Israeli Policy of Distribution Creates Unprecedented Water Shortages for West Bank, Gaza Palestinians

By Meehan, Maureen | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Israeli Policy of Distribution Creates Unprecedented Water Shortages for West Bank, Gaza Palestinians


Meehan, Maureen, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Israeli Policy of Distribution Creates Unprecedented Water Shortages for West Bank, Gaza Palestinians

A small crowd of people gathered in the Halit Hadul area of Hebron where the Washington Report began its investigation of this summer's Palestinian water crisis, the worst on record to date. People here and throughout the West Bank were desperate to tell their stories, which were basically the same: they have had no running water for the past four months.

"Not a drop has come out of our water taps for over four months now; our only option is to buy water" said Mohammed al-Kawasme, a resident of the neighborhood, who led a small delegation to the mayor's office to complain and seek solutions to what he describes as an intolerable situation.

"There is no water at the schools for the kids to drink, no water for washing, cooking, drinking, bathing. It's been like this since before the beginning of summer," said Kawasme, whose frustrated neighbors chimed in.

"Either we buy water at a premium from the private trucks or we wait weeks to buy from the city. The crisis has gotten out of hand," added Samir Julani, who, from Kawasme's rooftop, pointed down to his own parched garden of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and herbs. "I know we can't water our plants when we've nothing to drink ourselves, but isn't it sad to see our gardens dry up and die when people are hosing their gardens in the settlement just a few streets away?"

Israel's near absolute control over all water resources in the West Bank and Gaza provides the basis for discriminatory policies and practices which favor the 140,000 Jewish settlers living in these areas while guaranteeing Israel's water access with little obligation to share or distribute it equally.

Palestinian water experts estimate that the amount of water normally available to the nearly two million Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza is less than twothirds of what is needed to meet basic needs. In the case of Hebron, according to the Palestinian Water Authority, daily water use for the city's 120,000 residents is less than 45 liters per capita, whereas each resident in the nearby Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba is guaranteed at least 600 litres daily per person, not taking swimming pools into account. Such contradictions are repeated throughout Palestinian areas of the West Bank, where there are no public swimming pools, parks or playgrounds.

Given the lack of running water, Kawasme explained that people are forced to buy water from private vendors or the city municipality. A tank of 8,000 litres of water from a private vendor, who buys it from Kiryat Arba, costs about $60 (U.S.) while the city sells the same amount for half the price. Unfortunately, city deliveries can take up to a month.

"You could die of dehydration waiting for the city trucks to arrive. Besides, we should have running water just like the settlements," said Kawasme angrily, pointing toward the double barbed-wire fence that encloses Kiryat Arba's 5,800 Jewish residents.

"From our rooftops, we actually see settlers washing their cars," added Hatem Zatari, a biology student at Hebron University. Zatari explained that when people have an opportunity to purchase a full tank of water, they have to store it in old and often dirty wells. Zatari says the quality of the water, even under ideal storage conditions, is questionable.

"We've had numerous children hospitalized with amoebas, dysentery and skin lesions caused by contaminated water," said Zatari, whose extended family of 24 members has to buy water once a week.

Hauling a small (1,000 liters) water tank with his blue tractor, Abed Najari stopped in the road to answer a few questions about how the water sales system works. The otherwise unemployed Najari explained that he can wait up to three hours to buy a tank of water from a Palestinian middleman at a site just outside Kiryat Arba.

"With the tiny hose they use, it takes about half an hour to fill a large tank, so we just wait in line until it's our turn," said the sunbumt Najari. …

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