“Israeli households have access to three to five times more daily water supply than the average Palestinian household.”
The control of water resources has long been used as a means of exerting dominance in colonial settings. This is evident in the occupied West Bank, where Israel has maintained control over water since its occupation began in 1967. The Israeli apartheid regime implements policies that aim to uphold Jewish supremacy in the region, including land and immigration policies, movement restrictions, and the management of water resources. This control over water allows for a significant disparity in water consumption, with one group enjoying ample access to water regardless of weather conditions or climate change, while the other group, the Palestinian population, faces a chronic water crisis that is further exacerbated by climate change.
This dehumanization has allowed Israel to utilize basic resources such as water as a means of control and to pursue political objectives, even if it means depriving millions of people of access to water. This dehumanization also enables a systematic and cruel campaign to deprive vulnerable Palestinian communities in arid areas of the West Bank of their water sources, even during scorching summers. This strategy serves to further dispossess Palestinians of their possessions and land, facilitating Israel’s settlement project and territorial expansion goals.
While Palestinians have experienced water shortages, Israelis and Jewish settlers have had an abundant water supply. The daily allocation of water to Israelis and Jewish settlers is three to five times higher than that provided to the average Palestinian household. Shockingly, Palestinian consumption falls almost 30 percent below the minimum amount recommended by the World Health Organization. Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers reside in close proximity to the freshwater resources, suggesting the potential for equal water consumption. However, Israeli water policy has made achieving this equality essentially impossible, resulting in a startling disparity.
A United Nations report reveals that Israeli settlers consume an astonishing 300 liters of water per day, while Palestinians in the occupied West Bank receive a meager 70 liters. Additionally, tens of thousands of Palestinians residing off the water grid have a daily consumption of only around 30 liters, a mere 10% of the Israeli figure. Both of these figures fall significantly below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 100 liters per day. While Israelis have the luxury of watering their lawns and enjoying large swimming pools, Palestinians a few kilometers away are suffering from thirst, a literal matter of life and death.
The actions of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, have resulted in reduced water allocations to the West Bank. This reduction followed significant cuts to water supplies in the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem, causing severe shortages for Palestinian residents who endured long queues and growing frustration. Mekorot has faced ongoing criticism for exploiting and depleting water resources in Occupied Palestine.
Al-Haq, a Palestinian NGO, strongly condemned Mekorot for diverting water from Palestinian communities and cities in the Occupied West Bank to support illegal Israeli settlements. They highlighted the blatant discrimination in denying Palestinians their rightful access to water resources. Al-Haq called for the immediate cessation of Mekorot’s operations in the Occupied Territories to prevent further violations of human rights and potential war crimes.
These occurrences are indicative of a troubling trend of attacks on Palestinian water resources. Israel’s continuous targeting of water infrastructure, including pipelines, sewage treatment facilities, and pumping stations, demonstrates an intention that extends beyond mere tactical advantage. The appeal of this strategy lies in its ability to swiftly and severely affect the Palestinian population, aiming to undermine their morale and well-being.
Israel’s military offensives in various years, including 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021, and August 2022, have had devastating consequences. For example, Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 led to the damage or destruction of 11 wells, four reservoirs, pumping stations, a sewage treatment plant, over 19,920 meters of water pipes, 2,445 meters of sewage pipes, and sections of the electricity network critical for effective wastewater treatment. Similarly, Operation Protective Edge in 2014 caused extensive harm to wells, water reservoirs, wastewater treatment plants, desalination plants, and pumping stations.
During the 11-day period in May 2021, airstrikes targeted 13 water wells, three desalination plants, and roughly 250,000 meters of water pipes, including the main pipeline that carries water purchased from Mekorot. Furthermore, three days of strikes in early August 2022 inflicted damage on sections of the water network, and a temporary fuel shortage resulted in a significant decrease in water production and delivery, reaching over 50 percent reduction in some areas.
Decades of peace negotiations have failed to empower Palestinians with control over their own resources. Despite the Oslo Accords, which were intended to grant some political agency to Palestinians, access to water remains limited and deeply uneven. In fact, the accords merely solidified the unjust distribution of water in the region, giving a semblance of legality to these detrimental practices.
Even in areas of the West Bank under Palestinian administration, Israeli troops routinely demolish rain cisterns, pipelines, and agricultural water structures. Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, has diligently documented numerous instances of such destruction in a report highlighting the immense hardships faced by West Bank residents.
For instance, a case study detailed the destruction of a farmer’s well in a village east of Jenin. The military claimed it was unauthorized by Israel, even though an Israeli permit is supposedly unnecessary in the Palestinian-administered Area B of the West Bank where these villages are located. These operations demonstrate the disturbing coordination between civil and military channels, effectively restricting Palestinian access to water. It is an alarming system that has remarkably achieved its goal of hindering Palestinian access to this crucial resource.
As per the 1995 Oslo Accords, Israel has the right to use a significant 80 percent of the West Bank’s groundwater and the entire surface water from the Jordan River Basin. Unfortunately, the limited 15 percent allocation to the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not meet the needs of the growing population in the Occupied Territories. Today, the population has increased by 75 percent since the signing of the Accords. The Israeli water company, Mekorot, holds almost complete control over water distribution, allowing it to determine where water flows. Unfortunately, this power is being used to advance Jewish settlements, as rural Palestinians are being forced off their land and into crowded cities due to the lack of reliable water access in their villages.
A prominent feature of Palestinian buildings are the numerous large water tanks that are scattered across their rooftops. These plastic containers, which can hold several thousand liters, are filled whenever there is a delivery of running water. In most urban areas, water delivery occurs only once or twice a week. The idea is that once the rooftop tanks are filled, they should be sufficient to meet the water needs for the remainder of the week or even the entire month. However, many larger households find themselves running out of water and are forced to purchase it at inflated prices from water trucks or from supermarkets.
For more than a decade, Israeli settlers have been taking control of springs, either for their own personal use or to develop exclusive tourist sites accessible only to Israelis. The Israeli government has also taken drastic measures, such as sealing off certain springs completely. Disturbingly, there have been instances where soldiers were caught on film filling a village spring with concrete. These actions, along with intentionally damaging the water tanks and cisterns of the residents, are part of a broader strategy employed by Israel to coerce the residents of Masafer Yatta – a group of villages located in a vast semi-desert area south of Hebron – to leave their homes.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has strongly criticized Israel’s blockade, stating that it amounts to collective punishment and is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Access to water is not only essential for public health but also a fundamental human right, as recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2010 (A/RES/64/292) and rooted in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
However, Western countries, some of which have their own history as colonizing powers, have shown little will to enforce international humanitarian law in the case of Israel. They have chosen to overlook the damning assessment of the blockade’s impact and instead focused on implementing technical solutions to mitigate the dire situation faced by the captive population in Gaza, without actively demanding an end to the blockade. Furthermore, promised aid from these countries has frequently failed to materialize, exacerbating the crisis.
The use of water as a weapon, when combined with violent intent, has devastating consequences. The lack of sufficient access to water poses significant challenges for Palestinian communities. Given these realities, the act of weaponizing water by Israel against Palestine is not simply a strategic maneuver; it can be considered a crime against humanity. Ralph Lemkin, the term’s originator, defined genocide as a deliberate plan aimed at destroying the essential foundations of the life of national groups, leading to their ultimate demise, much like plants affected by a blight. To prevent such devastation in the Gaza Strip, the international community must immediately cease its complicity in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people and exert pressure on Israel to lift its blockade. It is now indispensable to take action and avert the continuation of this humanitarian crisis.