Source: Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Jan-Mar97, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p15, 51p.

The conflict and problems over water in the occupied Palestinian territories, and in the Middle East as a whole, stem ;from three crucial factors: Israel's continuing occupation of Palestinian land and territorial expansion; the consequent political uncertainty in the wider Middle East that prevents joint management of and accountability for largely shared water resources; and limited water resources themselves, which, in this semiarid region, are vital .for development and impinge on wider security issues .for all countries in the region.

The Occupied Territories and Israel are dependent on the same water resources, and the current use and control of this water is based on Israel's territorial control and political objectives. By focusing on four general areas of inquiry, namely water resources in the Occupied Territories and Israel; international law dealing with water and land issues; historical antecedents; and Israeli policies, this study makes a major contribution to the literature in terms of setting the framework for further analysis of the current critical issue of water availability and use in the region.

Water Resources

Renewable water sources in the Occupied Territories and Israel are all rain fed and comprise groundwater and surface water. The groundwater sources consist of underground aquifers and subaquifers that are recharged by rainwater and underground flows between the basins. The surface water sources consist of perennial and seasonal rivers and lakes, the Jordan River and its tributaries, and Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) being the major ones.

Occupied Territories

The West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute two quite different areas in terms of topography, geology, and rainfall patterns. This is reflected in their different water resources.

The West Bank. In the hilly West Bank, the annual rainfall varies between 500709 mm (20-27 inches) on the western slopes and 100-500 mm (4-27 inches) on the eastern slopes.[1] Falling mainly during the short rainy season (November-May), rainfall is the West Bank's main source of water; 68 percent evaporates and the rest percolates down to replenish the aquifer that the springs tap. A small amount drains off as surface runoff. The only perennial surface source is the River Jordan, which runs along the West Bank's eastern border. Groundwaters, i.e., the aquifers, thus constitute the major source of water.

The Gaza Strip. In the Gaza Strip, groundwater is the only significant source of water. This is replenished directly by rain water infiltration and by underground flows from the Naqab (Negev) in the east in areas inside of the "Green Line." At present, groundwater sources are replenished by rainfall, irrigation runoff, and cesspool sources, the latter two of which result in severe contamination of the groundwater reserves. In addition, Israel's overpumping inside the "Green Line" is preventing replenishment of the Gaza Strip aquifer by freshwater.

Situated along the southwest coastal plain of historic Palestine and bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the Gaza Strip has an arid climate. There are no permanent surface water sources. Although in some years there is a little temporary surface runoff (for example in 1992, when the area experienced a heavy winter rainfall), almost none of this water is collected. Annual rainfall is far lower than in the West Bank (falling from 350 mm in the north to 150 mm in the south) and rates of evaporation are extremely high.[2]

Groundwater Resources

Two ground aquifers straddle the border between the West Bank and Israel: the Turonian-Cenomanian (or Yarkon-Taninim) aquifer of the Ajlun series (the Israeli name is the Judea Group), the so-called mountain aquifer; and the Eocene aquifer of the Jenin subseries of the Belqa series (the Israeli name is the Avdat subgroup of the Mt. Scopus Group).

Extending along the western drainage basin of the West Bank, the Turonian-Cenomanian aquifer has the largest outcrop area and the largest annual replenishment of all aquifers in the West Bank, accounting for 335 mcm or 57 percent of total average replenishment.[3] As a result of a severe drop in the water table in past years, however, water now has to be pumped out of the aquifer. The Eocene aquifer, extending across the Jenin and Nablus areas in the northern West Bank, accounts for 140 mcm or 24 percent of total aquifer replenishment in the West Bank. The same source reports that together, these two aquifers account for 82 percent of all average annual replenishment in the West Bank. The remaining 18 percent comes from aquifers within the Jordan Valley drainage basin.[4]

Surface supplies flowing into the West Bank from the Jordan River basin have been reduced to a trickle of polluted water due to Israel's increased use. Surface runoff into the Gaza Strip from the Naqab has decreased as a result of Israeli dams that tap water that would otherwise flow into the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip's groundwater sources consist of a number of subaquifers whose salinity is so high, and water levels so low, that they are dangerous and inadequate for domestic and agricultural purposes. According to a Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs study, the situation has reached a critical point as "high salinity is a direct effect of over-pumping of the aquifer."[5] Similar to a process taking place in Israel, and due to the over exploitation of groundwater resources, the water table level had, in some areas (Beit Lahiya and the area west of Deir al-Balah), reached sea level. As Israeli hydrologist J. Schwarz concludes, " ... these generally low water table levels will inevitably result in seawater intrusion into the aquifers up to a distance of 1.5 km or more from the coast."[6] This is a condition or series of events that the Israeli State Comptroller has described as "critical."[7] The increased salinity in the Gaza Strip has been caused by

groundwater entering from the east, having a chloride content of some 600-2000 mg/litre;

seawater intrusion from the west (reported in 1989 to be 1.51 meters in the freshwater aquifer);

upconing (the upward movement) of deeper, more saline groundwater.[8]

Prospects for the future are not good. Schwarz believes there will be a water deficit of between 200-409 mcm per year in the Gaza Strip by the end of this century?

Wells and Springs. Most of the water consumed for domestic use and irrigation in Palestinian towns and villages comes from wells that tap the aquifers. Although figures for the number of wells vary, Palestinian economist Hisham Awartani notes that approximately 750 wells existed at the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, only 413 of which were in operation? By 1990, approximately 364 Palestinian owned wells were functioning in the West Bank, in addition to the 32 wells drilled by the Israeli water company, Mekorot, for Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

According to Palestinian engineer and Director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG), Abdel Rahman Tamimi, an additional source of water, natural springs, also exists in the Occupied Territories. Numbering around 527 in the West Bank, their water potential is approximately 50 mcm per year.[11] They are one of the main sources of water for drinking and irrigation, and provide an inexpensive and guaranteed source of water for many villages in the West Bank if the aquifer is not overpumped by Israel.

Figures for the number of wells in the Gaza Strip, for both domestic and irrigation purposes, vary significantly. Between 1,700 and 2,072 wells are currently in operation, of which between 28 and 40 are for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers.[12] Most of these wells were drilled before 1967, except those supplying water to Israeli settlements that have been drilled more recently. According to a September 5, 1990, Jerusalem Post article, of the total number of wells estimated to be used by Palestinians, around 50 are for domestic purposes and approximately 1,700 are used for the irrigation of food crops. Records reflect that as early as 1985, a total of 21-25 mcm of water were pumped from wells for drinking supplies and 51-66 mcm for agricultural use, approximately 30 mcm more than the 90 mcm estimated renewable reserves from the Gaza Strip's groundwater resources.[13]

Israeli Settlements. Although the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that "Jewish communities in the Gaza district [sic] derive their water from sophisticated drilling operations that collect water that would otherwise flow into the sea. ... ,"[14] this is not correct. Not only has Mekorot drilled 31 wells in the southern Gaza Strip for the settlements' domestic and agricultural use, but there have been reports of water being transferred from the Gaza Strip for use inside Israel.[15] It is quite clear that drilling for the exclusive use of settlers has, in some instances, caused neighboring Palestinian wells to go dry.

Israel's Sources

A 1990 report by the Bank of Israel indicates the source of Israel's water supplies:

Thirty-seven percent from the Jordan River and Lake Tiberius;

Thirty-eight percent from the two transboundary aquifers located under the West Bank;

Twenty-five percent from other small aquifers situated under the West Bank and Israel.[16]

Israel's groundwater sources are the two main aquifers: The Turonian-Cenomanian and Eocene under the West Bank, in addition to the coastal aquifers extending into the Gaza Strip, and a number of small subaquifers in the Jordan Valley. According to water analyst Karen Assaf, in the coastal plain aquifer and the foothill aquifers of the Turonian-Enomanian group, "underground water storage has become an integral part of Israel's water supply system," and Israel artificially recharges water in the ground to supplement existing groundwater. Most of this recharge utilizes flood water or wastewater reclamation which is then used to replenish overexploited aquifers which in turn prevents further sea water intrusion? It is also used to supply the Israeli National Water Carrier, and to provide a storage of surplus water for future use. Underground water storage is particularly suitable given the climatic and geographic conditions in the area.

Regional Water

A summary of Jordan, southern Lebanon, and Syria is given below to illustrate the regional nature and interdependency of the area's water sources and the similarity between Israeli activities in southern Lebanon, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Occupied Territories.

Southern Lebanon. Israel is able to freely divert water from the two major rivers in southern Lebanon, the Litani and the Hasbani, because of its occupation of this area since the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Israel's self-styled security zone conveniently includes the Litani, its tributary the Wazzani, and the Hasbani. Although Israel denies diverting water from the Litani, Professor Thomas Naff of the University of Pennsylvania and others have established that Israel is, in fact, doing just this. According to media sources in France, Israel is currently "stealing" 32 mcm of water by tapping the Hisbani and its tributaries and other groundwater resources in the security zone where the Lebanese themselves are no longer allowed to sink wells.[18]

Jordan. Israeli and Syrian upstream exploitation of water from the Jordan River means that Jordan receives only 30 percent of the total water supplies from the river.[19] Jordan is thus forced to overexploit its nonrenewable resources at a rate of approximately 15 percent each year.[20] Remaining water resources are becoming increasingly saline. Despite current shortages, Thomas Naff estimates that 1985 figures of total consumption--870 mcm--could reach 1,000 mcm by the year 2000, a deficit of 170-200 mcm per year.[21] Jordan's current water deficit of some 40 percent is expected to rise to 65 percent by the year 2005, by which time the population of 3.4 million will have increased by some 70 percent. According to Joyce Starr of the Washington, DC, based Center for Strategic and International Studies, in order to meet future requirements, Jordan will have to rechannel increasing amounts of water from the Jordan Valley to urban areas in the upland plateau, and will have to rely more heavily on recycled water.

Syria. Because of its continuing occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, Israel has access to the Yarmuk River, a tributary of the Jordan River flowing along the Syrian-Jordanian border. The Yarmuk currently provides 3 percent of Israel's total water supply and Israel claims it has rights to 25-40 mcm of its waters.[22]

Although accurate figures concerning water resources in Syria are unavailable, water experts believe that by the year 2000, Syria could face a deficit of approximately 1 billion cubic meters. Parts of Syria already face water shortages; with a reduced flow from the Euphrates River and contamination of resources by pesticides and fertilizers, major Syrian cities already experience water shortages and shortages of electricity generated from hydroelectric sources. The Syrian government is already taking action to try to alleviate current and future shortages. Typically, the Syrians dedicated only 10 percent of the investment budget on water and hydroelectric projects, though by 1988 this percentage was set to increase to 43.5 percent.[23]

Syria relies on the Euphrates for 90 percent of its surface water supply. A disaster will occur if, for example, a proposed Turkish dam is built on the upper reaches of the river, since it would deprive Syria of two-thirds of the Euphrates's water flow. As the Syrian director of the a-Thawra dam explained, there would not longer be a river, "... the Euphrates [will be] dead. The Turks are telling people who live along this river to emigrate or die."[24]

So entrenched is Israel's dependence on water resources from the Occupied Territories that an Israeli Ministry of Agriculture's advertisement the Jerusalem Post in 1990 claimed, "... it is difficult to conceive of any political solution consistent with Israel's survival that does not involve complete, continued Israeli control of the [West Bank's] water and sewage systems, and of the associated infrastructure, including the power supply and road network, essential to their operation, maintenance and accessibility."[25]

Although they recognize that limited water resources are, and will be, an increasing problem in the Occupied Territories and Israel, the Palestinian plaintiffs to the Second International Water Tribunal, believe that "... rather than there being a problem of natural water shortages and water needs outstripping water supplies, the problem is foremost a problem of water allocation--inequitable allocation between the Palestinian population and the Israeli settler population."[26] The plaintiffs argued further that "these grossly inequitable distortions are ingeniously concealed beneath an argument which asserts that peace and cooperation are dependent on the import of water."[27]

The rapidly diminishing water resources in the Gaza Strip serve as a warning bell and portend what the future holds for the rest of the Occupied Territories and Israel. Writing in 1991, Dutch scholar H. J. Bruins noted that "over-exploitation is causing permanent damage to the existing fresh groundwater reserves and should be phased out in the near future."[28] It appears likely that unless immediate actions are taken, by the year 2000, Palestinians will not be able to find a single drop of drinking water in the whole of the Gaza Strip. And as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs report warns, "... data on water availability and water demands are not always uniform but are, in the opinion of the consultants, generally too optimistic."[29] In the same vein, as early as 1990, Israel's Water Commissioner, Tsamech Yishai, stated that "the situation [in Gaza] is a catastrophe."[30]

The use of the region's water resources is at present highly dependent on territorial control and the political objectives of the states involved. Israel has subordinated the needs and interests of both the surrounding Arab states and the Occupied Territories to its own political ambitions in the area and has thus created a water crisis that is fueling continuing political instability in the region.

International Law

The clear legal status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as territory occupied by a belligerent force has been established by numerous international laws, regulations, and conventions. That Israel has refused to accept the applicability of international law to its occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip, together with the ambiguity of international law concerning shared water sources, has led to considerable confusion, misrepresentation, misinformation, and abuse in this area. Although international laws covering water resources, including those that are shared, are ambiguous and unclear, they nevertheless provide clear guidelines to ensure the protection, distribution, and allocation of resources in occupied territory, and to a population under occupation.

The general principles relevant to water resources in occupied territory are provided by two pillars of international law relating to occupation: The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) and the Hague Regulations (1907). In addition to a variety of UN Security Council resolutions and UN General Assembly resolutions, a number of other international agreements relating to shared water resources are examined in this section. A review of the role of international third parties illustrates the selective application of these regulations and the consequences for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

International regulations determine exactly what an occupying power can and cannot do in occupied territory. In summary:

The occupying state does not acquire the right of sovereignty over the territory it occupies (or the territory's natural resources), it merely exercises de facto authority;

The occupation is, by definition, a provisional situation; the rights of the occupant over the territory are merely transitory;

In exercising its powers, the occupant must comply with two basic requirements: fulfillment of its military needs, and respect for the interests of the inhabitants;

The occupying power must not exercise its authority in order to further its own interests, or to meet the needs of its own population.

These principles are derived from, among others, two international conventions relating to belligerent occupation: the Hague Regulations of October 18, 1907, and the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War of 1949. The purpose of international law relating to belligerent occupation is to provide guidelines within which an occupation must be administered. Aside from the human and social harm caused by prolonged Israeli occupation, the economic costs have been formidable, as a 1992 American Academy of Arts and Sciences study reports:

If the Fourth Geneva Convention were applied to the Occupied Territories, a wide range of measures that harm economic life would cease, notably land confiscation [and other natural resources, including water resources], the establishment of settlements, the imposition of punitive taxes, and collective punishments such as curfews, restrictions on travel and commerce, and the closure of universities. Those changes would introduce an element of security and predictability into economic life in the Occupied Territories.[31] The following represents an overview of the principal international regulations and conventions relevant to the protection, management, and use of water resources in the Occupied Territories.

The Hague Regulations of 1907

The Hague Regulations are widely believed to constitute one of the main components of customary international law and are thus, according to one legal expert, "binding on all nations."[32] Although Israel has not signed the regulations, the Israeli High Court has twice accepted that the Hague Regulations are binding in relation to its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[33] The humanitarian nature of these regulations is meant to ensure and uphold an occupying state's various responsibilities toward the local population, as well as various rights relating to state and privately owned property.

During the Jordanian administration of the West Bank (1948-1967), groundwater was considered state property, and water resources located on privately owned property (including wells and springs) were considered privately owned. However, at the onset of the Israeli occupation, Israel ruled that all water was state property, including private wells and springs (Military Proclamation 2, 1967).

The Hague Regulations distinguish between "moveable" and "immovable" property, a vital distinction given the provisions for exploitation and use of one and not the other by a belligerent occupier. The Regulations accept that the occupying state exercises de facto authority over moveable property, but not immovable property, and, although groundwater is not mentioned as immovable, the definition given in Article 53 of moveable property does not apply to water; that is "... generally moveable property belonging to the State which may be used for military operations" includes "... depots of arms, means of transport [and] stores and supplies." In their petition to the International Water Tribunal, the PHG shows that although Article 53 of the Hague Regulations does not mention groundwater as immovable, the West Bank's water resources do fall within the category as immovable property. They explain:

Neither international law, nor hydrology make a distinction between water per se and the geologic formations in which water is located. International law thus works with a territorial [emphasis added] concept of water with which land and water are integrally related and thus immovable.[34]

Article 55 of the Hague Regulations gives the occupying state the right of guardianship, exploitation, and use of natural and other resources, but not the right of ownership, disposal, or transfer to its own state.[35] In addition, Article 52 of the Hague Regulations limits the rate of exploitation by the occupier to previous exploitation rates; one exception is when resources are required by the occupying army to fulfill military needs, and even then safeguards are built in for the civilian population under occupation. In summary, "... the occupying authority cannot increase exploitation of the resource, other than for strictly military purposes [again within the safeguards provided by the Hague Regulations]. The only means left for the occupying authority to increase the rate of exploitation would be to increase the level of service provision for the civilian population, according to normal use."[36] As to Israel's argument that the prolonged nature of its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip allows it to do otherwise, J. El-Hindi explains, "To hold that an occupying power can unilaterally redefine normal use patterns, would negate any meaning that the doctrine would have regarding proper limits to an occupying power's actions."[37]

In two similar cases concerning natural resources in occupied territory, exploitation of the resource by the occupier was said to violate Article 55 of the Hague Regulations and was thus illegal under international law. First, during its occupation of the Sinai peninsula in the 1970s, Israel was involved in a dispute with the United States over previously unexploited oil fields in the Gulf of Suez. The United States government insisted that the oil resources were immovable and that exploitation of previously unexploited immovable property was precisely what Article 55 was intended to prohibit.[38] A second example involved Japanese exploitation of oil deposits in the occupied Dutch East Indies during the Second World War. The Singapore Court ruled that the oil deposits were immovable and thus exploitation was prohibited under Article 55.[39]

Article 43 of the Hague Regulations states that an occupying power shall "... take all the measures in [its] power to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." Israel has altered and changed the previously existing laws in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip to such an extent as to render them almost unrecognizable. More importantly, the Israeli authorities declared all water to be state property; Article 46 of the Hague Regulations is intended to ensure that "private property ... must be respected ... [and] cannot be confiscated." As one legal expert concludes, "any unauthorised interference with such property amounts to illegal confiscation."[40]

The system of military orders instituted by Israel has dramatically altered preexisting statutory and customary law, and far from being compensated for the water Israel takes from the Occupied Territories, Palestinians are denied adequate access to their own water resources. All extraction and use of water by Palestinians in their own land requires permission, which is usually denied, from the Israeli military's Civil Administration. Having declared the water resources state property, a legal web was created to deny Palestinians use of their own water resources for all but the bare minimum required for domestic purposes.

The internationally accepted definitions and distinctions of water--whether immovable, state owned, or privately owned--are fundamental, given the significant transfer of Palestinian water resources from the Occupied Territories to the Israeli network for use inside Israel and for Israeli settlers.

Although official Israeli communiques to the United Nations insisted that no water is transferred from the Occupied Territories into its own territory and that no wells exist that extract water from the West Bank to the Israel National Water Carrier, nor to other users outside the West Bank, an earlier official Israeli statement to the United Nations did admit to the pumping of water from the West Bank to Israel.[41] Other official and nonofficial sources similarly admit to the transfer of Palestinian water resources to Israel. A paper from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that, "before 1967, much of Israel's water sources were dominated by hostile forces in the Golan Heights and Judea/Samaria [West Bank] ... [since] before and after 1967, all the residents of these areas have used the water resources jointly. Man-made boundaries are meaningless when dealing with the common use of limited resources."[42]

Israel's effective control of internationally determined shared water resources, coupled with the lack of any rights given to Palestinians over these shared resources, has enabled it to unilaterally extract large amounts of water from what should be shared resources. Israeli analyst M. Benvenisti believes that the ratio of current extraction from the transboundary reserves (the aquifers) is 95.5 percent to Israel and 4.5 percent to Palestinians in the West Bank.[43] This can hardly be described as shared output of a shared resource.

Fourth Geneva Convention (1949)

Although Israel is a signatory to this Convention, it refuses to accept the Convention's de jure applicability to its occupation of the Occupied Territories. The United Nations Security Council and UN General Assembly, and the rest of the international community, unanimously accept its applicability to the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. As the 1990 U.S. Government Country Report explains:

The United States considers Israel's occupation to be governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. Israel does not consider the Convention applicable but states that it observes its humanitarian provisions.[44]

The Convention requires that an occupying power take full responsibility for meeting the needs of the civilian population under occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention was specifically formulated to be humanitarian in character and to reinforce the Hague Regulations and other international conventions and regulations. Contrary to its word, however, Israel has violated the humanitarian aspects of the Convention to which it claims to adhere. According to Article 47 of the Convention, which reads in part:

Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory.

The Commentary to the Convention explains that this is meant to prohibit "unilateral action on the part of the victor to dispose of territory he [sic] had occupied," in other words, anticipated annexation of water resources is forbidden. Israel's actions are clear violations of this provision. Indeed, the principle of prohibiting anticipated annexation has been upheld by Israel's Supreme Court:

Long-term fundamental investments in an occupied area bringing about permanent changes that may last beyond the period of the military administration are permitted if required for the benefit of the local population--provided there is nothing in these investments that might introduce an essential modification in the basic institutions of the area.[45]

Israel has violated this principle on a number of counts: First, significant changes to water investments have been introduced and undertaken, and many are irreversible. Second, according to the Convention, water investments are only to be used for the local population or for the occupying forces and their administration. However, those civilians who have been transferred from Israel to the Occupied Territories, Israeli settlers (prohibited by Article 45 of the Convention), use significant amounts of water; they are doing so illegally and are in clear breach of the Convention. As a recent UN report commented, "Israeli settlements are often found on the most suitable sites in terms of abundance of groundwater and soil quality."[46] In the Gaza Strip, for example, the majority of Israeli settlements are found in the southern part of the Strip where water resources are less contaminated. The Washington based Foundation for Middle East Peace observed that by 1991, approximately 220,000 Israeli settlers were living in the Occupied Territories, 120,000 in East Jerusalem, and 100,000 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.[47] Even the pro-government Jerusalem Post explained that, "under the circumstances, there was little justification for putting Jewish settlers in the territory or allowing them generous water supplies. The gain to the Jewish settlements was certainly a loss to the local community."[48]

Article 53 prohibits any destruction of property by the occupying authorities. According to an expert at the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies in London, water levels are currently at dangerously low levels. Water quality has deteriorated, rendering much of it useless even for irrigating crops. Increasing numbers of Palestinian wells are drying up as their water sources are depleted by neighboring Israeli settlements, and considerable amounts of water continue to be transferred from the supposedly shared aquifers under the West Bank to supply Israel's National Water Carrier. As legal expert J. Dillman explains: "While it is true that water is actually 'destroyed,' it is rendered unusable for the local populations."[49]

Israel's management of Palestinian water resources has not only largely destroyed these water resources, but now threatens the condition of Israel's own water resources. According to Dillman, "Israeli practices resulting in the increased and possible permanent salination of underground aquifers is clearly a destruction of property within the meaning of Article 53."[50]

Article 147 of the Commentary to the Convention describes "extensive appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity" as a grave breach of the Convention. This covers "the case of requisitioning on an extensive scale," regardless of the distinction between private and public property.[51] In addition, Article 55 states that an occupying power can only requisition "foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies" (what the official Commentary describes as "any article necessary to support life") if they are to be used by the occupying forces or administrative personnel, and even then only if the needs of the local population have been taken into account.[52] In addition, and " ... subject to the provisions of other international conventions," the occupying power must ensure that fair value is paid for any requisitioned goods or resources. This is reinforced by Article 54 of Protocol I, which confirms that requisitioning constitutes a form of removal. The Commentary to the Convention further reinforces Article 55 in that the occupying power "may not requisition supplies for use by its own population." Article 56 obliges the occupying state to ensure and maintain public health and maintain medical services, which, as will be demonstrated below, is not upheld by the occupying Israeli authorities.

Although Israel is party to this Convention, it has officially annexed East Jerusalem and has dramatically changed pre-occupation (Jordanian and Egyptian) laws that conflict with this provision, including rights and access to water supplies and Palestinian managed institutions. As a 1980 UN Security Council report concluded, Israel's policies concerning the West Bank's water resources amounts to nothing less than a "clear and gross violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention."[53]

UN Security Council Resolutions

As with the above conventions and regulations, the United Nations Security Council has been clear in its condemnation of Israeli practices and abuses of Palestinian water resources. In 1979, and based on various UN General Assembly resolutions, the United Nations Security Council, under Resolution 446, established a commission "To investigate the reported serious depletion of natural resources, particularly water resources [in the Occupied Territories], with a view to ensuring the protection of the territories under occupation." The recommendations from this commission were approved by the United Nations Security Council under Resolution 465 in 1980. They concluded that "the changes of a geographical and demographic nature in the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem, brought about by Israel, constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and of the relevant decisions adopted by the Security Council in the matter."[54] The report noted, for example, that in early days of the occupation the Israeli authorities blew up 140 water pumps in the West Bank, and Palestinian farmers were subsequently prevented from pumping water from the River Jordan as a substitute for irrigation. The report concluded that the Israel Water Commission had "taken direct control of the water in the occupied Palestinian territory," and that "the economic activity of a number of Palestinian inhabitants had already been reduced to subsistence level, as the water originally available to them has been turned to the benefit of the Israeli settlers."

The Commission's recommendations included the "need to consider measures for the impartial protection of private and public land and property, and water resources" and "to continue to examine the situation relating to settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and to investigate the reported serious depletion of natural resources, particularly the water resources, with a view to ensuring the protection of the important natural resources of the territories under occupation." As the PHG notes, "so far such measures have not been enacted." The Commission's findings were adopted by the United Nations Security Council (Resolution 465, March 1, 1980). Twelve years later, in 1992, a UN report on Palestinian water resources concluded that " . . . the Council has yet to address the Commission's report and the protective measures in need of consideration."[55]

UN General Assembly Resolutions

Countless resolutions have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in relation to permanent sovereignty over natural resources, both generally and specifically, relating to Palestinian natural resources. Those general resolutions that have been adopted to protect the sovereign rights of peoples and states over their natural resources include Resolution 1803 (XVII) of December 14, 1962 (signed by both Israel and the United States), which states

Violation of the rights of peoples and nations to sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources is contrary to the spirit and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and hinders the development of international cooperation and the maintenance of peace.

Although the Occupied Territories do not, as yet, constitute a state, the above declaration recognizes the full applicability of international law to peoples as well as territory defined as occupied. Moreover, Resolution 3171 (XXVIII) " ... supports resolutely the efforts of the developing countries and the peoples of the territories under colonial and racial domination and foreign occupation in their struggle to regain effective control over their natural resources." In addition, Resolution 3101 (XXVIII) supports the right of

. . . states, territories and peoples under foreign occupation, alien and colonial domination or apartheid to restitution and full compensation for the exploitation and depletion of, and damages to, the natural resources and all other resources of these States, territories and peoples.

Still further, Resolution 3281 (XXIX) declares that "no State has the right to promote or encourage investments that may constitute an obstacle to the liberation of a territory occupied by force."

Concerning permanent sovereignty over natural resources in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories, the General Assembly has, time and time again, reaffirmed its support for permanent sovereignty for the Palestinians over their natural resources. "Throughout the 1980s ... the General Assembly has 'strongly condemned the illegal exploitation of the natural wealth and resources' of the Occupied Territories and called upon Israel to desist immediately from such activities."[56] Relevant resolutions include: 37/135, 36/173,35/110, 34/136, 38/144, and Resolution 32/161, which calls on Israel to stop its exploitation of the human and natural resources in the Occupied Territories and reaffirms that these resources belong to "the Arab states and peoples whose territories are under Israeli occupation."

Resolution 2995 (XXVII) "emphasizes that, in the exploration, exploitation and development of their natural resources, States must not cause significant harmful effects in zones situated outside their national jurisdiction." Resolution 3336 (XXIX) acknowledges Palestinian sovereignty over the Occupied Territories and its natural resources; Resolution 3005 (XXVII) affirms "the principle of the sovereignty of the population of the occupied territories over their national wealth and resources." All of these resolutions call on Israel to halt its illegal policies and measures regarding its use of natural resources in the Occupied Territories and reaffirm the right of Palestinians " ... to full and effective permanent sovereignty and control over their natural and other resources, wealth and economic activities."[57]

The International Covenant on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, and ratified by Israel, states that:

1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development;

2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources. In no case may a people be deprived of its means of subsistence, and

3. The States party to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realisation of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

Similarly, other international legal conventions and resolutions are applicable to peoples, territory, and resources defined as occupied under the laws of belligerent occupation. Regardless of the fact that the West Bank and Gaza Strip do not currently constitute states, these laws are applicable to the Palestinians living under occupation. As the Palestinian plaintiffs note in their petition to the Second International Water Tribunal, "whatever the status of the West Bank, whether under occupation, or as a sovereign territory, Israel has obligations concerning shared water reserves and has to ensure that water policies undertaken within the State of Israel are not prejudicial to rights of water entitlement by West Bank [and Gazan] Palestinians."[58]

Helsinki Rules of 1966

The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of Waters of International Rivers of 1966 provide a comprehensive codification of international water law. Adopted by the International Law Association in 1966, and to which Israel is a signatory, Article IV states that, "each basin state is entitled, within its territory, to reasonable and equitable share in the beneficial uses of the waters of an international drainage basin." Articles VII and VIII, which refer to reasonable use, state that, "a basin state may not be denied the present reasonable use of the waters of an international drainage basin to reserve for a co-basin State a future use of such water."

There are two vital components concerning transboundary water resources: first, prior apportionment, whereby all users must be in agreement and be satisfied before new claims can be honoured, and second, equitable apportionment, where each user is entitled to, and allocated, an equal portion of the shared resource. In its petition to the Second International Water Tribunal, the PHG explained that, "if Israel could prove that its current use of shared West Bank groundwater was 'reasonable,' it would still be obliged to change its current groundwater use patterns if other competing reasonable uses had not been fully considered." If shared water resources are developed in such a way as to not allow for the modification or termination of an existing use, this would run contrary to the practice of international water law. Therefore, Israel would have no privileged right to water, either by 'prior apportionment' or by historical circumstance. It would always be required to renegotiate its reasonable use in order to accommodate other competing uses. Similarly so would other riparians.[59]

In statements to the UN, Israel has stated that it accepts the principle of equitable distribution among riparians as a "well-established right." In response to a UN report, Israel also indicated that it accepts the principle that interference by one country in surface or groundwater flow has repercussions on the activities of other countries sharing the same basin, and that the effects of any activities in connection with water resources are particularly felt in downstream territories that depend on upstream water supplies.[60]

Salzburg Resolutions of 1961

These resolutions, The Utilisation of Non-Maritime International Waters, were adopted by the Institute of International Law in Salzburg in 1961. They provide the basic framework when examining issues concerning international water resources. Articles 3 and 4 detail the responsibilities and obligations for co-riparian states. According to Article 3: "If the States are in disagreement over the scope of their rights of utilisation, settlements will take place on the basis of equity, taking particular account of their respective needs, as well as other pertinent circumstances." With respect to equitable apportionment, Article 4 reads:

No state can undertake works of utilisation of the waters of a watercourse or hydrographic basin which seriously affect the possibility of the utilisation of the same waters by other states except on condition of assuring them the enjoyment of the advantages to which they are entitled under Article 3, as well as adequate compensation.

Stockholm Declaration of 1972

Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration affirms that, " ... in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, [a state has] the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their environmental policies and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction."

World Commission on Environment and Development of 1987

Article 13 of the Commission's report reiterates the principle that "states shall apply as a minimum at least the same standards for environmental conduct and impacts regarding transboundary natural resources and environmental interferences as are applied domestically."

Role and Responsibility of International Third Parties

These international regulations and conventions set a clear framework within which the international community and international third parties should stop, or at least limit, violations by an occupying power in occupied territory. Although Israel has adopted a policy that is unilateral, exclusive, and clearly discriminatory in character with regard to its presence in the Occupied Territories, neither the legal status of its policies, nor the status of Palestinian water resources, nor the effects of these policies on the Palestinian population have been challenged by international third parties. As the PHG concluded in its petition to the Second International Water Tribunal,

No rulings have been made on the laws of international water as they pertain to belligerent occupation. The plaintiffs attribute this to the failure of the High Contracting Parties to enforce laws of belligerent occupation. Only international enforcement will lead to the fuller integration and interpretation of international conventions, international custom, general principles of law, judicial decisions academic opinion regarding water.[61]

This neglect was described in a recent UN report that observed that "despite available legal protection and growing expressions of concern, the international community has not so far found appropriate measures for the protection of the Palestinian water resources."[62]

From the general principles of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations to specific UN Security Council resolutions on the question of Palestinian water resources, a framework for use and allocation of water resources in the Occupied Territories does exist. In practice, however, Palestinians have not received protection of their access to, and distribution of, water resources from the international community. This failure to act accepts, by default, Israel's claim that it has de facto sovereignty over Palestinian water resources. Despite the safeguards provided under international law, Israel has been able, largely un-hindered, to proceed with its effective annexation and exploitation of Palestinian water resources.

The international community, including those institutions that coordinate international law and practice on a global level, has failed, overt 29 years of Israeli occupation, to protect Palestinian water rights. It remains to be seen what the recent peace agreement between the PLO and Israel will resolve for the area's dwindling water supplies. Palestinians believe that their right to sovereignty over their water resources must be recognized, as must their right to decide how to use those water resources. They believe it is their right to participate, on an equal basis, in any jointly managed committee or agreement on the issue of water resources, including those that are shared. While international law has failed them in the past, many Palestinians believe that, within a negotiated peace agreement, international legislation should be used to ensure that their rights and needs are recognized.

Historical Background

Israel's desire to control the region's water resources has played a crucial role in political, economic, and military developments since 1948. Indeed, even before the establishment of the Israeli state, water played a key role in the Zionist colonization of Palestine.

As early as 1919, Chaim Weizmann, campaigning for the "minimum requirements essential to the realization of the Jewish National Home" in Palestine, wrote to the then British Prime Minister Lloyd George:

The boundaries [of the Jewish Home] cannot be drawn exclusively on historic [biblical] lines ... [o]our claims to the north are imperatively demanded by the requirements of modern economic life . . . The whole economic future of Palestine is dependent on its water supply for irrigation and for electric power, and the water supply must mainly be derived from the slopes of mount Hermon, from the headwaters of the Jordan and from the Litany River [in Lebanon] ... [W]e consider it essential that the National Frontier of Palestine should include the Valley of the Litany, for a distance of about 25 miles above the bend, and the Western and Southern slopes of Mount Hermon.[63]

As international legal expert Dillman explains, the borders Weizmann was proposing "covered not only all of present-day Israel and the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, but also significant portions of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan."[64]

Having outlined major treaties and agreements, both those that were adopted and those that failed, this section demonstrates that the political content and bias of the water policies of successive Israeli governments is bound up with the belief that control of all the region's water resources is vital to Israel's very existence and livelihood. Palestinians assert that this belief is more political than factual. If a negotiated water agreement is effected between the PLO and Israel, many Palestinians believe that the historical injustices can be rectified, and that the rights and needs of each population can be addressed and acted on in a sustainable and equitable manner.

Past Treaties and Agreements

Since the early years of Zionist colonization, several attempts were made to draw up treaties aimed at resolving the dispute over Palestine's water resources. It was clear that whoever controlled the water sources also controlled the economy. Most early treaties considered more favorably the requirements and expectations of the Jewish settler population at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population.

The Lowdermilk Plan (1944). The Lowdermilk Plan was clearly aimed at supplying the anticipated Jewish state with as much water as it desired, regardless of natural constraints and without consideration for Palestine's indigenous population. Lowdermilk proposed a massive water development project, the Jordan River Valley Authority, modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States. This would allow the development of " ... farms, industry and [the provision of] security for at least four million Jewish refugees from Europe, in addition to the 1,800,000 Arabs and Jews already in Palestine and Transjordan." Lowdermilk envisaged the irrigation of the Jordan Valley, water diverted from the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers to supply hydroelectric power plants, the diversion of water from the north of Palestine to the Naqab desert in the south, and use of the Litani River in southern Lebanon.

Hayes Plan (1948). The Lowdermilk Plan laid the foundation for the Hayes Plan, which was commissioned by the World Zionist Organization. Hayes, an American engineer, had helped to develop the Tennessee Valley Authority, and he was asked to elaborate on the Lowdermilk Plan. He recommended that half of the Yarmuk River's water supply be diverted to Lake Tiberias to replace water lost by the diversion of the upper Jordan River, as outlined in the Lowder-milk Plan. This was recommended despite the fact that the Yarmuk River forms the border between Jordan and Syria, and only ran along the border of the anticipated Jewish state for a very short distance. Hayes recommended that the other half of the Yarmuk be allocated to Transjordan, however "[this allocation] must await the completion of the previous irrigation works and diversions for the River, which will enable a more accurate determination of what is left in the Jordan."[65] The expectations and requirements for the new Jewish state were paramount. United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (1947). The partition of Palestine into two states, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish, was adopted by the United Nations in 1947. At the time, Palestinians comprised 70 percent of the population and owned 45 percent of the land; the Jewish community comprised 30 percent of the population and owned only 7 percent of the land. The rest of the land was state owned and administered by the British Mandate Authorities. Under the Partition Plan, the Jewish community was allocated 55 percent of the land and the Palestinians only 45 percent of their original homeland. In addition to granting the Jewish population a larger proportion of land, the United Nations Partition Plan allocated to the new Jewish state a significant amount of historic Palestine's water resources. The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Emmanuel Neuman, confirmed the breadth of the program:

Fortunately, those who had been responsible for working out the details of the United Nations partition plan, were familiar with the basic aspects of the Lowdermilk-Hayes project and took it largely into account in drawing the boundaries of the new states. . . . Thereby the opportunity was given for carrying out the basic conception of the Lowdermilk-Hayes project: To carry the waters of the north ... to the fertile plains and to the parched but potentially rich lands in the southern part of the country. ... The Jewish State was thus provided with far-reaching possibilities for utilising the most vital natural resource of the country for large scale irrigation, agricultural colonisation and hydroelectric development.[66]

According to recent studies by Israeli historians, Zionist acceptance of the United Nations Partition Plan was merely a tactical decision aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state, leaving open the possibility of further Zionist expansion onto land designated by the United Nations for the new Palestinian state. Thus, when the much expanded State of Israel was declared in 1948, following the 1947-1948 war, no reference was made to the United Nations Partition Plan or to any internationally recognized borders. As David Ben-Gurion explained, "I do not see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question ... after the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish the partition and expand to the whole of Palestine."[67]

The new Israeli state immediately began work on its water projects. In 1953, construction of the National Water Carrier began according to the basic outline developed under the Lowdermilk-Hayes project. This involved significant diversion of the Jordan River, which Syria protested to the United Nations because it violated the cease fire agreement. The United States considered Israel's moves to be provocative and threatened to cut off aid to Israel, which then stood at $50 million annually. Israel backed down and instead the Israeli National Water Carrier was supplied with water from Lake Tiberias.

Johnston Plan. As conflict over water resources in the remainder of historic Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and the newly declared Israeli state intensified, especially in the Jordan Valley, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a special envoy, Eric Johnston, to mediate in the conflict. The Johnston Plan, as it has come to be known, was in fact prepared by Charles Main. One significant drawback to the plan was that it dealt only with surface water and not with underground sources, the aquifers, which comprise the major source of historic Palestine's water resources. In addition, it did not take into account the needs of the Palestinians as a people with sovereign rights over their water. Both the Arab states and Israel objected to the plan, and both prepared their own counter plans: the Arab Technical Committee Plan and the Cotton Plan, respectively.

The Cotton Plan included the Litani River in its distribution of the region's water sources; 400 mcm of its waters were allocated to Israel and 300 mcm to Lebanon. Johnston updated his plan, incorporating some aspects of the separate Arab and Israeli plans. Although this was the first attempt to create a development plan for the whole of the Jordan River basin, each update increasingly favored Israel. Israel's share rose from 394 mcm in the original plan to 565 mcm in Johnston's final plan of October 1955; Jordan's share dropped from 774 mcm to 720 mcm. Although the Arab Technical Committee was prepared to accept the modified version of the Johnston Plan, it was rejected by the Arab League on political grounds. Whether or not Israel was prepared to accept the new Johnston Plan is not clear; contradictory evidence suggests that both sides were prepared to both accept and reject the plan.

While both Syria and Jordan argued that quotas should be distributed according to sovereign states' requirements, Israel later argued that its rights had expanded because, by 1967, it controlled the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. As one analyst explained, "Israel pursued claims on water quotas, using rights on the basis of a military occupation which [was] rejected by the international community ... on the basis of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights--settlements which are considered unlawful by the international community."[68]

Despite the absence of a formal acceptance of the Johnston Plan, both the Arab states and Israel based subsequent water development plans on its main principles. However, without formal acceptance, the Arab countries and Israel were free to continue work on their own independent water plans.

Israel's work on the first stage of its National Water Carrier project prompted the neighboring Arab states to threaten to decrease the flow of water to Israel. For example, the Huleh swamps, situated in the demilitarized zone in the north between Israel and Syria, were reclaimed by Israel in 1951 and linked to the National Water Carrier. Although Israel was bound by the cease fire agreement not to make any changes in the area, Israel kept insisting on its right to cultivate all of the Huleh Valley and had, even by 1950, established agricultural settlements in the demilitarized zone. When, in 1953, Israel began implementing its plan to divert water from the Jordan River to Lake Tiberias in the demilitarized zone along the Syrian border, "Israel [was] placing herself in a situation in which hostility from Jordan and Syria was aggravated."[69]

The Arab states' decision to increase their use of their water resources was to be partially accomplished through the construction of two storage dams on the Yarmuk River, the main tributary of the Jordan River, and by diverting water from the Baniyas River in the Golan Heights to Syria and Jordan. At an Arab states' summit meeting in 1964, a proposal was discussed to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River, and work on various projects began in 1965. Conflict soon erupted. Israel accused the Arab states of aggressive actions and proceeded to attack Syrian projects on the Baniyas in 1965, and again in 1966.[70]

These confrontations ended when, in 1967, Israel attacked and occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights. All Syrian projects came under Israeli control and all their equipment was captured.[71] If not the main issue, conflict over water resources was certainly one of the major factors that led to the 1967 war. As Israeli journalist Yehuda Litani wrote in Ha'aretz in 1978, "it is possible that this is the true reason, so far unknown, for the eruption of the Six Day War."[72]

Since 1967, conflict over these shared resources has not subsided. To help counter its chronic water shortage and to provide water for irrigation in the Jordan Valley, Jordan began work on the Maqarein Dam Project on the Yarmuk in 1974. However, because the project would reduce Israel's access to water from the Yarmuk, Jordan was asked by the supporters of the project (the contributor was USAID) to come to an agreement with Israel before construction could begin. Part of the dam was to be built on Syrian territory, so Syria also had to be consulted. Since no agreement could be reached between Jordan, Syria, and Israel, the project was shelved in the late 1980s. More recently, Jordan's application to the World Bank for funding for the US$350 million Wahda dam, the so-called Unity dam on the upper Yarmuk, has similarly been postponed because of the World Bank's insistence that all riparians to the water project (Jordan, Israel, and Syria) must first give their approval.[73] Although Syria agreed to the project, Israel refused to give assurances that it would not attack the dam because of its fears that its own water supplies would be affected.[74] With a capacity of 220 mcm per year, it was hoped that the dam would provide water for irrigating for several thousand hectares of land in the Jordan Valley, as well as provide an extra 50 mcm of water for the cities of Amman and Zarga. In addition, the dam was to provide electricity, and three-quarters of the output was to have supplied Syria. According to Professor Soffer of Haifa University, also a water consultant for Israel's Foreign Ministry, Israel had no need to veto the Unity dam nor to extract water from the Yarmuk.[75] Jordan is now forced to spend large amounts of money on deeper drilling for groundwater resources, a cost far in excess of what it can afford.

Israeli Occupation

Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights in 1967, and of southern Lebanon in 1982, changed the nature of the conflict over the region's scarce water resources. Israel, the dominant power, was now in control of all water resources in historic Palestine (the aquifers under the West Bank, surface water in the West Bank, and the coastal aquifer bordering the Gaza Strip), Syrian water resources originating in the Golan Heights, and the water sources in southern Lebanon; its occupation of the Golan Heights gave it complete control over Lake Tiberias. As a 1978 article in the Israeli daily Davar pointed out, "the state of Israel has ... managed in its short life to engage in confrontations with two of its neighbours, Syria and Jordan, and even mobilize aircraft and raiding forces against them on the question of the exploitation of water of the Jordan and the Yarmuk Rivers."[76]

The Israeli legal system imposed on the Occupied Territories and embodied in the military orders, in addition to the ensuing political and economic repression and exploitation, has enabled the occupying authorities to pursue their political and economic policies unchecked. The repression of all aspects of Palestinian life--economic, legal, social, political, and developmental--coupled with Israel's use of military force has given Israel a virtual free hand in shaping its policies for using and abusing Palestinian water resources over the past 29 years. A legal net has been created that prohibits Palestinians from using their own water resources as they wish except for the bare minimum of domestic requirements.

Following the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1977, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, appointed a committee to formulate Israel's policies concerning continued control of all Palestinian water resources. In its discussions with the various water institutions in Israel, the committee learned from the Israeli Water Commission that Israel's water needs and the establishment of new settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories depended on Israel's continued control over all of the water resources in any autonomy arrangement for the Palestinians. In 1990, more than 10 years later, the Israeli Minister of Agriculture at the time, Rafael Eitan, was reported to have argued in a cabinet meeting that " ... giving up control of the State of Israel's main water sources in Judea and Samaria [sic] is absolutely out of the question."[77] According to Eitan, Israel's continued control over the West Bank's water resources " ... is necessitated by reality" and the Israeli government would be well advised "to hammer this principle into public consciousness."[78] Statements from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs seemed to do just this: "Water, Israel's lifeblood, was manipulated by the Arabs for political reasons. Israel's presence, today in Judea/Samaria [sic] and the Golan Heights has prevented this from reoccurring."[79]

By 1992, in the aftermath of the Madrid peace negotiations, statements made by the Israeli delegation, and by Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and later Yitzhak Rabin, including position papers, illustrated how little things had changed. Although the Rabin government had hinted at its readiness to discuss land and water issues with the Palestinians, "this readiness is based on Palestinian agreement to concede continuing Israeli control over key resources."[80] With the signing of the Declaration of Principles between the PLO and Israel in Washington, DC, in September 1993, it remains to be seen whether Israel will cede control over key resources or whether, in fact, Israeli understanding of Palestinian autonomy is only autonomy for the people and not their land and its resources. A detailed document presented to the Palestinian peace delegation during the seventh round of negotiations at the end of 1992 in Washington, DC, explained Israeli journalist, Yoel Marcus, in Ha'aretz in September 1991,

. . . fails to refer to a single issue of any substance for the negotiations. Yet the failure to resolve such issues precludes any kind of progress. The document says nothing about the source of authority nor about anything related to water and land ... the impression is created that in fact there is no real difference in the positions of this and the previous government.[81]

Rabin explained: "Our aim is to reach interim agreements of which [the settlements question] will not be a part ... there is no territorial dimension to the interim period ['territorial' includes water and security issues]. Once you start to deal with the territorial dimension, you are tackling the problem of a permanent solution."[82]

With events still unfolding regarding the final status of the Occupied Territories, it remains to be seen whether the issues of water and land will be discussed during the final stages of the current peace agreement, and whether Israel will agree to arrangements for sharing the scarce water resources.

When the Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University finished a major research project on the implications of a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories for Israel in early 1992, publication of the report was censored by the director of the Israeli Water authority and the then Minister of Agriculture, Rafael Eitan. Eitan reportedly said that it was not the business of an academic study to define a territorial settlement in the region. According to Ha'aretz, the study demonstrates that even with complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, Israel would still be able to prosper with adequate water supplies. The former director of the Israeli Water Authority, Kentor Cohen, believed it "strange" that the military censors would have a problem with the report, noting that " ... people who say that Israel cannot return the [occupied] territories because of water are politicians--not experts in water issues. . . . The experts don't say that."

Israeli Policies

Since the onset of their military occupation, the Israeli authorities were able to gain near absolute control over all water resources in the Occupied Territories. Controlled management of the area's water resources is necessary given the limited resources available. However, absolute Israeli management and control provides the basis for discriminatory policies and practices in favor of Israelis (including the settlers living in the Occupied Territories) at the expense of Palestinians. The PHG believes that the type of control exerted by Israel is more closely associated with the needs of the occupying state than with the population under occupation. In addition to discrimination in access to water supplies for domestic and other purposes, Israel's control has resulted in a deterioration of the remaining water supplies, especially those in the Gaza Strip. A recent UN report explains: "As a consequence [of Israel's policies], a 'man-made' water crisis has been brought about which undermines the living conditions and endangers the health situation of the Palestinian people."[83]

Israel's control was facilitated by a consolidation of the legal structure governing ownership, use, and access to water resources. During the first few days of its military occupation in 1967, the Israeli authorities declared all water state property and all previous agreements concerning water null and void. This change has allowed selective access to water as state property. In Israel, state property is used for the exclusive benefit of Jewish Israelis, not all Israeli citizens or those living under Israeli occupation. Stringent controls suppress Palestinian investment in and development of water resources and installations while allowing for the expansion and development of those resources supplying Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

In the stifled and underdeveloped Palestinian agricultural sector, limited access to water hinders an already tightly controlled sector of the local economy. Figures for access to water for irrigation illustrate discrimination between the two populations. In the Gaza Strip, the amount of land under irrigation for Israeli settlers whose livelihood is agriculture was seven times higher (per capita) than for Palestinians; in the West Bank the figure is even higher: 13 times more land (per capita) is under irrigation for Israeli settlers than for Palestinians.[84]

The following section examines the effects of Israeli policies and practices on agriculture, health, and sanitary conditions for Palestinians.

Israeli Military Orders

Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories are enforced by approximately 2,000 military orders issued for the West Bank (up to the end of 1993) and a similar, but separate, set for the Gaza Strip. These military orders amend existing Jordanian law in the West Bank, Egyptian law in the Gaza Strip, and British Mandate and Ottoman laws. The main military orders (and proclamations) issued for the West Bank concerning water resources are as follows:

Military Proclamation 2 (June 7, 1967). All water resources in the newly occupied territories are to be state-owned and controlled.

Military Order 92 (August 15, 1967). Full authority is granted over all matters concerning water to an Israeli officer who is appointed by the Area Military Commander. This officer assumes full control over all water resources, with the power to control all permits for existing and new water installations, permits and licenses for new and existing water authorities, and the methods of operation and appointment of directors for all water authorities.

Military Order 158 (November 19, 1967). This Order Concerning Amendment to Supervision over Water Law prohibits the construction of any new water installation without a permit. It grants the official the power to refuse a permit and revoke or amend a license without justification. According to Gwyn Rowley, "in essence, despite shortages and the depiction of their existing water sources, the Arab population is prevented by the military order from responding positively to that deficit situation through developing other sources."[85] When Palestinians try to increase and develop their water supply, they are invariably prohibited from doing so or wait years for a response from the Israeli authorities. For example, when farmers from a-Fara' village in the West Bank applied for a license for an irrigation project in 1978, they waited eight years until they were finally granted the license in 1986.[86]

Military Order 291 (December 19, 1968). All water resources are declared state property, bringing the West Bank and Gaza Strip's water resources in line with the Israeli Water Law of 1959. All previous and existing settlements of water disputes concerning water were declared invalid. This change, argues legal expert Dilemmas, " ... is not consistent with the rights of an occupying power under international law." According to the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General, it resulted in the " ... appreciable change in the legal character and economic and social value of land ownership [in the Occupied Territories]." This order also considerably increased the jurisdiction of the appointed official under Military Order 92 (above).

Military Order 1376 (July 24, 1992). Detailed specifications regarding the jurisdiction, responsibilities, structure, budget and accounts, property and employment policies for the Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour water and sewage authority are given; this order cancels Military Order 484 (September 15, 1972), which previously established these water authorities. Wider jurisdiction and control over the authority is given to an Israeli official whose signature is required for almost all the authority's projects and functions.[87]

There was no government or administrative body responsible for water supplies and for allocating permits prior to the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip. Water use was based on traditional (customary) law. Landowners and others were allowed access to water resources for domestic purposes and irrigation. The Israeli authorities permitted access to water supplies on this basis until the 1970s, when restrictions were imposed to control utilization of the deteriorating and declining resources, and to allow for selective quotas in favor of the expanding Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Military Order 498 (Gaza Strip) (November 1974). Water conservation procedures, supervision of water quality, licensing of distribution and supply, and setting prices and fines are covered. The Regional Military Commander appoints an agricultural staff officer as the authorized supervisor of operations. The fragile water supply in the Gaza Strip dictates that control is necessary, however, the question is, have Israel's actions and policies been introduced in the interests of Palestinians, or have they facilitated Israeli settlements being allocated as much water as possible at the expense of Palestinians' minimum domestic requirements? The facts on the ground suggest the latter is the case. Note, for example, that the issue of water supply to the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip is not even considered by the Israeli authorities, despite the fact that 80 percent of Gaza's population is comprised of registered refugees. Similarly, in terms of investment for the future, the amount of monies and attention allocated to water supplies for Israeli settlements far exceeds that allocated to Palestinians.


Water supply and management in the Occupied Territories is mainly controlled by the Israeli military's Civil Administration. There are a few local Palestinian water suppliers--the Bethlehem, Belt Jala, and Beit Sahour Water and Sewage Authorities, the Nablus Municipality, and the Jerusalem Water Undertaking (based in Ramallah), which covers the Ramallah/al-Bireh district and parts of East Jerusalem. However, they all need permission from the Civil Administration to drill new, or renovate existing, wells.

In the West Bank, the Civil Administration's water unit is headed by a staff officer and has four departments: a planning department, which supervises and executes all projects; a technical department, which monitors and maintains the water systems, as well as providing advice and assistance to municipal and rural councils; a hydrology department responsible for monitoring water resources, including salinity and water table levels; and an administrative department responsible for employment, finance, and requests for new projects.[88] According to Palestinian engineer Tamimi, the Israeli water company Mekorot is playing a "dangerous" role. In addition to holding technical authority with regard to wells and springs in the Occupied Territories, it has also significant authority over the Civil Administration's water officer and carte blanche authority over all technical and administrative activities in the municipalities and village councils of the Occupied Territories.

In the Gaza Strip, a similar unit, headed by a water officer, operates as part of the agricultural staff officer's unit. Domestic water supplies are controlled by the military's Civil Administration. Mekorot supplies some domestic water, distributed through the municipalities and village councils, and controls water sold privately by well owners.

Integration of Palestinian Water Resources into the Israeli National Water System

With all water resources in the occupied Palestinian territories declared state property, Israel was able to incorporate these resources into its national supply and distribution network. Water could now be freely transferred from one area to another, one basin to another, regardless of whether the basin or aquifer was situated in or under the Occupied Territories. Internationally accepted legal restrictions on the transfer and use of shared water resources were ignored. Not surprisingly, the only instance in which Israeli occupation law is more lenient than Jordanian statutory and customary law (in force in the West Bank prior to 1967), concerns the transfer of water from one drainage basin to another (or within basins) or from one aquifer to another.[89]

According to a number of reports, water has been transferred from the Gaza Strip to supply the Naqab inside Israel.[90] As an extension of their control over the Gaza Strip, the Israeli authorities undertook the integration of Gaza's water network into the Israeli national network, described in the 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's report. It reads, in part: In 1982, the government of Israel decided to connect the water system of southern Gaza to the water system of the State of Israel. Jewish settlements would be supplied by water from the Israeli water system; the existing water sources be reserved [!] for Arab settlements, including the wells that formerly supplied the Jewish settlements.[91]

In 1982, under the auspices of the then Israeli Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, control of all the water resources at Israel's disposal was given to Mekorot. The process of connecting Palestinian towns and villages to Israeli national water networks (effective annexation) was initiated, a policy no different than others designed to integrate the Occupied Territories into the Israeli system. As the 1986 Israeli State Comptrollers Report explained, "the civil administration transferred seven water works, including equipment, to Mekorot, according to prior agreement." The Water Staff Officer estimated the worth of these assets at $5 million. The transfer of assets was not recorded in the property ledgers of the region; nor were any permits for receipt of the equipment found in the unit's files.[92]

Structural integration intensified, and increasing numbers of Palestinian towns and villages were integrated into Israel's national water network. Whereas in 1967 only 50 villages in the West Bank were connected to water supply systems,[93] between 1967 and 1984, 150 Palestinian villages and 10 towns were connected to the main water systems of the Civil Administration or municipal councils, and plans were underway to connect a further 50 villages with water. This control was direct in some instances. In the case of the Ariel settlement near Nablus, a central pumping station was built in the settlement to give the settlers complete control over the supply and distribution of water for the neighboring Palestinian villages.[94]

Jerusalem's Water Supply

Michael Dumper has correctly observed that the water supply in Jerusalem has always been like a noose around the city's neck.[95] It was not until June of 1980 that the Israeli Knesset (parliament) finally passed the Jerusalem Basic Law that officially annexed Palestinian East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem's water system had, however, already been connected to the Israeli supply system; as Michael Dumper notes, "within days of the occupation of East Jerusalem [in 1967] ... the Water Department of the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem connected pipes between the two systems ... this was part of the 'integration of services' to which Israel was prepared to admit, rather than to accept the term annexation."96 This integration of Palestinian towns and villages into the Israeli national water network has been decried by Palestinians as affronts to their sovereignty over their own natural resources. In 1990, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Jerusalem Municipality had substantially reduced the water supply to 'Azzaria village, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, because of the village's refusal to pay the high water bills the municipality said it owed. This was the second time that year that the municipality cut off approximately 75 percent of the water supply to a Palestinian area; previously, the supply to Shufat Refugee Camp was cut as a result of a dispute between the military's Civil Administration and the Jerusalem Municipality over who was responsible for the total cost of supplying water to the camp.[97]

Current Israeli policies concerning water resources in Jerusalem indicate two things: First, as Dumper notes above, the supply of water to East Jerusalem and surrounding towns and villages has been used by Israel in its creeping de facto annexation policy. Further, Dumper argues that municipality pipes have been extended, and this extension of the municipality's services is consistent with its attempts to be the sole supplier of water in Jerusalem and the government's attempts to secure physical control over Jerusalem. Second, Israel's control over land and resources, in what it claims as Greater Jerusalem enables it to exploit the water resources at will. For example, at least five wells were drilled by Mekorot in the Bethlehem area to satisfy the needs of the mainly Israeli residents of West Jerusalem.[98]

Israeli Water Agencies: Mekorot and Tahal

Mekorot and Tahal are the two Israeli water companies that plan, design, and construct water projects in Israel. They are responsible for the supply and management of water resources as well as the drilling of all new and existing wells and the construction of irrigation and water supply projects.

These companies are partly owned by different Zionist and Israeli organizations, whose role is to further exclusive Jewish Israeli interests. Mekorot was established by the Jewish Agency, the Histadrut, and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1937. Tahal was established in 1952 by the Israeli government, which holds 52 percent of the shares; the remainder are held by the Jewish Agency and JNF. Tahal is responsible for overall planning and design of Israeli water development projects.

Although Israeli water law treats water as state property subject to the control of the state and " ... destined for the needs of its inhabitants and the development of the country,"[99] the crucial and central role played by Mekorot and Tahal in Israel's water policies and planning in the Occupied Territories violates this declaration. This process has been explained by Uri Davis and Walter Lehn:

Through deliberate and conscious legal formulations predicated on the manipulation of the meaning of terms such as person, nation, etc., the State of Israel has succeeded in presenting to Western intellectual and public opinion its far-reaching apartheid legislation as progressive social democracy. This manipulation is predicated on the rather different meanings ascribed to the terms in Zionist usage, where "person" is read as "Jewish person", "public" as "Jewish public", "the people" as "the Jewish people", "nation" as "Jewish nation", and "Israel" as "the people of Israel" (i.e. the community of adherents to Judaism to be distinguished from the citizens of the State of Israel, and even from the Jewish citizens of the state).[100]

Discrimination is evident in development plans for water supplies. Between 1974 and 1983, the JNF invested nearly $16 million in West Bank projects, and in 1983, the Israeli government spent $5.5 million on water development projects in the West Bank. Nearly all of these projects benefited Jewish Israeli settlers exclusively.

Foreign Aid

While negligible amounts of money from official Israeli sources are spent on development and planning of water resources for Palestinians, foreign aid is also restricted. The Israeli authorities have a history of selective approval for projects aimed at helping and encouraging Palestinians to help themselves. For example, permission for a project in Jiflik, in the Jordan Valley, which would have reduced water evaporation by replacing open irrigation ditches with pipes, was rejected by the Israeli authorities. The project was to have been sponsored by a U.S. volunteer organization.[101]

Most foreign development and aid organizations are forced to submit project applications for Israeli military approval; the military can refuse or delay any application on security grounds. As Sara Roy notes, those projects that are approved are very rarely development or productive projects, but usually those of a consumptive nature that " ... tie the indigenous communities to the Israeli infrastructure such as ... state-controlled water and electricity. ... These ties also enable the authorities to withhold services to a given community as a form of collective punishment."[102] In addition, until 1992, all money coming into the Occupied Territories had to be declared along with its source. Development of water facilities, sanitary, domestic, and especially agricultural, has suffered severely.

Of projects actually implemented in the Occupied Territories, Israeli analyst M. Benvenisti notes that approval was granted for consumption related projects at a rate of 44 percent, whereas the approval rate for development projects, including water facilities and resources, was 33 percent.[103]

Wells and Springs

Given the apparent Israeli objective of preventing increases in the use of water in the West Bank in order to protect the flow of water from the West Batik to the Israeli aquifers, and given the Israeli policy to support fully the water needs of the settlements, is difficult to see how the water management system that has been established can operate without discrimination.[104]

Israel promotes discriminatory policies in relation to wells and springs. As Palestinian economist Hisham Awartani explains, "the basic underlying objective of all Israeli policies in this connection is trying to restrict pumping from Arab wells to the bare minimum, so that the largest volume of usable groundwater is preserved for Israeli use." While Palestinians are denied permission to dig new wells and deepen existing ones, wells serving the Israeli Settler population are drilled in close proximity to existing Palestinian wells and are often sunk to greater depths. A former Israeli water commissioner, Ze'ev Go'ani, said in an interview that, since 1978, Palestinians applying for permission to drill wells into the deep mountain aquifer (the Turonian-Cenomanian aquifer) were refused because the aquifer was already being fully utilized, especially by Israeli settlements.[105]

Given that approximately half of the groundwater used in the West Bank and over half of that used in the Gaza Strip is supplied wells, the effects of these policies are significant. While few permits are given to Palestinians, Mekorot has received permission to sink approximately 30 deep bore wells with an average yield of 1,640 mcm to serve Israeli settlements.[106] Whereas permits for wells serving Israeli settlements are granted for depths to 500 m, the few permits given for Palestinian wells restrict the depth.[107] Palestinians are prevented from drilling below 60-1150 meters in the West Bank and 15-80 meters in the Gaza Strip.[108] Awartani reports that only 23 new permits for Palestinian wells have been issued for the West Bank since 1967; 21 for public institutions, three for irrigation wells, and the rest for domestic use. In the Gaza Strip, between 1967 and 1990, 630 wells were constructed by Palestinians, including some that are no longer in use.[109]

The condition of Palestinian wells is poor because of restrictions on maintenance and redevelopment. Many well beds have accumulated large amounts of silt; the pipes and well structures are worn out and in need of repair or replacement. Leakage of up to 20 percent is the result of a 30-year-old antiquated pipe distribution system. The pumping engines are old and of low horsepower, and are not fuel efficient. Despite the appalling condition of the wells, any repairs require permission from the Israeli water authorities.

According to Palestinian engineer Mohammed Subeih, about 80 percent of well failure is the result of encrustation from dirt or other deposits.[110] Encrustation is one of a number of problems that with constant monitoring, can be prevented. Subeih also notes that this is something that can be done even within the current restrictions imposed by the Israeli military authorities. What is needed is a comprehensive management project that can offer advice and expertise to individual well owners. If such action is taken, Subeih believes that the discharge from half of the existing wells could be doubled. While permission is sometimes given for repairs and for replacing engines, permits are rarely given for the deepening of existing wells. Even for repairs or replacement of equipment, farmers have to cover the total cost of the repairs as, according to Awartani, there are no international or other funding organizations that currently fund such development[.111]

The most severe constraint facing Palestinian well owners is the restriction on the construction of distribution reservoirs. Such reservoirs cut fuel costs, regulate water distribution, and facilitate modern irrigation techniques. According to Awartani, by 1992 there were 188 reservoirs in the West Bank, 177 of which were located in the Jordan Valley. The majority were built in the early years of the Israeli military occupation.[112]

In the Qalqilia and Tulkarem areas in the northern West Bank, Israeli wells pump a total of 320 mcm per year, while Palestinian wells pump only 20 mcm per year--a situation Awartani described as a "lion and bear partnership."[113] More serious is the condition of the Palestinian wells: " ... out of 70 small wells, at least 60 are in a desperate state [because] permission for repair work has been refused."[14] At a workshop organized by PHG in Jerusalem, Awartani challenged Palestinians to confront Israeli policies restricting well construction and improvement at the United Nations. " ... New wells must be dug. We have been convinced for the past twenty-four years that Israel does not allow for the issuance of licenses for wells, why can't we Palestinians for once try to drag Israel to the United Nations on the issue of one well? [Especially since] the possibility of digging wells exists."[15]

Unable to expand to deeper depths, increasing numbers of Palestinian wells go dry or supply increasingly saline water. A UN Security Council report in 1980 gave numerous examples of Palestinian population centers, including al-Ouja, Ramallah, al-Bireh, Bardala, Tel el-Beids, and Kardala, whose water supply was drastically cut as a result of new wells being drilled for nearby Israeli settlements.[116] In Jericho, the increasingly saline water pumped from local wells has been attributed to two wells sunk by the Israeli government that serve Israeli agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley.[117]

In Foreign Policy, Cooley notes that many wells in the Gaza Strip have been blocked and scaled by the Israeli authorities, in some instances to prevent them from draining nearby wells supplying Israeli settlements.[118] I. Harmlani, in the Journal of Palestinian Affairs, notes the Israeli closure of 25 artesian wells outside Zawaydeh and 42 wells in the Rafah area in the Gaza Strip.[119] According to Sara Roy, the Gaza Strip's main water reservoir, located in the north, is not accessible to Palestinians, but reserved for the exclusive use of Israeli settlements.[120] The situation in the West Bank is similar. Hydrology expert Gwyn Rowley explains that,

On the West Bank the deep-bore wells with powerful pumps, referred to locally as 'Jewish wells', have been developed down to some 300-600m below the surface, and even lower in certain localities . . . where a number of these deep pumped wells are working, their intersecting cones of depression produce a general lowering of the water table and the traditional wells are left literally high and dry. As a result, pastures may dry out... Not only is the quantity of water severely depleted in the traditional wells, but the quality and salinity of the water may change quite dramatically.[121]

Israeli overpumping has had a major impact on the level of the water table and the quality of the remaining water resources. The water table of the two aquifers in the West Bank has fallen significantly as a direct result of Israeli policies and practices. The water table in the Jordan Valley fell by 16 meters (over 50 feet) between 1969 and 1991, and 26 wells dried up completely; in the Jenin district, it fell by 10 meters.[122]

In terms of groundwater quality, the concentrations of salts and chlorides in the vast majority of the West Bank and Gaza Strip's water resources has increased markedly since the onset of the Israeli occupation. In the Jordan Valley as a whole, for example, the total salt concentration rose 130 percent between 1982 and 1991, and by approximately 200 percent in the Jericho area. Similarly, the chloride concentration during the same period rose by some 50 percent in this area.[123]

The Mawassi al-Bahar Wells

In 1988, the Israeli authorities demanded that all small wells used for irrigation in the Gaza Strip be registered. This restriction was introduced despite the fact that other major supplies were no longer accessible to Palestinians, and existing supplies had been contaminated by pesticide infiltration and over exploitation by neighboring Israeli settlements. Approximately 31 wells had been drilled to serve Israeli settlements situated between Khan Younis and Rafah. Palestinian sources believe that this change was introduced to raise taxes from well owners and to attempt to limit the amount of water used by Palestinians. When Palestinian well owners refused to register their wells, the Israeli authorities declared them illegal. A military order was issued rendering all wells located within a 500 meter band from the seashore, which had been previously exempt, illegal. According to a local farmer, settlers began to destroy Palestinian wells and land under cover of darkness.

Israeli Wells

The situation regarding Israeli administered wells is completely different. Using considerably more advanced technology, they operate at depths of 400-600 meters with powerful pumps driven by electricity. As one would expect, they are far more efficient than Palestinian wells.[124] In addition to their performance, the allocation of water far exceeds that of Palestinian wells.

Water Allocation

The amount of water permitted to be pumped from wells in the Occupied Territories is determined by quotas set by the military's Civil Administration and the Israeli water authorities, Mekorot and Tahal. Quotas set in 1976 were reduced by 10 percent in 1986. Although both Palestinians and Israelis exceed quotas on occasion, it is unclear whether Palestinians are more heavily penalized than Israelis. In some instances, well owners have been dealt severe fines or had other sanctions imposed on them.

Awarlani notes that 38 percent of wells sampled in the West Bank are in fact using 90 percent or less of their allocated quota. He attributes this to a decline in the profitability of irrigated agriculture and recent improvements in the efficiency of irrigation practices.

The amount of water pumped by Israeli administered wells in the Occupied Territories has increased in line with the continuing settlement policies of successive Israeli governments. In 1977, 1984, and 1990, the total annual amounts rose from 13.8 mcm to 43.1 mcm to 52 mcm, respectively. This means that 32 Israeli wells account for 47 percent of the total quantity of water discharged from wells in the West Bank, with 364 Palestinian wells accounting for the remaining 53 percent.[125] In the Gaza Strip, Israeli administered wells discharged a total of 4.5 mcm in 1990, 2.5 mcm of which was used by Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip, with the remainder sold to local Palestinian authorities. On a per capita basis, this amounted to 758 cubic meters used by each settler and 137 cubic meters for each Palestinian.[126]

Water Prices

Water prices in Israel are set by the Ministry of Agriculture, while consumer prices in the Occupied Territories are set according to the recommendations of an advisory council appointed by the head of the military's Civil Administration. While Palestinians are charged the full costs of the water they use for domestic, agricultural, and industrial purposes, Israeli settlers have the costs of their water supplies subsidized by the World Zionist Organization (WZO).[127] According to a 1992 report by the Israeli Peace Now movement, in 1987 Israeli settlers paid 0.15 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) per cubic meter for water for agricultural use and 0.23 NIS for domestic use. In contrast, in the same year, Palestinians were charged 0.70 NIS per cubic meter for water from Mekorot, regardless of whether the water was for domestic or agricultural purposes.

Costs of water in Jerusalem are slightly different: 0.64-0.75 NIS for the first 15-20 cubic meters, and 1.6-1.8 NIS for additional water used. According to Peace Now, "the extent of current subsidization [for settlers] of water consumption [in Jerusalem] is not clear."[128]

The Israeli authorities have long used restrictions on water resources as a means of collective punishment. When the water supply to Hebron in the West Bank was cut off in August 1984, Palestinians were forced to buy water from settlers in the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement at a cost of 25 Jordanian Dinars (JD) per tank (90 sis).[129] In February 1993, residents from Beit Reema, Deir Ghassaneh, Kufar'Aeen, and Qarawat Bani Zeid villages had their water supplies cut off for four days with no reason given, despite having paid all their bills.[130]


Although there has been a decline in the number of Palestinians working in agriculture, agricultural production is still the backbone of the Palestinian economy. Discriminatory Israeli policies and restrictions on this sector have been devastating; land is continuously being confiscated using a variety of methods. (Currently some 60 percent of the West Bank and 50 percent of the Gaza Strip's land is under direct Israeli control.) The host of permits and licenses required at each step of the agricultural production process strangles almost all development and initiative, as do quotas imposed (by military order) on the cultivation of certain crops. Severe water restrictions exacerbate these problems. The livelihood of a substantial section of the population is affected.

One-quarter of Palestinians employed in the West Bank work in agriculture (approximately 16 percent of the total population, or some 160,000 people). In the Gaza Strip, of the 60 percent of families who make their living locally,[131] 20 percent (approximately 85,000 people) do so from agriculture. The proportion of Israeli settlers who live off agriculture in the Occupied Territories is 6 percent of the total settler population, approximately 6,000 people, most of whom live in settlements in the Jericho, Gaza, Hebron, and Bethlehem areas.[132]

Direct action is taken to force Palestinian farmers to comply with military orders restricting water extraction from Palestinian wells, while Israeli agricultural settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip face no restrictions in drilling water for irrigation purposes.[133] In February 1991, for example, 10 wells were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in the village of Beit Ula in the Hebron district; water pumps were confiscated and citrus trees destroyed.[134] The Israeli Democratic Front for Peace and Equality petitioned the government for an explanation for this destruction, and for compensation to the villagers, estimated at USS 500,000.

Shortages of water, together with land confiscation and the declining profitability of agriculture, have led to a fall in total Palestinian agricultural production, from 32.5 percent of the Israeli gross national product in 1970, to 24.9 percent in 1986, and partly as a consequence, the agricultural labor force fell from an estimated 79,000 workers in 1970, to 41,600 workers in 1986.[135]

Decline of Cultivated and Irrigated Land in Palestine

Although improvements in irrigation and farming techniques have resulted in a drop in the amount of water used in agriculture, by the late 1980s, 32 percent of the irrigated land still used traditional irrigation methods.[136] Overall, there has been a significant fall in the area of irrigated land cultivated by Palestinians: from 322,000 dunams in 1970, to 101,300 dunams in 1984. (A dunam enjoys common use in Palestine and Jordan. As a measurement of land area, its most common equivalent is 1 dunam to 919 m[sup 2], or 0.23 acres.) According to a recent Peace Now report, of a total of 115 mcm of water received by Palestinians in the West Bank, 100 mcm were used for irrigation. In the Jordan Valley, out of a total of 40-50 mcm in 1990, 30 mcm were used for agricultural purposes.[137] By 1991, of the total amount of land confiscated by Israel since 1967, 200,000 dunams were under cultivation, and according to Peace Now, approximately 50,000 dunams of this were irrigated (65 percent of the total). Whereas 4 percent of the total area cultivated by Palestinians is irrigated, the area under irrigation in Israeli settlements accounts for some 20 percent of the total area of irrigated land in the Occupied Territories. The severe reduction in the amount of Palestinian land under irrigation in the West Bank illustrates the effect of the Israeli policies; from 27 percent in 1967, the area fell to 3.7 percent in 1992.[138]

A recent Israeli Civil Administration report explains, "amounts of water drawn in Judea and Samaria [sic] have remained fairly constant over the past twenty years." The report admits that the lack of water has been one of the limiting factors affecting the expansion of Palestinian agriculture: "[The] ability to continue with the intensification is severely limited, on the one hand by the lack of water (water quotas have not increased since 1969) and on the other hand by the rockiness of the rest of the land, which does not allow for expansion of cultivation."[139] This rockiness, however, does not seem to have deterred increased cultivation by Israeli settlers. Similarly, in the Gaza Strip, the area of land under citrus cultivation, the largest crop in the Gaza Strip, fell from 80,000 dunams in 1967 to 63,000 dunams in 1989, and citrus production fell from 237,100 tons in 1975/76, to 174,300 tons in 1989/90.[140]

The ratio of irrigated land to the total amount of land under cultivation in the West Bank is only 4 percent, compared to 12 percent in Jordan, 11 percent in Syria, 20 percent in Lebanon, and 49 percent in Israel.[141]

Cultivation and Irrigation Inside Israel

Figures for the area of land in Israel under irrigation show an overall increase, although this has now started to fall. Of 300,000 dunams in 1949, the total area of land under irrigation increased to 1,616 million dunams in 1968, and to 2,153 million dunams in 1987. For the same time period, the area of land inside Israel under cultivation rose from 1,650 million dunams to 4,136 million dunams in 1968, and to 4,384 million dunams in 1987. Since 1987, however, the amount of water used in agriculture has been declining.

Israel's agricultural sector is still extremely water intensive and requires extensive irrigation. Within Israel, the kibbutzim (collective agricultural settlements) are the single largest users of water. In 1985-1986, over 50 percent of the cultivated land in Israel was irrigated, most of which was in the kibbutzim. Many kibbutzim changed to single crop production during the economic crisis in the 1980s, and one of the main crops adopted was cotton, a water intensive crop that has the potential to create a highly unsustainable agricultural sector. More recently, as cuts in water supplies have been introduced (according to the Jerusalem Post International, water consumption in the farming sector was reduced by 40 percent in 1990/91), calls have been made by Israeli Water Commissioner, Zemach Yishai, and the Israeli Finance Ministry for an end to the production of water intensive crops such as cotton.[142]


The water supply and sewage systems in all Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps are grossly inadequate. Many villages, and most refugee camps, have very limited water supplies and no sewage disposal system. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is a deliberate policy " ... for Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, water shortages are not so much a function of nature as of politics."[143] According to the 1986 Israeli State Comptrollers report, "in most cities of Judea, Samaria [sic] and Gaza, untreated sewage is allowed to run freely into the wadis (an arid stream basin) so that the contamination of groundwater becomes a distinct possibility."[144] Untreated sewage runs freely onto the streets and, as is the case in the Gaza Strip, directly into the sea.

Sewage from Israeli settlements, which are often located on high ground, is often allowed to run freely onto neighboring Palestinian owned land, destroying not only the land and crops, but also contaminating the water supply for the surrounding area.

Israeli analysts Z. Schiff and E. Ya'ari warned that, "the worst problem [in Gaza] threatens to be the availability of water--and not just for agricultural purposes, for it is the consumption or drinking water that stands to rise appreciably with the growth of the population. The greater the demand on local wells, the more sea water will penetrate the water table, making its yield ever saltier until it is no longer potable."[145] With a current population of around 750,000, Gaza's population is expected to rise to over 1 million by the turn of the century.

The supply of domestic water in the Gaza Strip is entirely from shallow groundwater sources. Whereas most Palestinian towns are now connected to a piped water supply network, small villages and outlying communities obtain their supplies from local wells. According to Israeli analyst Kahan, 90 percent of the population in cities and towns and 60 percent of residents in small towns and villages in the Gaza Strip have piped water.[146] This may mean, however, piped water for as little as 20 minutes each day. In the West Bank, estimates indicate that approximately 51 percent of Palestinian villages are not connected to a water network and rely mainly on springs, wells, and rainwater.[147] In the refugee camps throughout the Occupied Territories, the piped water distribution system is limited, with most households dependent on alternative supplies from natural springs, wells, and rainwater collection tanks.

Khan Younis Refugee Camp

According to residents of Khan Younis Refugee Camp, the piped water supply to their homes, with a high salt content, is only turned on for 20 minutes each day by the local municipality. The Khan Youhis Municipality provides water for 85 percent of the refugee camp's residents, while the remaining 15 percent is supplied by UNRWA.[148] Camp residents have to collect water from a standpipe situated half a kilometer from the camp near Nasser Hospital. The hospital was supplied with piped water by the Israeli Civil Administration in 1984 when the hospital opened its kidney department.

According to one of the doctors from the camp's UNRWA clinic, the number of diseases that can be traced to the bad quality of the camp's water supplies is very high. He explained that between 5 and 8 percent of the camp's residents are suffering from giardia, which, he said, was not surprising given that up to 50 percent of the camp's water supplies were found to contain the bacteria. In addition, he noted that the incidence of people with kidney stones had increased significantly, and other diseases, including typhoid and dysentery, were also prevalent in the camp. Although there are private wells in the camp, they are in need of repair and improvements. These are prohibited by the Israeli authorities without prior permission. UNRWA does not administer any new wells in Khan Younis Refugee Camp and the UNRWA office itself has one well whose water cannot be used for drinking because of the high chloride content. Some residents in the camp were given permission to dig new wells in 1991, however they have been unable to start construction because of a lack of funding.

Contamination of Gaza's Water Supplies

There is no one institution responsible for sewage and sanitation in the Gaza Strip. All projects must fit into the master plan prepared by the Israeli Civil Administration, which does not cover the refugee camps (and consequently a large percentage of the population) for political reasons.

Lack of coordination or rational planning has led to the rapid contamination of water resources by pesticide and fertilizers and as a result of the completely ineffective management system for wastewater. Because of the lack of a piped sewage system, raw sewage is often collected in pits and consequently seeps into the underground water supplies. An Israeli State Comptroller report warned that "if a solution is not expedited ... the problem will cause greater damage, and the financial investment required will be much greater than it would be today."[149] A new sewage system for the Gaza Strip will cost $16 million (at 1987 prices), but, as Joyce Starr of the Washington, DC based Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, "Israel has refrained from making significant investments in West Bank and Gaza Strip water and waste water services. ... [other donors and NGOs] have attempted to address this need, but only in a piecemeal fashion."[150]

Sources in the Gaza Strip, including Akram Matter of the Gaza Environmental Programme, say that there is a high incidence of kidney disease in Gaza due to the high salinity of water, caused in part by chloride content. Palestinian and overseas medical workers at al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza have also expressed concern at the increased incidences of kidney disease and other medical conditions related to highly saline and contaminated water supplies.[151] Excessive amounts of nitrates caused by contamination from sewage, widespread throughout the Strip, also has detrimental effects.

Water Surveys in the Rural West Bank

The Palestinian Health Development Information Project has, over the past few years, carried out field research on primary health care in Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank. Below is a summary of their findings concerning water suplies in different areas of the West Bank.

Interim Report 1: Jenin area (1990). Of the 70 communities surveyed, only 24 communities were supplied with piped water by Mekorot--88,906 people, or 45 percent of the total population included in the survey. Remaining communities collected rainwater or water from natural springs. Of the 70 communities, only one, Jenin Refugee Camp, reported being partially served by a piped sewage system for 25 percent of the camp.[152]

Interim Report 2: Tulkarem area (1991). Of a total of 90 communities in the survey, 32 (36 percent) had piped water networks, serving 58 percent of the population. Mekorot served 14 of these networks, 13 were fed from local spring water, and the remaining five were controlled by the Tulkarem and 'Azzun municipal councils. Of the remaining communities, 42 (47 percent) obtained their domestic water supplies solely from rain fed cisterns, although none had access to water quality checks of any kind.[153] One community had no water supply and was forced to use draft animals to carry water from nearby communities.[154]

Interim Report 3: Ramallah area (1991). Of a total of 92 communities surveyed, 77 communities, covering 85 percent of the rural population, had piped water supplies. Forty-seven of these were supplied by the Jerusalem Water Undertaking and the others were supplied by Mekorot.[155]

Interim Report 4: Nablus area and the Jordan Valley (1992). Of a total of 53 communities surveyed, 25 rural communities, comprising some 56 percent of the rural population, had access to piped water supplies, six communities were supplied by local springs, and the rest by Mekorot or the Nablus Water Authority. Of those communities with no access to piped water supplies, 13 obtained their water from rain fed cisterns only, and 15 from rain fed cisterns and natural springs.[156]

Sanitation and Sewage

Sanitary conditions in many villages, and especially in the refugee camps, are appalling. So-called "black water," direct from toilets, often seeps directly into the ground, contaminating the shallow groundwater supplies and percolating to the deep groundwater supplies. This is one of the main causes of high nitrate levels in groundwater sources, especially in land under the refugee camps. So-called "grey water," wastewater from other domestic activities, is usually collected in open drains and ditches, or runs freely on the streets.

With one of the highest population densities in the world (1,857 persons per square kilometer) and poor water supplies, one quarter of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip has no running water in their homes.[157] In the Shati Refugee Camp (Beach Camp) in the Gaza Strip, the sanitary conditions are particularly abominable. The sewage system consists of open ditches running alongside houses and draining directly into the sea. During the fishing season, the sewage openings to the sea are sealed, causing the ditches to overflow and spill over onto the streets and often into houses.

The Israeli authorities have long failed to take seriously the sewage and sanitation problems in the Gaza Strip. This is not because they are unaware of the critical situation. The 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report explained that, "most of the sewaget purified, and contaminates he water table."[158] Even their sewage master plan in the early 1980s did not take into consideration the refugee camps, home to nearly half of the Gaza Strip's population. Attempts by UNRWA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to connect the camps to existing or planned municipal facilities have proved extremely problematic.

According to the 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report, sewage is allowed to run freely out of many Israeli settlements. In 1983, the settlers' Samaria Regional Council, for example, began improvements on the settlements' sewage facilities: "[Their] solutions were not always successful and health hazards re-suited."[159] According to a review of waste disposal in Palestinian towns and cities by the Israeli Health Commission in 1986, critical sewage disposal problems were found in all the main Palestinian towns, including Nablus, Ramallah, El-Bireh, Jericho, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Belt Sahour, and Hebron, as well as in all of the refugee camps. The Commission noted that investment in sewage systems for these towns and cities would require tens of millions of dollars.[160]

Effects of Israeli Settlements

Throughout the Occupied Territories, Israeli settlers, with official Israeli government approval, deprive neighboring Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps of water supplies. In a case in 1986, the Israeli authorities drilled a well to serve settlers in the Herodian area near Bethlehem. This was in addition to four wells already serving the same settlements. According to a statement released by the Bethlehem Water Authority on June 29, 1986, the well was intended to pump 8,000 cubic meters per hour to serve both surrounding settlements and Israel via the National Water Carrier. According to the Water Authority, five Palestinian wells in the Bethlehem and Hebron areas were expected to dry up as a result of construction of the new wells. Israel claims ownership of 80 percent of the water reserves in the Bethlehem area. In another instance, villagers from Bardala and 'Ain al-Baida, both situated on some of the most fertile land in the Jordan Valley, found their land virtually worthless when their wells dried up as a result of deep well drilling by neighboring settlements.

The Ain Yabroud and Ofra Settlement Case. For the past 13 years, sewage and wastewater from the Ofra settlement has been flooding agricultural land in the Hamdoun Valley, causing severe economic and health problems for the people from 'Ain Yabroud village near Ramallah. Most of the crops have been damaged and the land rendered nearly useless.[161]

One farmer, Wajeeh, owns 52 dunams (approximately 12 acres) of agricultural land in the valley. In the summer months he used to plant his land with chick peas, and in the winter months with wheat. In 1982, wastewater and sewage began to flow onto his land from the Israeli Ofra settlement. Approximately five dunams were affected, and the land became unusable because it kept absorbing the sewage through a break in the ground. In 1983, the settlement constructed an uncovered cesspool, 60 meters long, by 35 wide by 3 meters deep, and surrounded it by a 3-meter-high fence. A pipe connected to the pool was periodically opened and wastewater and sewage allowed to flow freely onto Wajeeh's land.

In 1984, Wajeeh took the settlers to court for stealing a large amount of soil from his land--approximately 5,500 cubic meters around the pool--and destroying much of his land. The court decided in his favor, and the settlement was ordered to pay NIS 20,000 (approximately $12,500 at mid-1980s exchange rates) for the soil and as compensation for destroying his land. A campaign of harassment by the settlers forced Wajeeh to resettle the matter out of court with the person responsible for the settlement. He never received the compensation and was instead given back the stolen soil.

Wajeeh then dug a channel to divert the continuing flow of settlement wastewater to stop any further damage to his land. The flow continued, and at the end of November 1991, the wastewater began to flow onto land belonging to two other farmers located 1,500 meters from the cesspool. Once the level of wastewater reached a certain level in the cesspool, the settlers reportedly opened the pipe to let the water out. The surrounding land, covering an area of 30 square meters and a depth of 10 meters, was affected. On one occasion, water flooded a fig grove before passing into the channel constructed by Wajeeh, and then flooded additional fields planted with crops in an area of some 247 dunams, including 70 dunams planted with olive trees. In total, the amount of land damaged by this wastewater was 38.5 percent of the total land in the valley.

According to the PHG, Israel's "water policy ... has been unilateral and exclusive in character."[162] Various official Israeli statements, however, have attempted to gloss over the effects of Israeli policies on Palestinians living under occupation. For example, an Israeli Foreign Ministry background paper asserts that " ... since 1967, the previous Jordanian Civil Law has been maintained in Judea and Samaria [sic] ... requests for the drilling of new wells for household uses have been granted as a matter of course ... [and] the Civil Administration has granted permits to drill wells for agricultural proposes when the criterion [sic] of the law are fulfilled."[163] In justification of Israel's settlement of the Jordan Valley and its subsequent extraction of significant amounts of water, the background paper asserts that the "Jordan Valley ... is hydrologically and demo-graphically isolated and separated from the Arab population centres."[164]

The reality is, of course, different: "[The] lack of water resource development, together with the confiscation of wells on 'absentee property,' means that today there are fewer wells in the Jordan Valley providing less water, for Palestinian agriculture than were available on the eve of the 1967 war."[165]

More worrisome however, is that development and investment plans for the future completely ignore Palestinian interests and instead allow for development and expansion of water supplies to Israeli settlements. According to the 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report, the budget allocations approved by the military's Civil Administration for development of water projects in the West Bank for 1984 and 1985 were only partially used. The report further notes that although "the condition of the water systems [in the West Bank] was grave," and that city councils were encouraged to improve, renovate, and replace water systems as part of their future development plans, an investigation by the Israeli Water Commissioner concluded that this had not been carried out "due to lack of funds."[166] This is merely an excuse, given the fact that Israel deducts large amounts of money in taxes from the wages of Palestinians working inside Israel and from the profits of Palestinian businesses. Israeli analyst Benvenisti estimated that during the first 19 years of Israel's occupation, approximately $700 million--an occupation tax--was deducted from the wages of West Bank Palestinians alone. This was two and a half times the total Israeli government expenditure during the same period. A significant amount of this money makes its way directly into the Israeli treasury. For example, in 1987 alone, Benvenisti estimated that at least $80 million collected from Palestinians in the Occupied Territories was devoted to Israeli public expenditure inside Israel.[167]

While Israel talks about peace and joint and equitable management of the region's shared water resources, it continues to implement policies that amount to de facto annexation of the Occupied Territories and their natural resources. The deep drilling at Herodian near Bethlehem in 1987 worried many Palestinians who saw that excessive drilling of one of the few remaining water sources would rapidly deplete the area's water reserves. For many Palestinians, this policy of expropriating water reserves was part of a wider policy of effectively forcing Palestinians off their land. As Israeli analysts Schiff and Ya'ari explain, to [the Palestinians,] the project was sheer theft, a scheme to wrest control of one of their natural resources (perhaps the sole reserve of water left in the West Bank) as part of a broader plan to reduce the Palestinians a state of national indigence and to drive them out.[168]


A solution to the water crisis will depend on the extent to which the peace agreement between the PLO and Israel succeeds. Then the task begins of finding and implementing solutions to the many problems created by 29 years of Israeli military occupation and the consequent underdevelopment of the Occupied Territories. If the Israeli occupation continues, it is likely that the already critical water situation will worsen significantly. Although advanced water technologies can reduce the strain on existing water supplies, the only genuine and lasting solution to the region's water problems is a comprehensive peace settlement. Like other issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that of water rests on the issue of sovereignty, on the right of Palestinians to self determination, and their fight to develop their land and its resources as they wish.

Palestinians have not refused regional cooperation as a solution to the water problem, but rather have specified conditions that have to be met prior to cooperation. As Tamimi warns, joint water projects cannot be implemented until a comprehensive solution is agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians: Joint projects require peaceful and just conditions and mutual confidences.

While all countries in the region suffer from a shortage of water, the Occupied Territories and Jordan are most severely hit. Although Israel is currently dependent on water resources originating in the occupied West Bank, this dependence need not prevent a mutually acceptable solution from being found. Future planning and development must be based on an equitable and just allocation of the area's scarce water resources. Various policy options and plans are now being presented. With the creation of a new Water Development Program, within the terms of the Declaration of Principles, it is anticipated that experts from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides will specify the mode of cooperation in the management of water resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and will include proposals for studies and plans on water rights of each party, as well as on the equitable utilization of joint water resources for implementation in and beyond the interim period. However, critical to this will be Palestinian access to information on all aspects of water, which up until now has been withheld from them.

Developing work on the water issue need not wait for a final political settlement. One of the most cost efficient and least problematic proposals involves the encouragement of more efficient water management and conservation strategies, and a public education campaign will serve to emphasize the importance of water conservation. Current contamination, especially by sewage, should be monitored and efforts made to limit it further, and pollution control and water treatment processes can be improved.

Present Palestinian nongovernmental organizations working on water, such as PHG, the Land and Water Establishment, and the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), would be able to provide valuable human and physical resources as well as technical and developmental policy advice. For example, PHG conducted a 2-year study to identify the location, condition, and estimated potential output of natural springs, many of which are in a neglected state and are losing water as a result. They have classified springs into those requiring technical assistance, those needing maintenance, and those requiring significant reconstruction for domestic or irrigation projects.

Work is being carried out by PHG to establish a Palestinian monitoring system to provide information and data on water quality, water quantity, and climatic conditions. Accurate information is needed on the exact condition of water reserves in the Occupied Territories to provide the basis for future policy and development. Comprehensive long term monitoring could include information on aquifer characteristics, runoff data, nature of existing and operating wells, hydro-geological data, meteorological data, demographic data, and supply, consumption, and demand figures. Where possible, appropriate agricultural and other technologies (e.g., sprinkler and drip irrigation to reduce evaporation, plant breeding, and high value crops) should be encouraged. According to Palestinian engineer Mohammed Rimmawi, current water losses as a result of inefficient and old technologies are very high, reaching 70 percent in some areas.

Rainwater collection has a long tradition in Palestinian villages and, more recently, has been the focus of major PHG projects in the Occupied Territories. PHG has installed 600 collection systems in the West Bank and constructed pools for collecting rainwater in the central Gaza Strip. In areas of the Naqab in Israel, rainwater runoff is used for both drinking water supplies and agricultural production. In the Golan Heights, Syrian farmers are successfully collecting rainwater in tanks for the irrigation of their apple orchards. In order to help solve the critical water situation in Gaza, it has been suggested that superficial lakes could be constructed, big enough to contain 400,000 cubic meters of water, as well as sand tanks on low lying areas of the Strip to collect rainwater in the winter months. Both of these would help to reduce waste.

Water and sewage projects, especially in the refugee camps, are now being targeted. UNRWA, for example, is building a water distribution system, including a water tank and filter system, at Aqabat Jabr in Jericho, and will be undertaking a feasibility study for future sewage and drainage improvements in the Jericho refugee camps. Other UNRWA projects already underway include the construction of sewage systems in Shati (Beach), Rafah, and the middle refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. Based on 10 years of experience in this field, the Save the Children Fund found that the health benefits from the introduction of a new water supply project can be canceled out by the effects of improperly disposed of wastewater. A sewage disposal project should, according to their experience, always accompany a water supply project, or vice versa.

Although there is no experience in the Gaza Strip of reusing wastewater for irrigation purposes, the process has been successfully applied in both Egypt and Israel. Gaza produces 35 mcm per year of sewage water that currently is not utilized, and wastewater treatment projects in both Jabalia and Gaza City, it is anticipated, will distribute the effluent for irrigation purposes. The estimated amount of reusable domestic wastewater is approximately 30 mcm per year; it is expected to reach 60 mcm by the year 2000, and 130 mcm by the year 2010, representing significant potential water supplies for agricultural purposes.

Palestinian water experts have highlighted the fact that, given current discrimination and inequalities, these activities must be the beginning of a continuous process. Local manpower development, the training and upgrading of staff in all related fields, is needed in order to implement new projects.

Jad Ishaq, head of the new Palestinian Environmental Protection Authority, has noted that, whereas Palestinians are allocated 115 mcm of water per year in the West Bank Israel uses some 450 mcm per year. In addition, while Palestinians can only irrigate 6 percent of their total agricultural land because of water shortages, Israel irrigates 50 percent of the cultivated land inside Israel. Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories irrigate 70 percent of the agricultural land under the control of Israeli settlements. The overall picture illustrates these excesses; that is, Israel is the only country in the world that has 750 mcm of water per year, yet manages to use (from other sources) a total of 2 billion cubic meters.[169]

Israeli policies and practices that hinder and prevent Palestinian development projects and practices aimed at improving water efficiency and preventing further contamination of supplies should cease immediately and military orders should be canceled. Military orders, for example, make construction of plastic greenhouses conditional on a building permit, involving an application process that can take many years and is often unsuccessful. Building.without a permit can, and often does, lead to the demolition of the greenhouse. There are military orders that prevent the renovation and construction of Palestinian wells, and water supplies have become contaminated as a result.

Aside from policies that can and should be implemented now, long term options are being considered. One option that has received particular attention is the desalinization of brackish water or sea water. This is very costly in terms of installation and operational costs, and is only cost effective if undertaken on a large scale with sufficient sources of power available. Although the cost may be prohibitive, if combined with advanced agricultural practices, desalinization could prove vital in forestalling or alleviating water shortages on a large scale. Because a large percentage of the cost of desalinization is associated with the price of energy, solar energy could provide a cheap energy source to fuel the process. According to the Dutch Foreign Ministry team who visited Gaza in 1991, the cheapest option is the desalinization of brackish groundwater; desalinization of seawater is the most expensive option. However, according to Riad Al-Khudari, desalinization as a solution to the water problem in the Occupied Territories and Israel should not be considered until all other options have been exhausted. With regard to the Gaza Strip, for example, Al-Khudari has suggested that Israel stop pumping water inside the Green Line and damming surface water that would otherwise flow into the Gaza Strip.[170]

Many believe that the area's water resources are simply insufficient for future demand and that the import of large amounts of water will be necessary. According to the Dutch Foreign Ministry's report, the "long-term and permanent solution to Gaza's water problem can only be achieved through import of large quantities of water and/or desalination of brackish ground water and seawater."[171] Because of the regional nature of importing water, it is unlikely that this could be implemented prior to a comprehensive peace settlement. Many believe that the necessity of such large scale operations is debatable. Professor Shkeir from Bethlehem University warns, "[Palestinians should] not get involved in the complications of bringing in water from other countries because that would have political connotations ... to pursue it won't get us anywhere as long as we don't have authority."[172]

Crucial to the success of any future action will be the formation of a joint management body composed of representatives from all the countries in the immediate area--Israel Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, including representatives from an independent Palestinian state. Such a regional coordinating body could examine various issues of water resource management and development and investigate different possibilities for improvements and solutions to the region's water deficits. Attention will have to be given to long range research and planning that under past Israeli policies, was directed for the exclusive benefit of Jewish Israelis living in Israel and the Occupied Territories at the expense of Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries.

The interdependence of Palestinian and Israeli water resources can no longer be ignored. Naff's predictions for the Gaza Strip should be taken as a warning: "The Gaza Strip aquifer is rapidly deteriorating. There is already water encroachment from the Mediterranean, and if that aquifer goes, that will have a very serious impact not only on the Gaza Strip, but it could have an impact on the coastal plain aquifer within Israel itself because there is a strong probability that there is an interchange between the two. There is serious deterioration in the aquifer and it is reaching what is known as the red line."[173]

Received 29 September 1996; accepted 2 October 1996.

This article is an edited and abridged version of the original book length study entitled Water: The Red Line published by the Jerusalem Media Communications Center in April 1994. Under the direction of Dr. Ghassan al-Khatib, Director of the Center, the original report was prepared by JMCC staff members Aisling Byrne, Muhsen Abu Ramadan, Dana Mammouri, and Walid Batrawi.


1. A 1991 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) cites slightly different figures for rainfall in the West Bank; see Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, p. 11.

2. J. Schwarz, "Water Resources in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip," in Judea, Samaria and Gaza: Views on the Present and Future, ed. D. Elasat (Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute), p. 95.

3. See Case Document for International Water Tribunal II (The Hague: 1991), p. 20.

4. Ibid.

5. H. J. Bruins et al, Water in the Gaza Strip (The Hague: Government of the Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1991), p. 10.

6. Schwarz, p. 98.

7. See 1985 Israeli State Comptrollers Report (Jerusalem, 1985), p. 16.

8. Bruins, p. 10.

9. Bruins, p. 10.

10. H. Awartani, Artesian Wells in Palestine (Jerusalem: Palestinian Hydrology Group, 1992), p. ii.

11. Abdel Rahman Tamimi, "Natural Springs--An Alternative Source of Water in the Occupied Territories," in The Water Situation in the Occupied Territories (Proceedings of a workshop organized by Palestinian Hydrology Group, Jerusalem, September, 1991), pp. 69-78.

12. See, for example, 1985 Israeli State Comptrollers Report, p. 1; Jerusalem Post, (September 5, 1986); H. Awartani, p. ii; Y. Abu Safiah, The Water Situation in the Occupied Territories, 51, and S. Roy, The Gaza Strip Survey (Jerusalem: West Bank Data Base Project, 1986).

13. 1985 Israeli State Comptroller's Report, p. 15.

14. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Background: Water, Israel and the Middle East (Jerusalem, 1991), p. 3.

15. See ICCP Newsletter 38 (November 25, 1991), p. 7, and United Nations, Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (New York: United Nations, 1992), p. 2.

16. Jerusalem Post (May 28, 1990).

17. See Karen Assaf, "Artificial Groundwater Recharge as an Alternative in Water Resource Management in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," in Proceedings of PHG Workshop, supra, pp. 15-32.

18. See, for example, F. Chipaux, Guardian Weekly (February 16, 1942), p. 16, and the International Herald Tribune (June 10, 1983).

19. Middle East International (February 22, 1991).

20. H. Lindholm, "Water and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," in Regional Case Studies of Water Conflicts, ed. Leif Ohlsson (Padrigu Papers, 1992), p. 50.

21. See Thomas Naff, "Water: An Emerging Issue in the Middle East," The Annals of the American Academy of Political Scientists (November, 1985), quoted in J. Starr and D. Stoll, U.S. Foreign Policy on Water Resources in the Middle East (Washington, DC: The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1987), p. 7.

22. See, for example, United Nations, Water Resources, supra, p. 10, and I. Harmlani, "Israel's Water Policy and Its Effect on the Prospects for a Political Settlement," Journal of Palestinian Affairs (Arabic) (December, 1989), pp. 60-68.

23. J. Starr and D. Stoll, p. 9.

24. D. Davis, Jerusalem Post (May 25, 1990).

25. "Public Announcement, Ministry of Agriculture," Jerusalem Post (August 10, 1990).

26. Case Document for International Water Tribunal (The Netherlands, 1992), p. 15.

27. Ibid.

28. H. J. Bruins, p. iv.

29. Ibid, p. iii.

30. Quoted in Time (February 5, 1990).

31. Report of a study group convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences entitled "Transition to Palestinian Self-Government: Practical Steps Toward Israeli-Palestinian Peace" (Washington, DC: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1992), p. 114.

32. J. Dillman, "Water Rights in the Occupied Territories," Journal of Palestine Studies, 19 (Autumn, 1989): 59.

33. For a description of the two cases in which the Israeli High Court has acknowledged the applicability of the Hague Regulations to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, see M. Shamgar, ed., Military Government in the Territories Administered by Israel 1967-1980: The Legal Aspects, Vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Alphas Press and Hebrew University, 1982), p. 371.

34. See Case Document to the International Water Tribunal II, p. 6.

35. Ibid., p. 7.

36. Ibid., p. 8.

37. J. El-Hindi, "Note: The West Bank Aquifer and Conventions Regarding Laws of Belligerent Occupation," Michigan Journal of International Law, II (Summer, 1990): 1400-1423; see also Case Document, p. 8.

38. For details on the Suez case, see Case Document, p. 6.

39. Ibid.

40. There are three exceptions to this provision: where use is limited to the occupying army, in relation to the resources of the country, if expropriation of private property is in accordance with pre-occupation laws, or if all expropriated resources are paid for by the occupying army. Israel has not complied with any of these exceptions with regard to its requisition of private property. See G. Schwarzenberger, "International Law as Applied by International Courts and Tribunals," The Law and Armed Conflict, 3rd ed., Vol. 2 (London: Stevens and Sons, 1968), p. 266.

41. United Nations, Water Resources of the Occupied Territories, p. 8; D. Kahan, Agriculture and Water Resources in the West Bank and Gaza (1967-1987), (Jerusalem: West Bank Data Base Project, 1987), p. 113.

42. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Background: Water, Israel and the Middle East (Jerusalem, 1987), p. 113.

43. M. Benvenisti, 1986 Report, 21.

44. See Israel and the Occupied Territories, U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991. Prepared for the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations of the House of Representatives and the Senate (Washington, DC: 1992), p. 1440.

45. Israel Yearbook of Human Rights (14), (Jerusalem: 1984), p. 310.

46. Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, p. 28.

47. Foundation for Middle East Peace, Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories (Washington, DC: 1991).

48. Jerusalem Post (September 5, 1986): 9.

49. Dillman, p. 62.

50. Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, p. 68.

51. J. Pictet, ed., Commentary, VI Geneva Convention: Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in the Time of War (Geneva: International Red Cross, 1958), p. 312.

52. Ibid., p. 310.

53. Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, p. 68.

54. Ibid., p. 4.

55. Ibid., p. 69.

56. Ibid.

57. For a report on Resolution 36/173, see Blaine Sloan, The Palestine Yearbook of International Law (1989): pp. 369-403. Case Document to the International Water Tribunal.

58. Case Document to the International Water Tribunal II, p. 19.

59. Ibid., p. 18.

60. Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, p. 10.

61. Case Document to the International Water Tribunal II, p. 4.

62. Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, p. 66.

63. Dillman, p. 48.

64. Ibid.

65. J. Hayes, Tennessee Valley Authority on the Jordan: Proposals for Irrigation and Hydro-Electric Development in Palestine (n.p: Washington Public Affairs Press, 1948) as quoted in Dillman, p. 49.

66. Ibid.

67. Quoted in S. Flapan, The Birth of Israel (New York: Pantheon, 1987), p. 22.

68. See K. Basheer Nijim, "Water Resources in the History of the Palestine-Israel Conflict," Geojournal 21 (1990): 317-323, as quoted in H. Lindholm, "Water and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," p. 62.

69. Lindholm, p. 58.

70. See J. Cooley, "The War Over Water," Foreign Policy 54 (Spring, 1984): 16.

71. E. Anderson, "The Vulnerability of Arab Water Resources,"Arab Affairs (Summer/Fall, 1988): 73-81.

72. Yehuda Litani, Ha'aretz (November 27, 1978).

73. F. Chipaux, Guardian Weekly (February 16, 1992): 16.

74. J. Starr, p. 23.

75. Quoted in H. Amery, Water Scarcity in the Middle East (Toronto: University of Toronto, Centre for International Studies, 1992), p. 34.

76. Amon Magen, Davar (November 26, 1978).

77. United Nations, supra, 70.

78. United Nations, 70 as quoted in (December 17, 1990).

79. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Background Paper (Jerusalem: 1992), 2.

80. Foundation for Middle East Peace, Report on Israeli Settlement, Vol. 2 (Washington, DC: 1992), p. 6.

81. Yoel Marcus, Ha'aretz (September 1, 1992).

82. Foundation for Middle East Peace, p. 6.

83. United Nations, supra, 3.

84. Peace Now Report, The Real Map (Jerusalem: Peace Now, 1992), p. 27.

85. See Gwyn Rowley, "The West Bank: Native Water-Resource System and Competition," Political Geography Quarterly 9 (January, 1990): 39-52.

86. Samara, p. 82.

87. For a detailed treatment of Israeli military orders, see Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, Israeli Military Orders in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank, 1967-1992 (Jerusalem: JMCC, 1993).

88. 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report (Jerusalem: 1987), p. 3.

89. See Report to the UN Secretary-General, quoted in Dillman, p. 53.

90. See ICCP Newsletter, 38 (November 25, 1991): 7; and United Nations, supra, 8.

91. 1986 Israeli Comptrollers Report, p. 16.

92. Ibid., p. 1.

93. Ibid., p. 4.

94. See K. Quba'a, "Israel's Theft of Water in the West Bank," Shu'oun Falastinia 231/232 (June/July, 1992): 45-58.

95. Michael Dumper, "Jerusalem's Infrastructure: Is Annexation Irreversible?" Journal of Palestine Studies, 23 (Spring, 1993): 3.

96. Dumper, p. 7.

97. Jerusalem Post (July 23, 1990).

98. United Nations, supra, 20.

99. Dillman, p. 54.

100. U. Davs and W. Lehn, "And the Fund Still Lives," Journal of Palestine Studies, 7 (Summer, 1978): 3, as quoted in Dillman, pp. 54-55.

101. T. Ataov, "The Israeli Use of Palestinian Waters," in Palestinian Rights: Affirmation and Denial, ed. Ibrahim Abu Lughod (Wilmette, II: Medina Press, 1982), 153, as quoted in Dillman, p. 11.

102. Sara Roy, "Development Under Occupation," Arab Studies Quarterly, 13 (Summer/Fall, 1991): 73.

103. See, for example, M. Benvenisti, U.S. Government Funded Projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (1977-1983) (Palestinian Sector), Working Paper No. 13 (Jerusalem: West Bank Data Base Project, 1984); and JMCC's report, Israeli Obstacles to Economic Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

104. United Nations Report of the Secretary-General (A/39/326-E/1984/111), paragraph 41, June 29, 1984. This report was compiled by a team of experts tasked to study the question of permanent sovereignty over national resources in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories.

105. United Nations, supra, 32.

106. Ibid.

107. Ibid.

108. Awartani, p. iv.

109. Ibid., p. iii.

110. M. Subeih, "Well Rehabilitation," in Proceedings of the Workshop Concerning the Water Situation in the Occupied Territories (Jerusalem: Palestinian Hydrology Group, 1991), 41.

111. Awartani, p. iv.

112. Ibid., p. v.

113. Ibid., p. 36.

114. Ibid.

115. Ibid., p. 37.

116. United Nations Report S/14268 of the Security Council Commission, established under Resolution 446 (1979), November 25, 1980, cited in Water Resources of the Occupied Territory, p. 28.

117. See R. Musallam, "Whose Hand on the Tap?" 19 (Summer, 1990) Monograph Series 19 (London: Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies).

118. See J. Cooley, pp. 3-26.

119. See I. Harmlani, "Israel's Water Policy and Its Effect on the Prospects for a Political Settlement," Journal of Palestinian Affairs (December, 1989): 60-68.

120. Sara Roy, The Gaza Strip (Jerusalem: West Bank DataBase Project, 1986), p. 51.

121. Rowley, p. 45.

122. Awartani, p. vi.

123. Awartani, p. vii.

124. Ibid.

125. Ibid., p. vi.

126. Ibid.

127. See Israeli State Comptroller's Report, p. 12

128. Peace Now, The Real Map (Jerusalem: Peace Now), p. 27.

129. H. Baker, "The Palestinian Dimension in the Arab-Israeli Water War," Samed Al-Iktisadi, 88 (April/May/June, 1992): 10-29.

130. An Nahar (February 5, 1993), 5.

131. See Chapter 7 on employment, unemployment and emigration in Israeli Obstacles to Economic Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, supra.

132. Peace Now, The Real Map, 27.

133. Bruins, p. 26.

134. Al-Fajr (English) (February 25, 1991).

135. A. Sbeih, "Water and the Conflict in the Middle East," Samed Al-Iktisadi 89 (July/August/September, 1992): 23.

136. Lindholm, p. 74.

137. Peace Now, The Real Map, 26.

138. F. Chipaux, Guardian Weekly (February 6, 1992): 16.

139. Peace Now, supra, 27.

140. Sbeih, p. 23.

141. Ibid.

142. See, for example, Jerusalem Post International reporting of March 23, 1991; and December 29, 1991.

143. Christian Science Monitor.

144. See 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report, p. 1.

145. Z. Schiff and E. Ya'ari, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising--Israel's Third Front (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 89.

146. See Kahan, Agriculture and Water Resources (Jerusalem: West Bank Data Base Project, 1987).

147. PHG Bulletin No. 5 (Jerusalem: Palestinian Hydrology Group), 2.

148. Bruins, p. 20.

149. Quoted in J. Starr and D. Stoll, p. 8.

150. Ibid.

151. Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, Special Report No. 2 (Washington, DC: 1991), p. 3.

152. Health Development Information Project, West Bank Rural Primary Health Care Survey: Interim Report No. 1 Jenin Area (December, 1990), p. 8.

153. Studies on the quality of water from random samples reveal that although piped chlorinated water supplies were free from dangerous bacterial contaminations, the majority of cisterns sampled revealed fecal contamination, which, according to World Health Organization standards, made them unfit as drinking water.

154. West Bank Rural Health Care Survey: Interim Report No. 2: Tulkarem Area (Jerusalem: HDIP, 1991), 9.

155. West Bank Rural Health Care Survey: Interim Report No. 3: Ramallah Area (Jerusalem: HDIP, 1991), 17.

156. West Bank Rural Health Care Survey Interim Report No. 4: Nablus Area and the Jordan Valley (Jerusalem: HDIP 1991), 9.

157. Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, Special Report No. 2 (Washington, DC: 1991), p. 3.

158. 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report, p. 19.

159. Ibid., p. 10.

160. Ibid.

161. Zuheir Sabagh and Eyad Al-Wad, Ain Yabroud Village During the Uprising: Violations of Human Rights During the First 32 Months of the Intifada (Ramallah: Al Haq, 1992), p. 17.

162. Case Document to the International Water Tribunal II, p. 3.

163. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Background Paper, p. 2.

164. Ibid.

165. According to the Absentee Property Law of 1950, "all 1948 Palestinian Arab displaced persons and refugees are categorized as "absentees," forcing them to be "alienated from all rights to Israeli citizenship, to their lands, and to their properties in Israel." See also, Quiring, quoted in Lindholm, p. 71.

166. 1986 Israeli State Comptroller's Report, p. 13.

167. M. Benvenisti, 1987 Report cited in Israeli Obstacles to Economic Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, p. 129.

168. Schiff and Ya'ari, p. 89.

169. Jad Ishaq, quoted in A. Sela'a, Al-Quds (February 2, 1993).

170. Interview with Riad Al-Khudari, An-Nahar (March 18, 1993).

171. Quoted in A. Shkeir, The Water Situation in the Occupied Territories, p. 92.

172. Al-Quds (September 3, 1992).

173. Naff, quoted in Shawwa, p. 36.