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Palestinian water divide highlights discrimination



Some things are invisible until pointed out. Take the water tanks peppering the West Bank landscape; large black cylinders towering heavily on buildings and homes. 'That's how you tell between Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements,' a friend points out from the bus.

A home in al-Bireh contrasted with the settlement of Psagot in the background. Note the water tanks.'The Palestinian homes need water tanks because of restricted water supply from Israel, whereas the settlements don't.' I realise that in all my years living in Israel, travelling these roads, staring at the scenery, I had never noticed the water tanks.

On our next drive to Jerusalem I would point out the water tanks to my mum, who hadn't noticed them either. Why should she? They don't impact Israelis directly, and mean nothing for our daily lives. But to our Palestinian neighbours, the water tanks are integral for survival.

The situation highlights alarming discrimination. According to a 1995 interim water-sharing agreement, Israel is the sole provider of water to Palestine and sells it to them at full price. Palestinians are prevented from maintaining or developing their water infrastructure, including digging wells on their own land. 

According to the World Health Organisation the minimum per capita per day water consumption is 100 litres. In the West Bank, Btselem — the Israeli information centre for human rights in the Occupied Territories — provides that the average water consumption for domestic, commercial and industrial use is approximately 79 litres a day. At times, water will be further restricted or cut off.

Compare this with average domestic, commercial and industrial water consumption in Israel, which is 287 liters per person, per day. In settlements, the average water consumption is 369 litres per person per day. We don't need the UN to tell us that access to clean water is a fundamental human right, thus the water situation in Palestine reveals a cruel privileging of one group over another.  

As our bus pulls in to the dusty station, I can't get the images of the water tanks out of my mind. I see them everywhere. Later, we drive around with a friend who says she often shares her rationed water with her neighbours. 'For me the water we get is enough, but it's just me living there. My neighbours have children. They need the water to cook, to clean, bathe ... how can you have a family live on that?'

Among the Palestinian villages, enclaves of settlements stand out. Despite their proximity to their Palestinian counterparts, the settlements' red roofs are free from the black blemish of water tanks. They look innocuous, even pleasing. Private homes surrounded by greenery, looking out to scenic views.


"What drives Israelis to settlements is something more basic than ideology: an affordable home."


The settler population is roughly composed of four groups: ultra-Orthodox (approximately 30 per cent), ideological settlers (approximately 30 per cent), quality of life settlers (approximately 30 per cent) and mixed (approximately 10 per cent). These numbers tell a story; for many living in settlements, ideology isn't the driving factor. The Israeli government gives settlers tax benefits, cheap housing and commodities. In other words, what drives Israelis to settlements is something more basic than ideology: an affordable home.

Israel invests more in building housing units in the settlements than inside Israel. A Peace Now 2013 report on the settlements shows that from 2008 to 2013, 17 per cent of the Housing Ministry's housing budget (which is between NIS 350–750 million (AUD $126–270 million) a year), 17 per cent went to the settlements, despite settlers constituting only 4 per cent of the population. That money goes towards construction, discounts on land prices, and preferred mortgage rates. Haaretz columnist Shaul Arieli cites statistics from the Central Bureau of Statistics which show that 'during Netanyahu's 2009-2013 term the number of Israelis living in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) grew at an annual rate of 5 per cent — an additional 69,000 people over five years. This rate is almost double the rate for Israel proper.'

For many people, not least Palestinians, settlements are daily reminders of the Israeli government's refusal to commit to the two-state solution. In February 2017, Israel passed the Regularisation Law, which allows Israel to retroactively expropriate private Palestinian land in the West Bank where Israeli outposts or settlements have been built. This is, essentially, land theft.

Driving in my friend's car she points out Psagot, one of those settlements standing on private Palestinian land that is to be expropriated. Across the green hillside from Psagot is Al-Bireh, the Palestinian city where Israel tried to ban the building of a soccer stadium. As the cold winter sun begins to set, our host stretches her arm: 'These are all private Palestinian lands, but Palestinians can't build anything.' There isn't a single person out in the cold street. Meanwhile, the lights go on in Psagot, colouring the homes a warm shade.


Na'ama CarlinNa'ama Carlin holds a PhD in Sociology. A dual Israeli-Australian citizen, she writes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ethics, identity, and violence. Follow her @derridalicious

The author would like to acknowledge and thank Ahmed Bishtawi for his assistance in writing this article.

Pictured: A home in al-Bireh contrasted with the settlement of Psagot in the background. Note the water tanks.

Topic tags: Na'ama Carlin, Israel, Palestine, Gaza



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Existing comments

I hope you now publish a counterpoint to this view - I'm so sick of reading one-sided accounts of this conflict, all blaming Israel, portraying Palestinians as victims and selectively choosing data. Every conflict is reciprocal, and every coverage should include a counterpoint. But I won't hold my breath.

Rena | 28 March 2017  

You are on point with this article but it is much more sinister. All the the west bank settlements on built on the known water aquifer structures. There are no settlements where there is no water. This underpins the strategic value and importance of these settlement structures over time. An ex special operations consultant pointed this out to me many years ago. Drilling technology can now go sideways for long distances. This is why drilling is banned. Water is THE main issue, it will be the main issue and gradually will be understood as the main issue. Keep on informing people because it is a very well kept secret today.

luke | 29 March 2017  

Congratulations, Na'ama, for once again proving that the voice of conscience is not dead amongst Israelis. Robert Fisk, the British journalist long resident in Beirut, has consistently said that the current government of Israel's policy on the settlements in the Occupied Territories makes the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible. When I think of the way the future may unfold for both Israelis and Palestinians if the current situation within Israel continues I weep and I am not someone who has a horse in this race but I do care for humanity. Hopefully people like you and other men and women of good will amongst both Israelis and Palestinians - it takes two to tango - will make a difference. Avigdor Lieberman and the men of Hamas are part of the problem, not the solution.

Edward Fido | 29 March 2017  

Israel - sadly yet another American disaster born of terrorism after the second world war.

john frawley | 29 March 2017  

Thank you for keeping this vigil-- it is essential to not lose sight. You are right: the subsidies that distort the housing choices Israeli citizens make in OPT are the insidious drivers of this crisis. As the Occupation approaches the 50th anniversary, we must all seek change driven by the quest for justice and human rights.

Nick | 29 March 2017  

This is just one of many “Us and them” conflicts in the world. There are 2 main criteria for such divisions and their consequent conflicts. One is the “Haves” and the “Have-nots”; This is relatively easy to understand. The other is the conviction that “WE”, -who ever we are- are the “privileged”, the only ones graced by God’s favour and who have the true interpretation of the Reality that God places before us. Since this is usually what we bonded to from birth, we tend to accept it as Reality itself; and our Bonding becomes Bondage. It is difficult to think outside it; particularly if it flatters us, and brings us additional benefits as well. . This is natural in infants, but life and experience should make us realise we are ALL Children of God, and need to act accordingly. Life on Earth started with individual single-celled beings, each concerned with only their own life, and it took them 4 Billion years to learn to benefit from combining as multi-celled life-forms like Us. But they didn’t have the advantages of language, intelligence, TV, the Internet, that we do. So we should do it better, and quicker.

Robert Liddy | 29 March 2017  

Please read "The Myth of the Thirsty Palestinian" - available online - if you want to know the truth about this issue. It is very dangerous to read these simplistic condemnations of Israel - Eureka Street must balance these points of view with equally valid, more factual accounts that take into account the complexity of this historical conflict. A failure to do so amounts to a bias.

Mary | 29 March 2017  

Rena, you ask for 'a counterpoint' to the critical observations expressed in this article. What would you say to explain Israel's discrimination against Palestinians in relation to rightful, easy access to water?

Caroline Ryan | 29 March 2017  

The present Israeli government continues to shock me with the injustices it perpetrates. It is utterly and wilfully blinkered. Thank God there are so many Israelis of good conscience who continue to oppose it.

Joe Castley | 29 March 2017  

A heartfelt thankyou to the ethical Na'ama Carlin for her honesty in exposing the heinous truth. The FACTS: * Israel sells water to the Palestinians. * The Palestinians would not be forced to buy this water from Israel if Israel were not an occupying power which controls the Palestinian's natural resource. * Discriminatory policies have allowed Israel, since it occupied the West Bank in 1967—when it took control over all of the West Bank water resources with one of its first military orders—until today, to use water to dominate the Palestinian population and territory. For more information check links from Israeli paper Haaretz, such as- http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.574554 Unfortunately the article that Mary cites "The Myth of the Thirsty Palestinian" is completely unreliable and not based on fact. It is instead written for an extremely biased Israeli online publication called 'The Tower', a propaganda platform for TIP, The Israel Project. If you wish to know the truth about this 'situation' you need to research widely, including the credentials of sources. Nelson Mandela himself, called what has been done, and is continuing to be done, to the Palestinians, "The greatest social injustice of our times".

Diane | 30 March 2017  

If those things are water tanks, then that must be a real strong roof.

Jenny O'Rourke | 31 March 2017  

It was water that first opened my eyes to the truth also. I visited Gaza when it was still under occupation and still had about 5000 settlers. The Palestinians I visited had water from a communal pump that was being cut off regularly. It seemed to them it was being used as a means of control and punishment. Most weeks the people had water for only half the week. Yet in the settlers secure compound, the irrigation sprinklers in their orange grove could be seen spraying water everywhere. The locals also knew about the swimming pool. The second intifida broke out three months after my visit.

james boyce | 01 April 2017  

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