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For World Water Day – 22nd March 2016 – we invited one of our study tour participants to reflect on how Palestinians living under occupation are affected by water…

Many – far too many – tourists to Israel spend their whole time in a ‘tourist bubble’. They never meet Palestinians; they have no idea about what is really taking place.

They miss so much. It is much more interesting, and revealing, to visit that part of the world as an ‘alternative tourist’. We ourselves, have been on 3 ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) tours, and one JAI, Joint Advocacy Initiative, olive picking tour, over a period of 4 consecutive years. Each time we combined the organised tour with some private touring, learning more as well as making friends. Palestinians welcome contact with people from the outside world.

An ICAHD tour is in fact a life-changing experience. We feel now that we have ‘Palestine’ in our blood. We read about the situation there, including of course books by Palestinians, we give talks, we have Palestinian diaspora friends. We haven’t been to Gaza but we have friends who have managed to enter, taking humanitarian supplies. We have a journalist friend who reports back from Gaza and we support the New Zealand kiaoragaza people in our home country. (Kia ora is a greeting in the Maori language.)

An important aspect of the reality of the harshness of the oppression imposed on Palestinians is the situation of water.

Yes, water! Water, essential to life, a human right as recognized by the United Nations.

All water supplies in Israel/Palestine are controlled by the Israelis, including West Bank mountain aquifer water which by international law should be a Palestinian resource. Practising ‘hydrological apartheid‘, control of water is used as a weapon to drive Palestinians off the land, and if not to another country then into squeezed isolated miserable ‘bantustans’.

Israeli ‘settlers’ have pipe-delivered water. Palestinians do not. They have to buy water, from Mekorot, Israel’s state-owned water company, and it is extremely expensive for them. You can recognize a Palestinian village by the black water-collecting tanks on rooftops.

As I said, I haven’t been to Gaza. But I try to keep up with the situation there. It doesn’t take much reading to learn that Gaza, predicted to be uninhabitable in the near future, is in a very very dire situation. My heart goes out to those poor people, men, women and children. Aquifer water that should reach Gaza is extracted by Israelis. The tap water that is available is undrinkable. That the West looks the other way is a shocking endorsement of their lack of humanity. Water means life and clean water means health.

I’d like to share with you something of what we have witnessed first hand as ‘alternative’, not ‘bubble’, visitors. Our ICAHD tours included a drive by bus around Ma’ale Adumim, a large settlement, meaning for Jews only, east of Jerusalem. East of Jerusalem means desert country. We saw the beginning of the construction of what is now a man-made lake. We saw a swimming pool, one of several, which you can see in this picture.

Ma'ale Adummin swimming pool

We then went to a Palestinian Jordan valley farming community, physically near to the settlement we just left but it felt like another planet. There is an agenda to drive Palestinian farmers off the land by starving them of water. The Palestinians are restricted to how deep their cisterns can be dug. Yet the Israelis can dig deeper and deny the Palestinians access to aquifer water. We first visited the Jordan valley in 2009. We visited the Jordan Valley again, two more times, in consecutive years. Every time we went we realised that the situation was getting worse.

I’d like to share another water story, this time within Israel itself. Al Araqib is a community of Bedouin who live in the Negev region of Israel. The people of Al Araqib are Israeli citizens. They live where their ancestors lived long before Israel even existed. They paid taxes, to the Ottomans, and to the Mandate Government. But the Israeli Government has declared Al Araqib and many other Bedouin communities to be ‘unrecognized’. An ‘unrecognized village’ appears on no maps, receives no amenities, that is, no school or clinic, no piped water. Furthermore if the people refuse to leave, their village is demolished. When we visited Al Araqib it had been demolished, as I recall, for the 6th time (at the time of publishing Al Araqib has now been demolished closer to 100 times, most recently on March 9th, 2016). Each time the people rebuild, practicing ‘sumud’, steadfastness. The Israeli agenda is to exile the Bedouin (traditional herdsmen) into overcrowded crime-ridden townships, and replace the Bedouin communities with Jewish-only communities with services including of course piped water.

For our last visit to that part of the world, we decided to take part in olive harvesting as organized by JAL. The farmers we helped own olive groves in the ‘seam’, that is land on the Israeli side of the Wall but within the so-called ‘Green Line’. The farmers still own the land and the olives but they can only access their own land with IDF approval. So their time to work the land is limited. They appreciate help from ‘internationals’. Note the fenced, locked water pump in the photo below. It is pumping water from under the Palestinian owned land and piping it to a settlement. Stealing water.

Stolen water, locked, fenced water pipe

There is so much that could be said. We have friends near Nazareth who took us to a hill over-looking the National Water Carrier (see picture below) which delivers water from the Sea of Galilee down the length of Israel. Fred Pearce in his book ‘When the Rivers Run Dry’ describes how Israel ‘hijacked the River Jordan” in 1964. Pearce describes the Six Day War as the “first modern water war.”

National Water Carrier, Israel

Richard Falk, a former UN Rapporteur for Palestinian rights spoke in New Zealand last year. He finished his talk by remarking that the Middle East is in danger of a humanitarian crisis because of climate change. It is essential that Israel end its oppression of the Palestinians, and face the reality that they, together, recognizing their common humanity, must strive to face the challenges brought by climate change.

– Lois G, New Zealand.

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