The recent post WATER IS ANOTHER MATTER brought Gaza’s water crisis into focus. But it did something else equally important, it reminded me just how crucial getting both sides of a story really is.
In the case of a country being accused of ‘controlling the amount of water available to its people, thereby preventing Palestinians from being able to develop and survive in a human way, and that the only water accessible to them is so bad it causes kidney infections and even miscarriages,’ further investigation, I feel, is an absolute must...
The idea of control
Much of what I found online and the central gist of the initial post suggests that Israel directly controls the amount of water in Gaza. But there were even more worrying claims to follow, namely that more water is given to Jewish settlers in Palestine than to Palestinians. The implication being that the Israeli government is not only controlling access to water (a frightening enough accusation), but that it values the life of its settlers much more than the natives.
The fact that none of the online resources quote Israeli’s spokespeople or even give the impression that they had tried to get an explanation or a comment from the Israeli government puzzled me. This is a democratic country, right on Gaza’s doorstep, with such dangerous claims flying around, why was nobody seeking answers from the alleged perpetrators?
Jumping the gun
I was surprised by how thick and fast responses came to the initial post with comments such as, Sadly, water and other resources are always used to control territories and people... Water is something it is impossible to live without, and sad that it is controlled this way to destroy people.
De-politicizing the issue of water
In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be wars, but as things stand today there are many conflicts around the world. The first thing we need to do is gather the facts in order to understand the situation. And so, whichever side you do or don’t support in is wholly irrelevant, and best left at the door.
When it comes to ascertaining the extent of Gaza’s water crisis, and in due course, attempting to resolve it, impartiality is absolutely crucial. Pushing an agenda, omitting information, or only showing one side of the story serves only to do more harm than good.
I wanted to avoid being political here, because I feel it irrelevant in this instance. However, I do feel compelled to respond to the mention of Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints and explain, to those who made be unaware that there is a necessity for these due to the longstanding and ongoing threat of suicide bombs to Israel. They were never introduced nor intended as a measure to aggravate or deliberately hamper the lives of those who have to use them.
In an ideal world, we also wouldn’t have any overtly bias propaganda, but we do. It only took a little bit of investigative digging this morning to realise that much of what can be found online is not the full story.
The other side:
Reports on this issue compiled by Amnesty do contain a lot of misinformation. One of my sources reveals that in actual fact, Palestinians in Gaza have refused help to build a desalination plant even thought they have had grants for it. Below are refutations of some of Amnesty’s claims, which they have been notified of, but, for whatever reason have chosen not to respond to or act on:
Amnesty p3: “Palestinian consumption in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is about 70 litres per day per person whereas Israeli daily per capita consumption is about 300 litres”
Truth: In 2008 Palestinian per capita daily consumption was 270 litres per day, Israel’s was 405, a factor of 1.5, not 4. Egypt, Lebanon and Syria consume about 5-6 times more water per capita than Israel. Israeli consumption has dropped dramatically due to the need to use water more economically after consecutive years of drought. (Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from Israel Water Authority). The claim that the Palestinian water supply is beneath that recommended for basic living standards is entirely false.
Amnesty p3: “Palestinian families must spend as much as a quarter or more of their income on water”.
Truth: No source is cited by Amnesty to support this assertion.
Amnesty p4: “Israel has used the OPT as a dumping ground for its waste”
Truth: Some time ago an article by David Ratner appeared in Haaretz with the title “Israel to dump 10,000 tons of garbage a month in the West Bank.” It was rife with serious factual errors. It wrongly stated that the new Kedumim dump would not benefit the local Palestinian population. Ratner falsely wrote that the new dump would accept only garbage from Israel. Ratner claimed that the Israeli government refused to let Palestinians build modern waste disposal sites. It’s nonsense. In Area A the Israeli government has no say in what is built. Moreover, a number of Israeli-administered sites in Area C service the Palestinian population. For instance, the Tovlan dump services household garbage from the Nablus area. A site near Abu Dis services the Palestinian population in Bethlehem, Abu Dis, and surrounding areas. And, a site near Psagot, next to Ramallah, services Ramallah, Al-Bireh and other neighbouring Palestinian towns.
In fact in all of Israel and the Palestinian areas, there is only one site designated for hazardous material – Ramat Hovev, in southern Israel. So Palestinian hazardous waste is deposited in Israel – the opposite of what Amnesty alleges!
Amnesty p10: “According to the World Bank, “Palestinians have access to one fifth of the resources of the Mountain Aquifer. …..Israel overdraws without JWC [Joint Water Committee] approval on the “estimated potential” by more than 50%…. Over-extraction by deep wells combined with reduced recharge has created risks for the aquifers and a decline in water available to Palestinians through shallower wells”
Truth: The source for this is an April 2009 World Bank Report. Here is what the Israeli government commented at the time (MFA Press Release): “The authors of the report met with Israeli government officials and were briefed on all the factual details. They were also presented with the Israeli position paper on the subject, which contained verifiable facts that contradict all the objections presented in the World Bank’s report. Significantly, the authors chose to ignore the MFA position, and declined to take the facts presented to them into consideration in the published report. They rely totally on unsubstantiated information supplied by the Palestinian Authority, which raises a serious question mark over the credibility of the report and the intentions of its authors.” Amnesty cites this World Bank Report six times.
Amnesty p11: “Today some 90-95 per cent of Gaza’s water is polluted and unfit for human consumption”
Truth: No source is cited by Amnesty to support this assertion.
Amnesty p17: “… the PA did not acquire control of water resources in the OPT under the Oslo Accords. It acquired only the responsibility for managing the supply of the insufficient quantity of water allocated for use by the Palestinian population …”
Truth: (Source: Israel Water Authority, March 2009) The Water Agreement (Oslo II, September 1995) determined that water supply to the Palestinians would increase during the period of that Interim Agreement by 28.6 Million Cubic Meters/year, of which 5 MCM/yr would be supplied to the Gaza Strip and 23.6 MCM/yr to the West Bank. It was agreed that this quantity would be in addition to the quantity consumed by the Palestinians in 2005, namely, 118 MCM. In other words, it was agreed that water supply to the Palestinians during the Interim Agreement period would in the West Bank increase by 20%. This quantity of water would be part of the quantity defined as the “Future Needs” of the Palestinians in the West Bank, ie about 70-80 MCM/yr, which would be provided in the framework of the permanent arrangement. In practice, during the 13 years that have elapsed since the Interim Agreement was signed, water supply to the Palestinians in the West Bank has been increased by 60 MCM/yr (not including Gaza), ie by about 50%.
Amnesty p22: “Israel has forcibly imposed other changes in the OPT whose impact has reduced access to water for the Palestinian population, notably …. the prohibition on Palestinians taking measures to develop their own infrastructure and economy”
Truth: The West Bank economy is growing strongly despite the worst global recession in decades. The IMF is forecasting a 7 percent growth rate for 2009. It is not possible for growth to be this strong when water is as scarce as Amnesty alleges.
Beyond the spreading of misinformation about Israel's actions, there is an equally perturbing lack of information to explain the irresponsible behaviour of the Palestinians. The case of the missing water is just one of a number of examples I have found. The media coverage contrasting Israel's bounty of swimming pools and the West Bank's empty reservoir is yet another falsification, as proven by this.
Yet when someone asked for an explanation of the missing water at an Amnesty meeting, the answer given was simply that the Israel Water Authority “lies”.
Another report will also open your eyes to the fact that Israel has fulfilled all its obligations under the water agreement regarding the supply of additional quantities of water to the Palestinians, and has even extensively surpassed the obligatory quantity, and that The Palestinians, on the other hand, have significantly violated their commitments under the water agreement, specifically regarding important issues such as illegal drilling (they have drilled over 250 wells without the authorization of the Joint Water Commission) and handling of sewage. (The Palestinians are not constructing sewage treatment plants, despite their obligation to do so and the important foreign funding earmarked for this purpose).
Data regarding consumption of fresh natural water clearly shows Israel's fair treatment of Palestinian requirements: In 1967, Israel's per capita consumption of fresh natural water was 508 (m3/person/year). In 2008, it dramatically dropped to 149. The Palestinian figures for the same consumption went from 86 (in 1967) to 105 (in 2008).
Israel has offered to supply Palestinians with desalinated water, but this possibility is systematically rejected due to political motivations.
While Israel has significantly reduced its use of fresh natural water since 1967, consistently closing the gap between Israeli and Palestinian consumption, it remains unclear how Amnesty's claims of "discriminatory policies" towards Palestinians can sustain the trial of reality. The authors of the report chose to ignore Israeli data, papers and reports, although they contain verifiable facts presented with total transparency. This questionable approach, which consists in systematically disregarding Israeli material while relying exclusively on Palestinian allegations, raises doubts as to the real intentions of the report's authors and of the organization itself.
A thorough report on the issue of water between Israel and the Palestinians can be consulted on the website of the Israel Water Authority.
Finding the truth and getting it out there
It’s not easy deciphering fact from fiction. We aren’t there, we don’t know what is happening, and of course, the situation is constantly changing. With a conflict going on, as job as bloggers/journalists/writers/passive spectators/concerned citizens, is made ten times harder.
One thing is for sure, the only way forward is talking to both sides, opening up a dialogue and in this case especially getting both sides to work together to solve problems. Since water scarcity is a big problem in the Middle East, particularly for Jordan, Israel and Gaza.
When I started delving into the issue, I didn't know what I would find. I am relieved to find progress in the area. Relieved that the situation is not as desperate and dire as is so often described, and even more glad to read that meaningful agreements do exist between Israel and Palestine. The two sides are engaged in dialogue and are looking to work together to overcome the problem of water scarcity in the region as a whole.