How “Israel” Weaponizes Water in the Gaza Strip
By Staff, MEE
The seizure of water to drive people from their land has long served as a tool of colonial domination. That process is well advanced in the occupied West Bank where water has been controlled by the apartheid “Israeli” entity since its occupation began in 1967.
While Article 40 of the 1995 Oslo II Interim Agreement between the “Israeli” entity and Palestinians set up a Joint Water Committee, the entity retained veto power over all Palestinian water proposals and no constraints were placed on the amount of water it could take from occupied Palestinian territory.
In 2013, the Palestinian human rights group Al Haq analyzed “Israel's” discriminatory water practices as “Water Apartheid”. Its Water for One People Only report details how the entity command of water resources in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip promotes the displacement of the Palestinian population and represents "only one element of an irreversible structural process that can only be described as colonial".
The “Israeli” entity’s discriminatory water policies, which enable it to extract for its own use and that of its settlements some 90 percent of the water from the West Bank's Mountain Aquifer, and which deprive Palestinians of sufficient water for agriculture and their basic needs, are a focus of the two well-researched reports on “Israeli” Apartheid produced in 2022 by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [HRW].
These reports join many others produced over the past two decades by Palestinian and “Israeli” organizations, UN bodies, the World Bank, NGOs, journalists and scholars that describe how constraints imposed by military orders are steadily forcing Palestinian farmers from the 62 percent of the West Bank known as "Area C".
Farmers are prevented from drilling new wells or improving old ones, installing pumps and even collecting rainwater, where their springs are seized and their water tanks, cisterns and pipelines destroyed while settlements and roads serving "Eretz ‘Israel’" are erected on their agricultural land.
“Israeli” settlers consume six times the amount of water permitted to their Palestinian neighbors, who are forced to purchase expensive water extracted from the occupied West Bank by Mekorot, the “Israeli” entity’s so-called “National” Water Carrier, in order to overcome shortfalls in water allocation and frequent water shut-offs.
The entity’s weaponization of water for the benefit of settlers and de facto annexation can be regarded as a long-standing practice of settler colonialism. But how can one explain “Israel's” water policies in the Gaza Strip – one of the most densely populated places on earth – where the “Israeli” entity evacuated its 21 settlements in 2005?
Since then, Gazans have no longer experienced the entity’s military occupation as the steady takeover of land. Instead, they have confronted an existential threat to their health and lives that “Israeli” historian Ilan Pappé, among others, has called "incremental genocide".
But water is life, and the impact of the entity’s nearly 16-year-long blockade and five major military offensives on the severely limited clean water supply available for a rapidly growing population, half of them children, has raised questions about whether the Gaza Strip remains a "livable place".
The International Committee of the Red Cross has denounced the “Israeli” entity’s blockade as a form of collective punishment that violates international humanitarian law. Whatever “Israel's” justification for maintaining a closure clamped in place over 15 years ago to compel the population to overthrow Hamas, no security argument can annul the right of a population to water.
Integral to public health and life itself, the human right to water, recognized by the UN General Assembly in 2010 (A/RES/64/292), is grounded in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Western countries that have themselves been colonizing powers have shown little interest in enforcing international humanitarian law where “Israel” is concerned. They have ignored the damning assessment of the impact of the blockade and GRM issued by various NGOs. They have instead sought to apply technical solutions to avert the catastrophe facing Gaza’s captive population without demanding an end to the blockade, and their pledges of aid have frequently failed to materialize.
There have, after repeated delays, been some successes in the treatment of sewage, with the result that in July 2022, 65 percent of water along Gaza's coast was deemed safe enough for swimming. In 2019, the World Bank-funded Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Project finally opened near the site where five people perished in sewage in 2007. The German-funded Gaza Central Treatment Plant built to serve a million people in the middle of the Gaza Strip became fully operational in early 2021 and long-awaited connection points to facilitate an increase of five million cubic meters of water from Mekorot were finished by the year’s end.
Today the ‘temporary’ GRM has become an institutionalized part of an enduring arrangement that largely escapes criticism from donors who pay to rebuild what the “Israeli” entity has destroyed. Rather than pressuring “Israel” as the occupier to respect the human rights of Palestinians including the right to water, the international community has thrown money and technical expertise at a problem which calls for a political solution. In so doing, it is attempting to forestall calamity while acquiescing in the entity’s violations of international law.
“Israel” now reportedly produces 20 percent more water than it needs. But that water is not being made available to water-starved Gaza, which is also barred from accessing West Bank aquifers. And without significant external pressure, things are unlikely to change. In an effort to open the door to negotiations with “Israel”, Hamas amended its charter in 2017 to offer the entity a long-term truce. But the “Israeli” entity rejected the revised document before it was published, preferring to see all of Gaza as a "hostile entity" closed off from the world.
Genocide, wrote Ralph Lemkin, who coined the term, "refers to a coordinated plan aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups so that these groups wither and die like plants that have suffered a blight".
If that blight is to be averted in the Gaza Strip, the international community must immediately end its complicity in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people and pressure “Israel” to lift its blockade.