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UNHRC accuses Israel of restricting access to water "to trigger Palestinian displacement"

January 23, 2014 at 4:58 am

Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem suffer “inequitable” Israeli predominance over their water supplies, claims a report from the UN Human Rights Council. Indeed, Israeli violations of the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories are described as “institutionalised discrimination” in the report, which is the product of an independent international fact-finding mission established in July 2012 by the UN body. The mission’s brief was to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem. Its report accuses Israel of restricting access to water as a means of forcing the displacement of the Palestinians.

The UNHCR report found that the Palestinians in the aforementioned territories have been living in very harsh conditions because of the Israeli settlers, expansion of the Israeli settlements and mistreatment by the Israeli authorities. “The Mission has noted that the identities of settlers who are responsible for violence and intimidation are known to the Israeli authorities, yet these acts continue with impunity.”

The report found that information and testimonies “corroborate the impact of settlement expansion on the right to water of Palestinians… The high discrepancy between water allocation for Palestinians and settlers cause inequitable access.”

Commenting on the system in place for the treatment and use of water resources, the report notes that the capacity of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) to develop new water resources is hampered by the water management arrangements governed by the Interim Agreement and the Joint Water Commission (JWC) that it established. There are “fundamental asymmetries – of power, of capacity, of information” which give Israel predominance in the allocation of West Bank water resources, of which it [Israel] withdraws 90 per cent. This abuse is reflected in the fact that a large number of Palestinian projects are rejected by the JWC. “In Area C, approval is further required from the Israeli Civil Administration, even for small-scale projects such as a well or rainwater collection cistern.”

In fact, even manual transfer of water to the shortage areas is being made very difficult. “The PWA’s ability to transfer water to areas facing water shortages is severely inhibited by the territorial fragmentation, since almost every project implies movement through Area C.” Water resources, the UNHRC points out, have been damaged or destroyed by the construction of the [apartheid] Wall or lost to the seam zone, cutting off villages from their wells, springs and cisterns.

In the Jordan Valley deep water drillings by the Israeli national water company Israeli Mekorot and the agro-industrial Israeli company Mehadrin have caused Palestinian wells and springs to dry up. “Eighty per cent of the total water resources drilled in the area is consumed by Israel and the [illegal] settlements.”

Palestinians in the West Bank who suffer from “chronic shortages” in water supplies are obliged to depend on Mekorot, to which the Israeli authorities gave control of all of the West Bank’s water resources in 1982. It supplies almost half the water needed by Palestinians. “Yet, in the event of a water shortage,” the report notes, “valves supplying Palestinian communities are turned off; this does not happen for settlements.”

While water is piped into the illegal Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank, Palestinian villagers must travel several kilometres to get to water even though there are sources closer to hand serving Israeli settlers. “Settlements benefit from enough water to run farms and orchards, and for swimming pools and spas, while Palestinians often struggle to access the minimum water requirements.”

While each Palestinian, the report reveals, consumes 73 litres of water per day, each Jewish settler consumes 400 litres per day. The minimum amount recommended by the WHO per person is 100 litres per day. Bedouin communities consume just 10-20 litres per person per day, dependant as they are on “expensive and low quality tanker water”.

Restrictions on movement and the ongoing theft of Palestinian the land are also factors creating water shortages. “Restrictions on movement, destruction of infrastructure, expropriations, forced evictions and settler violence, also largely contribute to diminishing access to water for Palestinians,” claims the UNHCR. It quotes last year’s OCHA report to show how “forcible takeovers and vandalism by settlers increasingly impair access to water” for Palestinians.

“In March 2012, 30 springs in the vicinity of settlements had been completely taken over by settlers and 26 were at risk, with settlers fencing them off and threatening villagers,” reported OCHA. “Some of the seized springs are turned into ‘tourist attractions’ or recreational sites, which receive Israeli government support.”

At the end of the chapter describing the situation of water resources, the report mentioned a snapshot statistic about the Israeli aggression against Palestinian water resources: “Destruction of water infrastructure, including rainwater cisterns, by Israeli authorities has increased since the beginning of 2010; double in 2012 compared to 2011.”

The UNHCR report is frank in its assessment of why Israel targets Palestinians and their water resources. “The denial of water is used to trigger [Palestinian] displacement, particularly in areas slated for settlement expansion, especially since these communities are mostly farmers and herders who depend on water for their livelihoods… A number of testimonies highlighted that the cutting off from water resources often precedes dispossession of lands for new settlement projects.”

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