The Middle East is one of the world’s most water-stressed regions. It is therefore essential that water is shared equitably. Since its 1967 occupation of the oPt, Israel has completely controlled our water resources and deprived us of access to a sufficient share of water, in violation of international law. Instead, Israel has used our water resources for its illegal settlements and its own population, forcing our communities to purchase water from Israeli companies at high commercial prices.
The main sources of water shared by Israelis and Palestinians are (i) surface water, including the Jordan River and Wadi Gaza, and (ii) groundwater sources, or aquifers, lying under the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel utilizes approximately 86 percent of available shared fresh water resources (including groundwater resources and surface water resources), leaving our population with less than 14 percent. This comes despite the fact that the great majority of the areas where the various aquifer basins are fed, or “recharged,” lie within the oPt. If water resources were shared on the basis of equal per capita shares today, given the population breakdown, we would receive approximately 38 percent of the total resource, instead of the above mentioned 14 percent.
As a result, each Palestinian living in the oPt receives an average of less than 60 liters per capita per day for domestic purposes, versus 280 liters per capita per day for an average Israeli. On average, we survive on much less than the 100 liters per day recommended by the World Health Organization as the minimum per capita water availability.
Since 1967, Israel has assumed near complete control over all our water resources, thus depriving us of our right to access and control one of our essential natural resources. Discriminatory measures adopted by Israeliauthorities include:
- Restricting our drilling of new water wells (especially in the Western Basin)
- Restricting our pumping or deepening of existing wells
- Denying us access to the Jordan River since 1967
- Restricting our access to areas with fresh water springs
- Limiting our ability to utilize surface water (i.e.harvesting flash flood water from major valleys)
- Limiting our ability to develop water and sewage infrastructure
At the same time, wells for Israeli settlements, many of which are strategically located over areas characterized by high groundwater potential, are approved without delay and routinely drilled deep into the aquifer. Due to high pumping rates, these wells often dry up more shallow Palestinian wells located nearby. The consequence of much of this Israeli action has been to force our communities to purchase water, at a high cost, from Israeli companies.
Israel’s unfair use of our water resources continued uninterrupted during the Oslo negotiations. Under the 1995 Palestinian-Israeli Interim Agreement, we were, according to the agreement, to develop 70-80 million cubic meters (MCM)/year of water as additional quantities from the Eastern Aquifer and other agreed sources in the West Bank, as a temporary measure during the interim period only. This amount is itself far below a reasonable and equitable allocation of shared water resources. However, in practice, less than half that amount (24 MCM/year), on average, has been made available to us by Israel to date. Meanwhile, our population has doubled since the signing of the Oslo agreement, meaning that the water available to us, per capita, has fallen dramatically.
During the pre-Oslo period in which Israel was solely responsible for water-related issues in the oPt, Israel failed to invest adequately in water infrastructure to serve our communities. Since the signing of the Interim Agreement, Israel has consistently used the veto power to prevent us from undertaking projects designed to develop groundwater resources in the West Bank.
In addition to utilizing a disproportionate amount of water, Israeli settlements have caused significant environmental damage. Settlers discharge domestic, agricultural and industrial wastewater and solid wastes into nearby valleys without treatment. Polluting industries, such as aluminum and plastics, as well as waste disposal sites, have been transferred into the West Bank, particularly over the past 20 years as environmental controls in Israel have tightened. These practices threaten the quality of the groundwater and the surface water resources shared by the two parties.
- Israel draws water from Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) and transports it out of the Jordan River Basin to coastal cities and the Naqab (Negev) Desert through the National Water Carrier. The amount of water diverted (about 440 to 600 MCM/yr) is such that no natural water flows naturally out of Lake Tiberias, to the lower part of the Jordan River. This is one of the main reasons for the decrease in the water level of the Dead Sea.
- The availability of fresh water to us has decreased markedly on a per capita basis since the 1995 Interim Agreement.
- The per capita consumption of water in Israel is over four times greater than that in the oPt.
- The groundwater in Gaza is in a state of crisis, due to massive Israeli pumping from large wells surrounding Gaza, by over-pumping inside Gaza in reaction to Israeli imposed water scarcity, and due to contamination resulting from the forgoing two factors and the Gaza Strip’s dearth of waste processing capacity. As a result, the great majority of our population in Gaza has no safe drinkingwater. Around 60 percent of diseases in the Gaza Strip result from poor water quality. According to the World Bank and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports, only five to ten percent of drinking-water wells in Gaza are suitable for the provision of safe drinking water.
- International water law determines the water rights of the parties. Applicable standards include those identified in the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers of 1966 and the 1997 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.
- International water law calls for the “equitable and reasonable” allocation of water among the two or more parties that possess a claim to shared watercourses.
- The right to water is a human right. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted: “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.”
The attainment of water rights and the fair allocation of water are required for a successful two-state solution and future political stability in the region. Water issues are linked to, and impact numerous other issues to be negotiated, including borders, settlements, economic relations and refugees, among others.
We must have control over and access to our water resources. We accept the principle of international water law stipulating that both Israel and Palestine are entitled to an equitable and reasonable allocation of shared freshwater resources, including those in the four main aquifers (Eastern, North-Eastern, Western and Coastal), the Jordan River, and Wadi Gaza.