Speaking to the American Congress in May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that Israel would maintain a long-term presence in the West Bank's Jordan Valley. In the months that followed, the Israeli army stepped up its attacks on the water wells of the Palestinians who live there.
Israeli forces destroy a water container in the West Bank (photo: Morrison World News)
According to Jordan Valley Solidarity, the Israeli army demolished two water wells on Monday in Baqa’a, near the West Bank Palestinian village of Tammun. The water was used, primarily, to irrigate agricultural land. Hundred of families depend on the land for their livelihood.
The last two months have seen a steady stream of Israeli army attacks on Palestinian Bedouin water wells in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
On October 13, farmers received demolition orders on several water wells in Kufr al-Deek, a village in the town of Salfit near Nablus. On the 8th of September, 50 military jeeps, trucks and bulldozers sealed off Al Nasarayah as a closed military zone, and proceeded to illegally destroy 3 water wells and confiscate the attached water systems, the pumps of which cost $40,000 each to install. Five days later, the IOF returned to Al Nasarayah to demolish 2 more wells, stopping along the way to destroy another well east of Tamoun. The next day, IDF soldiers entered the village of Al- Fa’ara, near Nablus, to photograph and record the GPS coordinates of 6 more wells intended for demolition.
These water wells had permits from the Palestinian Authority, and were operating in the 5% of the Jordan Valley designated after the 1993 Oslo Accords Area A, under full Palestinian civil and military control.
Since the beginning of Israel’s colonization of the Jordan Valley in 1967, local Bedouin have seen the steady drying-up of the once-flowing springs around which they built their villages. They are unable to dig sufficient wells of their own because of crippling Israeli regulations, and have become dependent on the Israelis for access to a basic human right.
According to Ma’an Development Center’s 2010 report ‘Draining Away- the Water and Sanitation Crisis in the Jordan Valley’, 40% of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley consume less water than the minimum global standard set by the World Health Organization, which is set at 100 liters cubed per day. In a striking disparity, 56,000 Palestinians in the Jordan Valley consume an average of 37 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water per year, as compared to an average of 41 MCM for only 9,400 settlers.
Because of post-Oslo Accords regulations, Jordan Valley Bedouins living in Area C (95% of the Valley) cannot build, or improve, the smallest animal pen, much less a water well, without a permit, which is almost impossible to obtain. The Oslo Accords set up a Joint Water Committee (JWC), composed of Israelis and Palestinians, to grant construction permits.
However, ‘Draining Away’ reports that “around 150 Palestinian water and sanitation projects are still pending JWC approval for ‘technical and security reasons’, while only one new Palestinian well project for the [West Bank] Western aquifer has been approved since 1993. In contrast, Israel is able to construct pipelines to its illegal settlements without going through the mechanism of the JWC. Thus Israel effectively has full control of water resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
Even if a project is approved by the JWC, it must then be approved by the Israeli Civil Administration, where, according to Deeb Abdelghafar, Director of Water Resources for the Palestinian Water Authority, “there are more than 14 departments, and each department must approve on the project. So we can never get a project through”.
The 2009 World Bank report ‘Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Development: West Bank and Gaza’ quotes an anonymous NGO donor: “the first thing we request is a letter from PWA approving the project. Then we go to the JWC. But then we have to go to the Civil Administration – and there delays of 2-3 years are normal. In fact, we have no positive outcomes for Area C.”
Because of the impossibility of laying infrastructure, NGOs focus, says Abdelghafar, on “civil emergency intervention- by delivering small water tankers, by supplying them with water tanks, by constructing rainwater cisterns- it’s emergency humanitarian relief.” While important, this aid is temporary, able only to alleviate the symptoms, not cure the disease.
The Israelis, Abdhelgafar makes clear, “are trying to establish control over the Valley, by preventing or destroying permanent water infrastructure...they want to clear Area C of Palestinians”.