Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Primacy of Water in the Zionist Project

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Primacy of Water in the Zionist Project

Article excerpt


Zureik slams the door in the face of anyone who continues to believe in the moribund "peace process with its still birth two states solution." His comprehensive review and evaluation of both the conceptual and political literature on Palestine yields a powerful analytical paradigm and unambiguous analysis of the goals of the Zionist Project: to conquer the territory and transform it demographically into a permanent sovereign state for Jews. From its outset, the "Logic of Zionism" was unrelenting in its drive to appropriate the territory and make every trace of Palestinian human and material life disappear. He hammers this point across by documenting the comprehensive array of brutal and bureaucratic methods and tools used to conquer the land and to eliminate Palestinian Arabs, a process continuing today unabated.

Nonetheless, there is missing piece in this extraordinary book. It is the full recognition of the saliency of water resources in the territorial and biopolitical dimensions of his conceptual paradigm. Zureik does take note of the importance of the territoriality of water resources in his reference to the work of Samer Alatout (33-34, electronic copy) and biopolitically to its limited distribution (123, electronic copy), but he does not give water its full weightiness in the Zionist project arsenal. For this reason, my essay focuses on exposing the historical primacy of water to the success of the project. I will end with a general assessment of Palestinian options to challenge and defeat Zionism.

From the beginning of Zionist fixation on Palestine, water resources played a crucial role in Zionist strategy. The problematic for the Zionists was what land area constituted the Palestine they sought to make the Jewish State. The 1919 (Jewish Virtual Library, n.d.) map the World Zionist Organization presented at the Paris Peace Conference was not confined to what ultimately became the final borders of the formalized British Mandate (1923-1948, de facto, 1920-1948). Rather, the Zionists defined Palestine basically by the water resources in and around that area. Therefore, they sought to conquer, integrate, and control the territory on which they were found.

The 1919 map included all of Mandated Palestine, the Syrian Golan Heights, Southern Lebanon up to Sidon, a portion of the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River, and a slice of the Sinai from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The water resources included the aquifers in Palestine, the lush confluence of water resources in the Golan Heights, the Litani River in Lebanon, and the Jordan River cutting through the Jordan Valley in Palestine and Western Jordan. The Sinai area provided strategic and trade access to the Red Sea and proximity to the Suez Canal. (Israel secured free passage in the Suez Canal in 1979 as a result of the Egypt/Israel Peace Treaty.) The map anticipated what level of water would be needed for the projected Jewish state to develop an industrial and agricultural economic base and to provide a Western style of life for Jewish immigrants. After 1967 especially, water distribution of controlled resources would become a tool to debilitate Palestinians under occupation and destroy their livelihood, health, and sanitation. Tracing the history of Zionist territorial strategy and the development of the water infrastructure demonstrates clearly the "Logic of Zionism" (57, electronic copy).

Zionist/Israeli Water Strategy

The Zionists sought control of the water resources even before they conquered all of the territory on which they are found. It was not, however, until they completed their conquest of all of Palestine and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967, as well as Israel's temporary occupation of Southern Lebanon (1978, 1985-2000) that they had unchallenged control over the water resources. A review of this history is instructive.

After the Zionist Basel Conference in 1897 confirmed Palestine as the location for the proposed Jewish State, the World Zionist Organization encouraged Abraham Bourcart, a German engineer, to go to Palestine to study the Jordan Valley Basin and develop plans for the development of regional waters for the benefit and prosperity of the anticipated state. …

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