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The West Bank's Water

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Summer, 1978), pp. 175-179
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine
Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2536311
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176 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

1978. Both focus on the West Bank dropped to such an extent that the
villages of Bardala and Tal al-Baida. The reservoir went dry. It has not been used
first, by Barbara Smith, was entitled since; the women again carry water up
"The Politics of Water on the West from the valley.
Bank." "But for how long will there be
"Arab water rights, said an official water to carry? Oxfam's wasted reser-
from the Israeli Water Authority, are as voir is the least of the villagers' troubles.
safe as if they were in the Bank of In the same year when that went dry,
England. Given what has happened to the water level in summer dropped
sterling in the past year, his comment below 18 metres-the depth of the Arab
may have been more apposite than he pump. The Israeli water authority sug-
intended. gested to the village mukhtar [president]
"The West Bank depends largely on that Bardala should be connected to the
its underground water supplies. Israel, Israeli supply. When he and the other
since it occupied the territory in 1967, village elders said that they would prefer
has dug some 20 water wells and created to deepen their pump, the official from
a water network that is admired as one the water authority apparently agreed to
of the most advanced and intensive in finance this instead. The pump was
the world. Indeed, one of the reasons deepened by six metres to 24 metres.
given by those Israelis who argue that The water flowed again.
the West Bank should remain permanent- "But in the meantime two things
ly part of Israel is that one third of happened. First, as Israeli water consump-
Israel's water supply comes from the tion increased, the water level dropped
West Bank's underground reserves. yet again. The Arabs have an adequate
"But this sophisticated and costly supply at present; when summer comes
water system does not serve the local they will not. Second, according to the
Palestinian inhabitants. Worse, it is steal- mukhtar, the Israelis have not paid the
ing water from them. Several Arab vil- Israeli ?10,000 ($1,000) that it cost to
lages which relied on spring water are lower the pump. So the villagers do not
finding their springs going dry; the water know what to do. They would be all
level in other villages has dropped below right if they could lower the pump to
the reach of the Arab pumps. And there 40 metres but they do not have access
is very little the Arabs can do about it. to that sort of money. The Israelis have
"Take Bardala, a small hill village five not so far given any Arab villages per-
miles west of the Jordan river and ten mission to dig new wells, except for
miles south of Beit Shean. The thousand drinking water. So, when the well goes
or so people who still live in Bardala dry, the people of Bardala suppose that
(some 400 fled across the Jordan after they will have no alternative but to
the 1967 war) depend on a well in the connect their village to the Israeli sys-
valley below. In 1968 the Israelis built tem. As a farming village, they cannot
their own well to serve a nearby settle- survive without adequate water. But
ment; this well is much deeper than the they are reluctant to take a step that
Arab one and very close to it. In 1973 will make them wholly dependent on an
Oxfam built a reservoir above the village Israel which, they believe, has shown
to help with irrigation and to save the itself wholly untrustworthy.
women from their long hot trudge up "A nearby village, Tel al-Baida, is an
the hill with water pitchers on their even more obvious victim of the same
heads. This reservoir worked for two Israeli well. Its springs have been
years, but by 1975 the water level had reduced to muddy ponds, last summer its

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VIEWS FROM ABROAD 177

trees started to turn yellow and to die. secondary school. Quiring discussed the
The village leaders have accepted that effect on the area of Israeli settlements.
they must be connected to the Israeli "The contest created by Israeli settle-
system. They have been told, they say, ment over resources is not limited to
that this will happen only when their land; it also involves the availability and
spring is quite dry, as opposed to nearly control of water. By their location, set-
dry. tlements are in direct competition with
"Bardala and Tal al-Baida have al- Arab villages for the West Bank's limited
ready lost their water. Other villages are water resources. This is a particularly
threatened. Farther south in Awja, for important issue with regard to the settle-
instance, an Israeli well has been dug ments built in the Jordan Valley region,
right next door to a natural spring; it is where agriculture for both Palestinian
only a matter of time, the experts say, villages and the settlements depends
before the spring goes dry. Nor is it upon the availability of irrigation water.
only villages: the town of Ramallah, for As Israeli settlements in this area are
instance, has lost its main source of based upon. agriculture and utilize large
water-the spring at Ain Samiya-and is areas of land, correspondingly large
now largely dependent on Jerusalem for volumes of water are used to make
its water supply. The political conse- agriculture viable in the region, which
quences are clear: it makes it even receives approximately four inches of
harder than it already is to envisage a rain a year.
future in which Jerusalem and Ramallah "In order to meet such water needs,
are in different countries. the settlement authority in cooperation
"The Israelis claim to have helped the with Mekorot-the Israeli National Water
West Bankers by passing on their tech- Authority-undertook new hydrological
nical skills in irrigation. And this is not surveys which revealed exploitable water
untrue; some West Bankers, for instance, resources in the occupied territories. Ac-
are profiting from the use of drip irriga- cordingly, Mekorot has drilled a mini-
tion learnt from Israeli farmers. But this mum of 14 new wells inside the West
by no means compensates for the great Bank since 1968 which provide water
fear of West Bank farmers that they are for the domestic and irrigation require-
losing their most precious resource- ments of the Israeli settlements. In ad-
water-to Israel and that to save them- dition to such new settlements, four
selves they must become part of an wells owned by 'absentee' owners are
Israeli system that looks alarmingly per- being used to provide irrigation water
manent." for land cultivated by Israeli settlements.
Similar themes were developed by Water pumped by both newly drilled
Paul Quiring, Programme Director for the wells and those controlled by t'he Cus-
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in todian for Absentee Property is used
Jerusalem, in testimony on September exclusively by the Israeli settlements and
12, 1977 to the International Organiza- has not been made available to Pales-
tions Subcommittee of the US Congres- tinian farmers.
sional Committee on International Rela- "The development of such wells for
tions. As the relief and development the Israeli settlements must be seen
agency of the Mennonite and Brethren against the backdrop of water develop-
in Christ churches in North America, the ment in the Palestinian sector. I am
MCC has administered a number of aware of no Palestinian villages or indivi-
projects on the West Bank ranging from duals on the West Bank which have been
irrigation to the establishment of a permitted to drill new irrigation wells

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178 JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES

since 1967. Mekorot has, however, al- this well-drilling practice is clearly visible
lowed six new wells to be drilled for is in the northern Jordan Valley villages
domestic purposes. This lack of water of Bardala and Tal al-Baida. When in
resource development and the confis- 1968 the Israeli settlement of Mehola
cation of wells on 'absentee' property was established near the above two vil-
means that there are fewer wells provi- lages, Mekorot advised the settlement
ding less water for Palestinian agriculture authority that the drilling of a planned
in the Jordan Valley today than were well to supply water for the settlement
available on the eve of the 1967 war. would adversely affect the five wells and
"A second concern arising from this springs used by neighbouring Arab vil-
water policy involves the impact which lages. Fully aware of this report, the
these new Israeli wells have on neigh- well was dug. Until 1970 little effect
bouring Arab wells and springs. In the was registered. However, in 1970 villages
Jordan Valley region the need for water from Bardala, Tal al-Baida and Kardala
by Israeli settlements has led to the began reporting a decline in the output
drilling of six wells which are in close of their springs and a lowering of the
proximity to other wells and springs water level in their wells.
(developed before 1967) which supply "Prior to 1970 the central spring in

domestic and irrigation water for Pales- the village of Tal al-Baida supplied 80
tinian villages and towns. At the spring cubic metres of water per hour. By
which supplies water for the village of summer of 1976 the output of the
Awja, two wells have been drilled im- spring had declined to five cubic metres
mediately beside the spring's headwaters. of water per hour. As of today, the
Water from either of these pumps is villagers and their livestock must wade
used to irrigate crops cultivated by the into a semi-stagnant pool to obtain
neighbouring settlement of Yativ. At the drinking water.
valley of Fasayil, two deep wells have "The consequences of this situation
been dug within several hundred metres are readily visible. Villagers reported an
of the spring of Ain Fasayil which irri- increase in diseases related to the unsani-
,gates land cultivated by a Palestinian far- tary drinking water conditions. Village
mer. Water from these two pumps sup- orchards previously watered by the
plies the domestic and agricultural needs spring have now turned a faded yellow.
of the settlement of Phatza'el. Up in the The villagers have no recourse other
hills of the western Jordan Valley, dril- than to petition the military governor-a
ling operations have just been completed process which as yet has brought them
on a well located a short distance from no relief from their problems. At the
the spring of Ain Samiya which is the neighbouring settlement of Mehola an
sole water source for the West Bank city Israeli settler summarized the moshav's
of Ramallah. water resources by saying, 'The Water
"While it is theoretically possible for Authority tells us we are lucky; we have
such wells and springs to operate side by as much water as we need.'
side without affecting one another, we Mekorot is well acquainted with the
are advised by numerous hydrologists problems of these two villages. In res-
that the long-term effects of such a ponse to an inquiry by our organization
policy will be detrimental to the output to assist Bardala and Tal al-Baida, I was
of the pre-1967 Arab water sources-par- informed that Mekorot predicted that
ticularly in an area such as the Jordan the wells and springs of the vicinity of
Valley, where water is limited. the settlement of Mehola would dry up
"One location where the impact of as a result of heavy pumping from the

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VIEWS FROM ABROAD 179

Israeli well. Because of this it was Meko- recognize that in their dependence on
rot's intention to compensate these vil- the settlement for water they are, in
lages by connecting them to the settle- fact, fully dependent upon the gener-
ment's water network. osity of the settlement for their live-
"The people of Tal al-Baida and Lihood and existence.
Bardala do not wish to become depen- "The construction of each settlement
dent upon the Israeli water authority or invariably produces an impact on the
an Israeli settlement for their water. The indigenous population of the West Bank.
villagers view with suspicion a settlement In some cases the impact is easily mea-
whiclh was built in part on land confis- surable-either in terms of acres of land
cated from their village and whose pump or metres of water. In other cases it is
has now nearly eliminated their own more subtle-loss of land or loss of a
source of water. If the villages will have future. At best the impact will be dis-
the opportunity to take water from the ruptive; at worst it will help turn a
Israeli pump, as Mekorot promises, the people out of their land. While the
villagers will accept only because they physical impact of the settlement can be
have no alternative. minimized, its overall consequences
"Mekorot's advance knowledge of the cannot be eliminated.
potential impact of the Israeli wells sug- "Increasingly, West Bankers recognize
gests that the settlement authority has settlements as the most threatening con-
been and remains very much aware of sequence of the occupation. Whereas the
how such settlements affect their sur- occupation intended to govern, the set-
rounding environment. The response is tlements seek to transform. Regardless
to allow the neighbouring villages to of their location, size or stated purpose,
take water from Mekorot-in exchange West Bankers regard such settlements as
for forfeiting their own rights. Such fine little more than a euphemism for the
distinctions are not lost on the people theft of their land and political future."
of Baruala and Tal al-Baida. The villagers

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