By: George Kurzom
Israeli bulldozers razed Palestinian agricultural land south of Bethlehem
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Since the signing of Oslo Accords in 1993, the destruction of Palestinian agricultural structure has continued with full force through Israeli confiscation and settlement practices and incessant settlement expansion, leveling, closure and appropriation of hundreds of thousands of dunums of mostly fertile agricultural land. This takes place in parallel with the uprooting and destruction of agricultural crops and millions of seedlings and fruit trees, as well as the looting of water and groundwater wells, forcing many farmers to abandon farming altogether or buy water from Israeli companies and settlements, which steal water from their aquifers and sell it back to them for very high prices.
It is noteworthy that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank (including Jerusalem) when Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 did not exceed 220,000 and has reached now around 650,000, reflecting a three-fold increase. Their current number even exceeds their number on the eve of the occupation of the majority of historical Palestine in 1948, when there were around 550,000 Zionist settlers, who took over 78% of the area of historical Palestine.
In fact, the Israeli occupation’s control over Palestinian water have not changed in essence after Oslo, as the occupation was granted the right to allow or ban the development and maintenance of the Palestinian water infrastructure. Oslo Accords based their calculations on the amount of water “provided” by the occupation to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip when the Accords were signed, with no regard to the projected population growth. Hence an annual amount of 118 million cubic meters were allocated to the Palestinians from the three West Bank aquifers through digging, agricultural wells, springs and rain, while the same Accords allocated an annual amount of 483 million cubic meters from the same water sources to the Israelis (settlers mainly). Yet Israel often exceeds this limit by a large margin.
For example, the Israeli occupation authorities “allocated” around 45 million cubic meters of water to around 10,000 settlers in Jordan Valley and north Dead Sea settlements. In contrast, water available to West Bank residents (around 2.5 million people) is around 150 million cubic meter for all purposes, i.e., domestic, industrial and agricultural. In other words, around 10,000 settlers enjoy about one third of the amount of water available to 2.5 million people.
The organized looting of Palestinian water sources by Israel is the main cause of the drought of Palestinian springs in the Jordan Valley, specifically because the occupation authorities drill wells reaching critical depths (i.e., depths that exceed the depth of springs used by the Palestinians). In result, dozens of natural springs that have been a main source of water for drinking and irrigation in the Jordan Valley have dried up and vanished.
The Palestinians are prohibited from using the western mountainous aquifer that extends along the West Bank and Galilee. This aquifer is the largest, richest ad best quality among all aquifers in Palestine and enjoys high levels of recharging. Israel loots the majority of its water. The Palestinian are also prohibited from their right to their wealth of water in the Jordan River, which was partially available to them prior to June 1967.
The worst “scandal” in the agreements with the Israelis is reflected in leaving Gaza alone facing a terrible level of injustice and shortage of water. According to these agreements, the Gaza Strip “should” manage its water affairs by itself and rely only on the scarce groundwater within its borders. This has forced the Gazans to resort to excessive pumping of water, causing continuous infiltration of seawater and sewage into the groundwater. Consequently, over 90% of the fresh water has become unfit for drinking.
On the other hand, the colonial Separation Wall is the most blatant and gravest Israeli war crime against humanity and the environment in view of its devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of dunums of Palestinian fertile and cultivated lands that have been levelled and appropriated, as well as the destruction of the vegetation cover, uprooting and looting of hundreds of thousands of carob, olive, almond and palm trees, uprooting of rare wild plants, stealing and transfer of fertile surface soil to Israel, threats to biodiversity and threats of extinction to certain animal species, such as in Jenin area and Jordan Valley, including wild birds, deer, desert hedgehog, wolves and hyenas.
The Wall is basically aimed at annexing lands located over the western aquifer, which is the richest Palestinian aquifer. In fact, the route of the Wall was specifically decided to extend alongside this aquifer and the hundreds of Israeli wells extracting its water.
The Wall has annexed the most fertile agricultural lands of the West Bank, isolating a total area of 733 sq. km, or around 13% of the area of the West Bank. Endangered agricultural lands constitute around 28% of the total agricultural land in the West Bank.