By: Zahra Khadraj
Several areas in the West Bank suffer from frequent water cuts due to political reasons created by the occupation
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
The impact of the Oslo agreement on the water crisis
The Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993 to confirm the situation that already existed, and confirms the occupation’s control over water and its control over its resources, uses and distribution. Despite the occupation’s recognition of the Palestinians’ right to water, which was stated in one of the provisions of the agreement as follows: “Israel recognizes the water rights of the Palestinians in the West Bank.” Those rights will be negotiated to reach a settlement in the final statement of the agreement.
The recognition was not translated on ground into a practical reality that does justice to the Palestinians and restores any of their stolen rights. Rather, it kept them outside the circle of control over their water. The occupation continued to impose strict restrictions that required obtaining a prior license for every big and small thing related to the water issue from the Israeli water officer.
After Israel confiscated the old wells, it prevented the Palestinians from digging new wells unless it agreed to that and under humiliating conditions, including: that the depth of the new well not exceed 140 meters, and that the amount of water extracted should not exceed 100 cubic meters per hour.
The occupation continued to drain water at a time when the amounts of rain fluctuated, which caused an annual deficit in underground reservoirs ranging between 40 and 50 million cubic meters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which led to daily suffering and restrictions on the Palestinian citizen and a threat to the agriculture and livestock sector and increase in water salinity.
The Palestinian per capita share of water is between 80 and 90 liters of water in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, compared to 370 liters of water per day for one settler in West Bank settlements. In the Jordan Valley, the average per capita share drops to between 20 and 25 liters only, compared to 420 liters for the settlers.
Israel controls the water completely and does not deal with the Palestinian as having a right to this water, but rather as a user who is provided with a water service.
Another problem was and still exists, which is the large amount of water leakage and loss in the Palestinian areas due to the old networks that the occupation prevents from repairing, which leads to a decrease in water reaching the Palestinians.
After the signing of the Oslo Agreement, the number of settlements increased steadily, and the issue of water was directly connected to settlement. If we follow the water maps, we will notice that the Israel established settlement projects over the water basins, and the observer notes that the issue of water control began from the early beginnings of the occupation when he rushed to plant his settlements over the water basins, which began to exploit their waters at very high rates, which led to drain Wells and springs that supply the Palestinians with water, while the settlements still dump their waste in landfills, without worrying about the pollution they cause above and below ground.
How the Oslo agreement negatively affected the Palestinian waters?
Upon signing the Oslo Accords, the water issue was postponed to the final status agreements with other outstanding issues such as the issue of Jerusalem, the refugees, the settlements, the borders, and the security arrangements, without addressing the issue of agricultural water in the agreement.
The agreement did not mention the Palestinian right to the waters of the Jordan River, at a time when the occupation secured the right of veto for any future talks on that water and its right to confiscate all Palestinian wells.
The water authorities were supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in 1999, but these issues remained pending, and the water issue took a form of commercial practical measures that have nothing to do with the final solution, which caused the Palestinian to lose control of their water permanently, and forced them to buy water to meet their needs from " Mekorot Company, which is Israel’s main water provider to the Palestinian areas.
The volume of water that is purchased from the Mekorot Company and provided to the Palestinian areas annually is 120 million cubic meters, while the annual Palestinian need of water reaches 450 million cubic meters, in other words, the access rate is only (40-45%) of real need.
Israel used to reduce the water quota for the Palestinians at the beginning of each summer, and the water card is usually used for political issues to achieve two goals: first, to reduce pressure on water in the West Bank to be used for the purposes of settlement expansion, and secondly, to push Palestinians to buy water from treatment plants for profitable purposes.
Water problems never end
The water problems in the areas of the West Bank and Gaza did not stop at the theft and depletion of water sources, but went beyond that, to polluting Palestinian water with sewage. It has deliberately polluted the rest of the water that is suitable for use and drinking, directly or indirectly, between untreated wastewater and solid waste (of various types of industrial, domestic, etc.) Wadi al-Nar, Wadi Kana, Wadi al-Salqa, Wadi Gaza, and others, all of which cause serious damage to the environment, not limited to the increase in soil salinity and the spread of unpleasant odors, pests and rodents in those areas, but also to clogging the soil pores and decreasing its productivity, and the disappearance of vegetation cover on its surface leading to complete desertification.
As for the random dumping of wastewater and waste in different locations, it has a catastrophic effect on groundwater, as the pollutants contained in wastewater and solid waste seep into the underground reservoirs, increasing the proportion of nitrates, salts and heavy toxic elements such as zinc, lead, cadmium and others, not to mention the radioactive elements found in the Palestinian drinking waters.
The two parties signed the Oslo agreement, but Israel’s policy has not changed, while the biggest crime we are committing against ourselves, our present, our future, and the future of our homeland and our children is to remain silent about continuing this agreement.
What are we waiting for! We need to stop the implementation of the Oslo Agreement, which proved its failure to stop the looting and pollution of Palestinian water resources, at a time when we really thought that we owned a state in reality this agreement only divided us in scattered parts of our country. It besieged a part of us in a poor strict that does not meet the basic conditions necessary for living, and proceeded to suppress and subjugate the second part, forgetting that we are still occupied, and that the real enemy is the one who occupies our land and not only drains our resources but also drains the energy of our people.
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh