A media watchdog blasted a report in The Independent that falsely accused Israel of cutting off drinking water to Palestinians in the West Bank during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The report, written by freelancer Peter Yeung and published Wednesday, alleged that tens of thousands of Palestinians were being denied water resources “at a time when temperatures can exceed 35C.”
UK Media Watch, a media monitoring organization, consequently investigated the charges and learned from Israel’s national water utility, Mekorot, that it has reduced allocations of water to both Israeli and Palestinian communities due to increased demand in the summer and declining water levels in the West Bank’s mountain aquifer. “However, to make up for this shortage and, most importantly, to address the changing water needs of Palestinian Muslims during the holiday of Ramadan, Israel INCREASED the amount of available water to the Hebron and Bethlehem communities, and INCREASED the amount of available water during the night, the time when religious Muslims will need it the most,” UK Media Watch wrote.
According to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT), the Israeli government body that works with authorities in the West Bank, a burst pipeline temporarily disrupted the water supply, but the pipeline has since been repaired.
— COGAT (@cogat_israel) June 15, 2016
At the very end of his article, Yeung quoted a representative of COGAT who said: “Several hours ago, COGAT’s Civil Administration team have repaired a burst pipe line, which disrupted the water supply to the villages of Marda, Biddya, Jamma’in, Salfit and Tapuach. The water flow has been regulated and is currently up and running.”
“Given the failure to develop infrastructures as a result of the unwillingness on behalf of the Palestinians to convene the Joint Water Committee (JWC), there are problems in the water supply,” COGAT added.
Yeung further claimed that “Israel has limited the water available to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since its forces occupied the territories” in 1967, repeating a charge discredited by Akiva Bigman in the Myth of the Thirsty Palestinian, which was published in the April 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine.
At the end of Jordanian rule in 1967, the West Bank Palestinians received a relatively low 65 million cubic meters of water per year.
Whatever the depredations of the Israeli occupation may have been, there is no doubt that they did not apply to the issue of water supplies. Within five years of the Israeli takeover in 1967, the water supply grew by 50 percent; and the IDF Civilian Administration, which rules over the territory, established a pumping system that brought water directly to city centers, where residents could fill water containers for personal use. …
In terms of per capita consumption, there has also been substantial improvement. In 1967, per capita consumption stood at 93,000 liters per year. In 2006, it stood at 129,000 liters per year, close to the average in Israel proper—170,000 liters per year.
Bigman also documented the history behind the false charge that Israel deliberately deprives Palestinians of drinking water:
What about unused water sources? The majority of this is located in the eastern aquifer, which flows beneath the Jordan Valley. It contains approximately 70 million cubic meters of water a year that is left unused. The rights to this water were granted to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have yet to exercise these rights to any significant degree, and the failure do so is entirely their own. For example, over 40 potential drilling sites in the Hebron area were identified and approved by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee; but in the two decades since then, drilling has taken place in only three places, and this is in spite of substantial funding provided to the PA by donor nations. This is both tragic and ironic, because undertaking these drilling projects could entirely solve the area’s current water issues; instead, the Palestinians have chosen to both blame Israel for their water problems and drill into the Western aquifer, which provides water to Israel.
In regard to waste and optimal use of water sources, it is also clear that the Palestinians are very far from fulfilling the most basic requirements of international law. Because the PA does not properly maintain its water system, it suffers from a 33 percent rate of water loss, mostly due to leakage; in contrast to an 11 percent loss from the Israeli system. In addition, a large percentage of Palestinian agriculture uses surface irrigation, a primitive and wasteful technology profoundly unsuited to the region’s limited water sources. The use of more efficient methods, such as drip or sprinkler irrigation, as well as better water purification and distribution, would both conserve resources and free up a much larger amount of fresh water for home use—according to the Israeli Water Authority, as much as 10 million cubic meters.
To the extent that a viable water supply infrastructure exists in the West Bank, it is because Israel built and maintained it. While this infrastructure was certainly constructed, in part, to service Israeli communities, its benefits have not been denied to the Palestinians, and no one familiar with the statistics involved can claim otherwise without being patently dishonest.
That Israel is so consistently blamed for this problem is especially problematic because it makes it less likely that the Palestinians will deal with it themselves. As shown above, the Palestinians have the ability to both live up to their obligations under international law and solve their existing water problems in doing so. The money, technology, and knowledge they need all exist and are available to them from both foreign and Israeli sources. That the Palestinians have either chosen not to avail themselves of such aid or cannot do so effectively due to internal problems is tragic, but it is not the fault of the State of Israel.
[Photo: Issam Rimawi / Flash90 ]