Palestinians blighted by 'water apartheid' in the West Bank

In Israeli households, housewives let their shower water run for minutes on end. Fountains run continuously on their streets and there’s even an annual water fight every year by Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

But in the West Bank, where the apartheid wall already makes life for the Palestinians unbearable, unfair access to water exacerbates their problems. “We only have water two or three times a week”, says Chammud Mostafa, 16, who is washing his father’s butchers shop on one of the lucky days the village of Bir Nabala, in north west Jerusalem, has water. “And when we run out, we have to close the shop. They (Israel) cut the water off sometimes for a whole month."

When tap water runs out, Mostafa's family use water tanks to collect rain water, which he says usually lasts about six days. These black water tanks on the roof tops make Palestinian areas in the West Bank easily recognisable - you will not see one Palestinian home on the landscape without one.

Settlement expansion, among other measures taken by the Israeli authorities, means Palestinians are not only confined to shrinking areas but they are also denied basic rights, especially water.

This has been referred to as “water apartheid”, by Palestinian Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) Al-Haq, which recently released their report Water For One People Only: Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“We are talking about villages targeted by the Israelis, areas where Israelis want to take over the land but without people,” says Shawan Jabarin, general manager of Al-Haq.

The report says that by cutting water to these villages, Israel’s aim is to “forcibly transfer Palestinian communities from their homes, which is instrumental to Israel’s unlawful transfer of its own civilian population into occupied territory.”

“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 stated.

The Israeli authority claims that 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.

But human rights organisations, water NGOs and the Palestinian Water authority identify a vast inequality of access to water between Israelis and Palestinian living inside the Green Line or West Bank. They state that while the Israeli communities have around 280-300 litres per person a day year-round, West Bank Palestinians only have access to about  70 litres a day per person and in some areas and depending on the season,15 litres.

Al-Haq also points out that despite the popular belief that Israel suffers from water shortage, the fact that those residing in Israel and Israeli settlers have unrestricted access to water shows that resources are “plentiful”.

“The lack of sufficient water for Palestinians is a direct result of Israel’s discriminatory policies in water management”, the report states.

According to Al-Haq, the Israeli authorities confiscate and destroy water collection systems which are constructed without an Israeli permit (almost impossible to obtain), including those built by human rights organisations.

“We cannot believe they are still doing this”, says Abeer Kaseem, 30, a project manager and local in Birnabala. “When my son grows up, not only will he not find land to build a house, but he also will not find any drinking water. He will maybe have to buy a bottle for 20 dollars.”

Abeer says that when the families’ water runs out they use a relative’s well, but not everyone has that “privilege”.

“When you’re a big family, the water from the tanks runs out quickly” says Musa Ali, 48, an economist from Alram. “So sometimes I have to go to the supermarket and buy 2 litre bottles. Can you image that I can’t take a shower every day and have to wash my face and make tea with a bottle of water?”

See this Aljzeera report.

*Photo of the Black water tanks on the roof tops of homes in the West Bank taken by the author Marina Watson Peláez.