[News] Why is Palestine an exception?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 18 11:59:57 EDT 2019


  Why is Palestine an exception?

By Ramzy Baroud - April 17, 2019

Free access to clean water is a basic human right. This is not just a 
common-sense assertion, but also a binding legal commitment enshrined in 
international law. In November 2002, the UN Committee on Economic, 
Social and Cultural Rights adopted “General Comment No. 15” regarding 
the right to water: “The human right to water is indispensable for 
leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the 
realization of other human rights.” (Article I.1)

The discussion on water as a human right culminated years later in UN 
General Assembly resolution, 64/292 of 28 July, 2010. It explicitly 
“recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as 
a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all 
human rights.”

It all makes perfect sense. There can be no life without water. However, 
like every other human right, it seems, the Palestinians are denied this 
one too.

There is a water crisis affecting the whole world, and it is most 
pronounced in the Middle East. Climate change-linked droughts, 
unpredictable rainfall, lack of centralized planning, military conflicts 
and more have resulted in unprecedented water insecurity.

The situation is even more complicated in Palestine, though, where the 
water crisis is related directly to the more general political context 
of Israel’s occupation: apartheid, illegal Jewish settlements, siege and 
war. While much attention has rightly been given to the military aspect 
of the Israeli occupation, the state’s colonial policies involving water 
receive far less attention, but they are a pressing and critical problem.

Ashraf Amra Indeed, total water control was one of the first policies 
enacted by Israel after the establishment of the military regime 
following the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip 
in June 1967. Israel’s discriminatory policies – its uses and abuses of 
Palestinian water resources – can be described as “water apartheid”.

Excessive Israeli water consumption; the erratic use of dams; and the 
denial of Palestinians of the right to their own water or the digging of 
new wells, have all left vast and possibly irreversible environmental 
consequences. They have fundamentally altered the aquatic ecosystem 

In the West Bank, Israel uses water to cement existing Palestinian 
dependency on the occupation. It uses a cruel form of economic 
dependency to keep Palestinians reliant and subordinate. This model is 
sustained through the control of borders, military checkpoints, 
collection of taxes, closures, military curfews and the denial of 
building permits. Water dependency is a centerpiece of this strategy.

The “Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”, known as 
the Oslo II Agreement, signed in Taba, Egypt in September 1995, 
crystallized the unfairness of Oslo I, which was signed in September 
1993. Over 71 per cent of Palestinian aquifer water was made available 
for Israeli use, with just 17 per cent allocated for Palestinian use.

Even more appallingly, the new agreement invited a mechanism that forced 
Palestinians to buy their own water from Israel, further cementing the 
client-owner relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the 
occupying state.

Israel’s Mekorot water company, a wholly-owned government entity, 
misuses its privileges to reward and punish Palestinians as it sees fit. 
In the summer of 2016, for example, entire Palestinian communities in 
the occupied West Bank went without water because the PA failed to pay 
Israel massive sums of money to buy back water taken from Palestinian 
natural resources.

Bewildering, isn’t it? And yet many are still wondering why Oslo failed 
to deliver the much-coveted “peace”.

Look at the numbers in order to appreciate this water apartheid: 
Palestinians in the West Bank use about 72 litres of water per person 
per day, compared to 240-300 litres for Israelis. The political 
responsibilities of such unequal distribution of available water 
resources can be attributed to both the cruel Israeli occupation and the 
short-sighted vision of the Palestinian leadership.

The situation in Gaza is even worse. The territory will be officially 
“unlivable” by 2020, according to a UN report. That’s next year. The 
main reason for this grim prediction is Gaza’s water crisis.

According to a study conducted by international charity Oxfam, “Less 
than four per cent of fresh water [in Gaza] is drinkable and the 
surrounding sea is polluted by sewage.” Oxfam researchers concluded that 
water pollution is dangerously linked to a dramatic increase in kidney 
problems in the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s water and sanitation crises are 
worsening as frequent shutdowns of the enclave’s only functioning power 
plant are killing any hope for a remedy.

The US-based RAND Corporation found that one-fourth of all diseases in 
the besieged Gaza Strip are waterborne. RAND estimations are no less 
dramatic. It reports that, based on World Health Organisation (WHO) 
standards, 97 per cent of Gaza’s water is not fit for human consumption. 
In terms of human suffering, this reality can only be described as horrific.

The hospitals in the Gaza Strip are trying to fight the massive epidemic 
of illness and disease caused by dirty water while under-equipped, 
suffering electricity cuts and lacking any clean water themselves. 
“Water is frequently unavailable at Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in 
Gaza” the RAND report continues. “Even when it is available, doctors and 
nurses are unable to sterilize their hands to carry out surgery because 
of the water quality.”

According to the environmental media platform Circle of Blue, out of 
Gaza’s 2 million residents, only 10 per cent have access to clean 
drinking water.

“My children get sick because of the water,” Madlain Al-Najjar, a mother 
of six living in the Gaza Strip, told Circle of Blue. “They suffer from 
vomiting and diarrhea. Often, I can tell that the water is not clean, 
but we have no other option.”

Britain’s Independent reported on the story of Noha Sais, a 27-year-old 
mother of five, living in Gaza. “In the summer of 2017, every one of 
Noha’s children suddenly fell ill, uncontrollably vomiting and were soon 
hospitalized. Gaza’s filthy Mediterranean waters had poisoned them.

“The youngest, Mohamed, normally a healthy and boisterous five-year-old, 
contracted an unknown virus from the sea, which took over his body and 
brain. Three days after the trip, he slipped into a coma. A week after 
that he died.”

Noha told the newspaper that, “The doctors said the source of the 
infection was a germ that came from the polluted seawater, but they 
couldn’t work out exactly what it was. They just said to me even if my 
son recovered, he would never be the same – he would be a vegetable.”

Many similar cases are reported across Gaza, and there is no end in 
sight. Israel’s water policies are facets of a much larger war against 
the Palestinian people intended to reinforce its colonial control.

Judging by the evidence, Zionists didn’t “make the desert bloom,” as 
Israeli propaganda claims. Since its establishment on the ruins of more 
than five hundred Palestinian towns and villages destroyed between 1947 
and 48, Israel has done the exact opposite.

“Palestine contains vast colonization potential which the Arabs neither 
need nor are qualified to exploit,” wrote one of Israel’s founding 
fathers and first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, to his son Amos in 
1937. Zionist Israel, though, has done more than just “exploit” that 
“colonization potential”; it has also subjected historic Palestine to a 
relentless and cruel campaign of destruction that is yet to cease. This 
is likely to continue as long as Zionism prevails in Israel and occupied 
Palestine; it is a racist, hegemonic and exploitative ideology. If 
access to clean water is indeed a human right, why is the world allowing 
Israel to make Palestine and its people an exception?

/- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine 
Chronicle. He has authored a number of books on the Palestinian struggle 
including ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’. Baroud has a Ph.D. in 
Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident 
Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, 
University of California Santa Barbara.

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