This long-standing aim of the Jewish state has been confirmed by confidential documents published by the British Foreign Office, in which David Ben-Gurion, writing in 1941, said, “We have to remember that for the Jewish state’s ability to survive it must have within its borders, the waters of the [rivers] Jordan and Litani“ (links in arabic, translations will follow)
Israel’s control of Arab water
Since 1948 the Israeli authorities have sought to control the majority of the water resources in Palestine.
After the 1967 war Israel gained control of the main Arab water sources in the Middle East,
1. The upper Jordan River basin, which originates from Lebanon and Syria:
Israel Seized the Jordan River and stored its water in Lake Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee), then transported the water from north to south to feed the different areas of Israel. Israel gets 60% of this water, while Jordan gets 25% and Syria 15%, despite its source being within Syria’s borders. It has also prevented the Palestinians from reaching the Jordan River, destroyed all their pumps on the river and evicted the farmers.
2. As a result of the diversion of water from the river by Israel the land on both banks has been affected, while the salt level in the water has increased considerably.
3. Yarmouk River basin shared between Jordan and Syria:
When Israel occupied the Golan Heights, it prevented Syria from benefiting from its water; today 30% of Israel’s water comes from the Golan Heights. It also captured the Syrian water source in the Yarmouk River Basin. The Golan Heights is the main source of water flowing to the Jordan River and Lake Tiberius, which provide water to Syria, Jordan and Palestine; this is why Israel refuses to give up these water sources in any negotiations with Syria.
4. Large underground reservoirs in the West Bank, known as the Reservoir of the Mountain and the Mountain-Well; the Palestinians have been unable to have access to them since 1967.
- When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 it controlled nearly 30% of the Litani River, and during the occupation of Lebanon in 1982 the Israelis benefited from the Wazzani and the Litani’s waters, transferring water from them to Israel, while expelling the Lebanese farmers dependent on them.
- In 1989 the Israelis took advantage of the Hasbani and Wazzani waters by installing pipes for themselves, and despite withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 there are still many Israeli artesian wells on the borders which reduce the groundwater in Lebanese territory.
- Israel uses various means to control the waters of the River Nile, which is 6825 km long and has two main sources; the Equatorial Lakes Region of Southern Sudan and the Ethiopian plateau. Israel tries from time to time to cooperate with Ethiopia to build dams and other facilities to control the Nile waters, seeking to reduce Egypt’s share of water and put pressure on it in order to secure its share of Nile water. This much has been disclosed by senior officials.
Abdel-Rahman Tamimi, a water expert, says that the water battle with the occupation started early on, with military orders and systematic control of water basins, wells and springs since the occupation of the West Bank started in 1967. According to Mr. Tamimi, the water sources were placed under the control of the Israeli Civil Administration in the 1970s, and even after the Oslo agreement they remained under Israeli control, “which exacerbated the water problem in the West Bank.”
The Gaza Strip depends on the coastal underground water reservoir that lies under the Mediterranean Sea between Rafah in the south and north of Mount Carmel, a total area of 2200 km2, of which 400 km2 is located underneath the Gaza Strip. This groundwater is largely independent of the groundwater inside Israel because of the flow of water in an east-west direction into the reservoir; thus, the amount of water available to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip would be reasonable had Israel not confiscated more than 80% of the Palestinian groundwater to make up 20% of the Israelis’ total water consumption which stands at 2 billion cubic metres per annum. Due to this, it is estimated that this underground fresh water source will run dry within the next 8 years.
The Water Authority says that the rate of water available per person per day is about 80 litres, equivalent to half the recommendation of the World Health Organization.
The rate of water consumption of Israel citizens is 344 million cubic metres per year, while the consumption of Palestinians stands at 93 million cubic metres per year. The domestic consumption of Israelis amounts to 98 million cubic metres, while for Palestinians it comes to 56 million cubic metres per year. It is clear that the Israelis use and waste more water than anyone else in the region.
It must be noted that Israel has not allowed the Palestinians to control their water according to their needs, but tied them up in resolutions through which the Jewish state:
1. Limits the amount of water withdrawals to no more than 100 cubic metres per hour.
2. Limits the depth of drilled wells to 140 metres, requiring specific types of old pumps which are permitted in the West Bank, essentially limiting the capacity to extract water from these wells.
3. Dug huge wells in strategic areas where water accumulates across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in order to steal Palestinian water (60 wells in the West Bank, 43 in the Gaza Strip, and 26 along the armistice line between Gaza and Israel.
4. Adopted a strategy of building small dams to prevent the natural flow of surface water to the Palestinian areas thus allowing the transfer of high quality water from Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories into Israeli cities, or selling this water to the Palestinians.
5. Builds settlements such that they are in areas with the highest quality underground water reserves to allow Israel to seize the water, directly or indirectly, a policy which has lead to the depletion of groundwater in the Gaza Strip.
According to a study by the Palestinian Information Centre, 150 Palestinian residential communities in the West Bank are not part of the water distribution networks. Most residents in these communities suffer from water shortages.
Hebron as a model
The city of Hebron, in the south of the West Bank, is considered the most deprived Palestinian city in terms of lack of water, where the average Palestinian individual consumes as little as 10 litres of water per day for extended periods of time.