purify its sewage, it does not and instead sends about 17 million cubic meters of sewage into Israel annually, the authority noted. This occurs despite international offers worth hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the Palestinian water sector, the response continued. In addition, the PA loses more than 33% of its water due to faulty water pipes, and by reducing losses and treating sewage, could increase its usable water supply by 50 million cubic meters annually, the Water Authority said.
“The report seeks to absolve the Palestinian Authority of its commitments according to the agreement that was signed by them, and makes demands of the State of Israel far beyond what was agreed upon in the water accord,” the Water Authority said.