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ISRAEL: Water woes


Israel's geographic location, steady population increase and rising living standards place a chronic strain on the country's limited water resources. Now, four consecutive years of drought are pushing the water problem into a full-blown crisis.

The shortage touches all areas of life -- agriculture and the environment as well as personal hygiene. Twenty-five years ago, "Raful," as then-agriculture-minister Rephael Eitan was known, proposed that Israelis shower in pairs. Fun as that may be, long-term national planning would have been more effective, according to a parliamentary inquiry committee on the Israeli water sector in 2002. More recently, national infrastructures minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer initiated an emergency plan that will, among other things, dramatically increase the country's desalinization capabilities.

Israelis are aware of the problem, even if not everyone applies themselves to conservation. Many actually listen when weather reporters speak animatedly about how much rain fell where, and monitoring the water level in the Kinneret -- the country's only natural freshwater lake-- is something of a national sport. Some websites affectionately indicate the sorry levels with a rubber duck bobbing up and down.

A media campaign run by the country's Water Authority offers a series of short spots urging conservation in all possible spheres, reminding the public that every drop counts.

So, FYI:

  • Cutting shower time by two minutes saves about 10 gallons of water.
  • Closing a dripping faucet saves 16.
  • Using the toilet economy-flush saves about 5 gallons a day.

The average Israeli uses about 42 gallons of water per day; the campaign hopes to encourage a 10% cut.

Israel's neighbors are in a similar predicament. Syria is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years with devastating effects on farming.

Water, like other resources, has strategic importance both regionally and globally. Last week, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson met with Israeli officials; in addition to renewable energy issues, the sides discussed cooperation in protecting Israel's water sources. Israel has good cooperation with Jordan on water issues, but the Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference on water, scheduled for this week in Jordan, was postponed due to disputes between Israel and the Arab League.

Pastorrabbi Although water was the subject of tense regional politics this week, it also was at the center of a successful cooperative effort that resulted in a new reservoir. Recently, the Dovrat-Scott Bauer Memorial Reservoir was dedicated in northern Israel. The $1.25 million for the reservoChristian_delegation_2ir built by the Jewish National Fund was donated by the Church on the Way in Van Nuys. The facility will hold purified wastewater for irrigating nearby farmlands and is named after Scott Bauer, the pastor who died at the pulpit in 2003 shortly after pledging his church's commitment to the project in the name of their deep love for Israel.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Photos: Top, an Israeli man walks past sinkholes caused by water shortagesnear the kibbutz of Ein Gedi in the Jordan Valley on September 10, 2008. Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Below left, executive pastor Dan Hicks, Church on the Way, and JNF Rabbi Yerahmiel Barylka, who held a joint prayer at the reservoir site. Right, the 80-strong church delegation, inlcuding many members of Scott Bauer's family. Credit: Michael Huri

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

Comments () | Archives (1)

How typical. No mention whatsoever of the fact that 'Israeli' water is actually Palestinian water.

West Bank Water Usage

* Of the water available from West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 73%, West Bank Palestinians use 17%, and illegal Jewish settlers use 10%.
* While 10-14% of Palestine’s GDP is agricultural, 90% of them must rely on rain-fed farming methods. Israel’s agriculture is only 3% of their GDP, but Israel irrigates more than 50% of its land.
* Three million West Bank Palestinians use only 250 million cubic meters per year (83 cubic meters per Palestinian per year) while six million Israelis enjoy the use of 1,954 million cubic meters (333 cubic meters per Israeli per year), which means that each Israeli consumes as much water as four Palestinians. Israeli settlers are allocated 1,450 cubic meters of water per person per year.
* Israel consumes the vast majority of the water from the Jordan River despite only 3% of the river falling within its pre-1967 borders. Israel now diverts one quarter of its total water consumption through its National Water Carrier from the Jordan River, whereas Palestinians have no access to it whatsoever due to Israeli closures.

“There is no reason for Palestinians to claim that just because they sit on lands, they have the rights to that water.”

– Mr. Katz-Oz, Israel’s negotiator on water issues [1]

International Law

* Under international law it is illegal for Israel to expropriate the water of the Occupied Palestinian Territories for use by its own citizens, and doubly illegal to expropriate it for use by illegal Israeli settlers [2].
* Also under international law, Israel owes Palestinians reparations for past and continuing use of water resources. This should include interest due to loss of earnings from farming.

Israeli Actions

* Israel does not allow new wells to be drilled by Palestinians and has confiscated many wells for Israeli use. Israel sets quotas on how much water can be drawn by Palestinians from existing wells.

An Israeli lawn is watered with five sprinklers.
Israeli settlers have no restrictions on water use.

* When supplies of water are low in the summer months, the Israeli water company Mekorot closes the valves which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as not to affect Israeli supplies. This means that illegal Israeli settlers can have their swimming pools topped up and lawns watered while Palestinians living next to them, on whose land the settlements are situated, do not have enough water for drinking and cooking.
* Israel often sells the water it steals from the West Bank back to the Palestinians at inflated prices.
* During the war of 1967, 140 Palestinian wells in the Jordan Valley were destroyed to divert water through Israel’s National Water Carrier. Palestinians were allowed to dig only 13 wells between 1967 and 1996, less than the number of wells which dried up during the same period due to Israel’s refusal to deepen or rehabilitate existing wells.
* The Gaza strip relies predominately on wells that are being increasingly infiltrated by salty sea water because Israel is over-pumping the groundwater. UN scientists estimate that Gaza will have no drinkable water within fifteen years.


Yanoun spring
The main spring in the Palestinian village of Yanoun suffers damages and contamination inflicted by illegal Israeli settlers.

* In Madama village 50km north of Jerusalem settlers from Yizhar settlement have repeatedly vandalized the villager’s only source of water. They have poured concrete into it, vandalized the connecting pipes and even dropped disposable diapers and other hazardous waste into the springs. Three villagers have been attacked by settlers while trying to repair the water source [3].
* Constant settler attacks on the community of Yanoun, Nablus governorate, located next to the Itamar settlement, peaked in October 2002 when masked settlers charged into the village with dogs and caused significant damage to the water network, several roof tanks, and the local spring, which is considered to be the main source of water for the community. The main line supplying water to the community from the main spring, as well as the pump, reservoir, fittings and valves were all damaged by settlers. Residents of the community were forced to buy water from tankers from the neighboring community. Tanker access was very difficult due to Israeli closures and checkpoints as well as settler threats and terror which included shootings, beatings, and harassment [4].

Water and the Wall

water reservoir
This water reservoir, located in the village of Attil, Tulkarem district, is isolated by the Wall from the community it serves. It is in the area between the Wall and the Green Line, which Israel is attempting to annex in violation of the Road Map and of international law.

* Many of the most important underground wellsprings in the West Bank are located just to the east of the Green Line dividing Israel from Palestine. Israel has built the Wall not only to annex land but also to annex many of these wells in order to divert water to Israel and illegal West Bank settlements.
* The Wall is not only an Apartheid Wall, but also a water wall. Some of the largest Israeli settlements (such as Ariel and Qedumin) are built over the Western mountain aquifer, directly in the middle of the northern West Bank agricultural districts, and this is exactly where the wall cuts deepest into Palestinian territory to surround and annex this vital water source.
* The building of the Wall has caused the village of Falamya in Qalqiliya district to lose its main source of water. In Jayyous, a village near Falamya, all of its seven water wells have been annexed or destroyed by the Apartheid Wall.
* In the West Bank, around 50 groundwater wells and over 200 cisterns have been destroyed or isolated from their owners by the Wall. This water was used for domestic and agricultural needs by over 122,000 people. To build the Wall, 25 wells and cisterns and 35,000 meters of water pipes have also been destroyed [5].
* In 2003, the losses incurred by Palestinian farmers due to the Wall diverting water resources has been 2,200 tons of olive oil, 50,000 tons of fruit, and 100,000 tons of vegetables [6].
* The Wall is obstructing many water run-off flows in the Qalqiliya region that normally divert water to prevent flooding. During heavy rains in February 2005, Israeli soldiers refused to open drainage pipes in Qalqiliya, which led to heavy flood damage to crops and homes there. The Wall also caused severe flooding in Zububa and other villages.

Under the conditions brought about by the siege imposed by Israeli occupation forces, civilians in the occupied territories are suffering from lack of access to necessary resources for the maintenance of their daily needs and basic health.


2. Article 1(2) of the 1966 United Nations Human Rights Covenants proclaims: “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based on the principle of mutual benefit and international law. . .”
3., (November 2003)
4. “Incursions & Destruction,” Palestinian Hydrology Group
5. The Water and Sanitation Hygiene Monitoring Project (WaSH MP)


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