Friday, 4 February 2011

Destruction of Palestinian Water Cisterns - Israel's Contribution to 'Peace'

It is difficult to understand the mentality of someone who deliberately destroys the access of an occupied civilian to that most basic of necessities – water. But then we know that given their Nazi-like mentality, the settlers consider the Palestinians as less than human. In this they are not alone of course. The Israeli State has followed, both in Gaza and on the West Bank, a policy of depriving the occupied population of access to water.

Palestinians cannot sink wells down to the water aquifers, unlike the settlers, who constitute maybe 15% of the population, who take 80% of the water of the West Bank. In Gaza most of the water is unclean and, as the article makes clear, this causes illnesses and the death of children. This is the real price of the Gazan blockade, falling as it does on the poorest sections of the population.

The settlers learnt their lessons well from traditional persecutors of the Jews. Such is the ‘Jewish’ State.

Tony Greenstein

Stopping the Water

Palestine Monitor 7 September 2010

At 7:00 am in the morning, the Israelis arrived too late to help a poor farmer. The men with guns were already there, sitting on the farmer’s well.

An argument broke out in Hebrew between the settlers and the Israeli human rights group Taayush. Every week, they enter the West Bank to work alongside Palestinians threatened by settlers and soldiers.

Both groups broke the rules of Shabat: settlers and activists used video cameras and cell phones as tempers rose with the temperature. One settler sat silently behind black sunglasses, a handgun tucked into his pants and a large machine gun hanging across his chest. Behind the escalating debate, the Palestinian farmer packed up his water house and readied his empty water tanker for the road home.

The army arrived soon after, slowly climbing the hill in the early dawn light, wearing olive-green uniforms, black boots and big rifles. The squad numbered fifteen when they finally confronted Taayush and told them to leave - the farmer had not scheduled the water pumping.

“The Army has an obligation to maintain the Palestinians access to their land - it should not be a precondition to schedule access,” said Dolev Rahat, a Taayush member. “It is completely and utterly in violation of the law, and in this situation we decided not to go along with it.”

The army surrounded the group as the settlers mounted the ridge. They stood and watched the soldiers and activists argue, comfortable in their immunity from the law.

“Israeli settlers, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank, are not subject to Israeli military law and the army, though usually present near settlements, does not arrest settlers; rather, the soldiers have often made it clear that their task is to protect the settlers, not Palestinians... Palestinians may complain to the Israeli police, but their complaints are rarely followed up and many Palestinians do not report settler attacks for fear of retaliation,”
according to Troubled Waters, a report by Amnesty International.

A police officer came and escorted the activists to a van where they were then driven to a detention center. The activists were not charged, ordered to keep out of the general area for ten days, and released within hours.

The well at Bir Al-Eid reflects a greater policy not just In the south Hebron hills, but throughout the West Bank: a devastating program of thirst enacted by the occupation. By either direct actions or indirect bureaucratic controls, water is withheld, and impoverished Palestinians pay exorbitant water prices, migrate, sicken, or die.

Water’s primacy makes it a pressure point in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Settlers have not just sat on wells - they have specifically targeted Palestinian water sources like wells, pumps and cisterns and destroyed them throughout the West Bank. During Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 invasion of Gaza, the army destroyed water sanitation plants, pumps and other water infrastructure. But the destitution of Palestine’s water happens every day of the occupation.

“In the past eight years the water tanks on the roofs of Palestinian houses have been frequently targeted by Israeli soldiers for no apparent reason other, than, it would seem, shooting practice,” according to Amnesty International. “Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of water tanks have been shot at and damaged – many beyond repair. In some neighborhoods virtually every water tank has at least one bullet hole visible.”

Ninety-five percent of Gaza doesn’t have access to clean, reliable water, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. The population resorts to polluted sources, with horrendous consequences. The United Nations Environmental Program reported high levels of nitrate in the Gazan water supplies, and found the odorless, tasteless contaminant effects methemoglobinaemia - a blood disorder causing children’s hands, lips and feet to turn blue. These “blue babies” have chocolate-brown blood, respiratory difficulties, and die frequently from high nitrate levels.

The water relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians is legally defined by the second Oslo Agreement Article 40: Israeli is required to support water development in the West Bank and Gaza. But, according to a 2009 Palestinian Water Authority statement, while “keeping this recognition only on paper”, the Israelis effected control on Palestine’s water sources by keeping wells, treatment facilities and irrigation schemes shelved and by virtually blocking the Jordan River.

“This is the big problem of the occupation,” said Baha’ Ishaq, a researcher at the Palestinian Wildlife Society. “There is a lot of water, but the Israelis control everything [with] the water.

Jordan, Syria and Israel divert most of the flow of the Jordan River. What does trickle down the historically verdant valley is mostly sludge so unclean the Friends of the Earth Middle East has warned pilgrims not to baptise in it. Downstream, all is drying up. The Dead Sea is in effect dying - shrinking a meter annually. The old Jericho Biological Garden is an arid ruin. The millions of birds who depend on the Jordan Valley for their international migration between Africa and Asia now perch on parched earth.

“If the Israelis give us permission [to drill wells] then there is no problem,” Baha’ said, who lives in Beit Sahoor near Bethlehem. “We didn’t have water for twenty days this summer.”

Behind the office of the Palestinian Wildlife Society in Beit Sahoor, across a olive tree-speckled valley, looms a well-watered settlement. The hill was once covered in forest, full of animals like hyena whose populations now dwindle behind the separation wall in a land increasingly barren. In the southern Hebron hills, water thefts are increasingly common, cisterns and wells are consistently demolished by Israeli forces, and many go thirsty. Yet the settlers’ water flows freely.

“In complete contrast in the area - the [settlements] are not only connected to running water and energy but enjoy subsidies,” Rahat said.

Taayush will visit Bir El-Eid’s again, to pump the farmer’s water. But just a few settlers can simply sit and stop the flow, above the law and bent on desiccating Judea and Samaria of Palestinians.

ST McNeil reporting from Bir Al-Eid and Beit Sahoor.

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