Troubled waters.

Author:Hutchinson, Kerry
Position:Special Feature/WATER - Water source control in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories

Water--or lack of it--has long been a source of concern to countries of the Middle East. The issue is particularly testing in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories where, while Arab families live under harsh restrictions that fall well below World Health Organisation guidelines, Jewish settlers enjoy the benefits of indoor plumbing, swimming pools and sufficient water to keep their gardens blooming. However, this does not need to be the case. Kerry Hutchinson investigates how the unequal fight for control of water sources in the West Bank is made worse by incoherent water policies.

While statistics can be produced to manipulate whatever 'fact' the proposer wishes to establish as a ground truth, nature is oblivious to such human data manipulations--her truths are immutable.

The man-made 'truths' over water in the Occupied Territories vary depending on whose statistics you believe. One set of figures show the Palestinians have adequate water supplies, whereas others indicate they are being denied access to even the most basic water needs. The reality involves vast disparity, widespread mismanagement and overall indifference from those in a position to instigate change.

Clearly, each side is stealing water from the other. Israeli settlers assault Palestinian farmers and fence off access to Palestinian water sources, or turn them into 'tourist attractions', before denying access to Arabs on so called 'security grounds'. Palestinians syphon off what they can, at personal risk, to circumvent the draconian restrictions imposed upon them. However, what remains undeniable is that while water is freely available to fill the swimming pools of some, it remains off-limits to others to drink or cultivate crops.

Two Parliamentary Enquiries in Israel, in 2002 and 2008, ended in acrimony, with ministries refusing to cooperate with each other on a common approach; refusing to invest in desalination plants, in case this would meant having to share land and aquifers with the Palestinians, and introducing a water tax to punish the high use of domestic water on one hand while, at the same time, allowing Jewish settlers to water their lawns and fill their swimming pools tax-free, prompting exasperated Israeli water experts to compare the state's mismanagement of water with that of a failing Third World state.

The conditions were set decades before the Six-Day War. "The economic life of Palestine," Chaim Weizmann told the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, "depends on the available water supply. It is, therefore, of vital importance not only to secure all water resources already feeding the country, but also to be able to conserve and control them at their sources." So the proponents of a Jewish homeland knew right from the start that they needed to offer more than parched desert to potential migrants from the diaspora. Theodore Hertzl, and after him Vladimir Yabotinski, had no illusions as to how conserving and controlling water was to be achieved. It meant dismissing the conditions of the 1916 Balfour Declaration, grabbing control...

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