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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Israel’s Exploitation Highlighted on Water Day

Israel’s Exploitation Highlighted on Water Day

Elena Viola for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

Ein Al Ariq spring, next to Qaryut village (Nablus). Following its takeover by Eli settlers the spring was renamed as "Ein Hagvura" (Photo: OCHA)

March 25, 2012

In the wake of World Water Day, both local and international organisations have issued reports and organised demonstrations to raise attention to the exploitation and demolition of water resources by Israeli settlers to the detriment of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

22 March is a day meant to engage global public opinion on the issue of "the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of fresh water resources". As a report by the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (EWASH) emphasises, it must be clear that Palestinians in the OPT have access to only 10 per cent of all available water, while the occupying Israeli power controls the remaining 90 per cent.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a report on how Israeli settlers dispossess Palestinians of water springs. Additionally, a demonstration under the slogan Thirsting for Justice, organised by several local and international groups including the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC) and the Society of St. Yves, amongst others, was held outside the Israeli High Court of Justice in Jerusalem.

In its survey conducted throughout 2011, OCHA estimates that the number of water springs located in the vicinity of West Bank Israeli settlements and therefore, completely or partially seized by settler action, amounts to 56. Up to 30 of them are under full settler control, while the remaining 26 are at constant risk of being taken over.

According to this same report, in 2009 "the overall water yield of springs was only half the equivalent figure six years earlier" due to "the poor rainfall and Israel’s over-extraction (i.e. extraction in excess of the estimated replenishment potential) of water from wells located both in the West Bank and in Israel." This means that appropriation of natural springs by Israeli settlers has possibly a more unsettling impact on the Palestinians’ livelihood today than in the past.

If "springs remain the single largest source of water for irrigation in the West Bank and an important coping mechanism for communities not connected to a water network to meet domestic and livelihood needs," the OCHA report adds, "the loss of access to them reduced the size of the farming land and subsequently the income of the affected farmers."

Most of the springs under full Israeli control are rendered inaccessible to Palestinians because of threats and intimidation which often lead to acts of physical violence by the neighbouring settlers.

The remaining natural resources have been 'protected’ from Palestinian usage either through the establishment of physical obstacles, such as a fence enhanced by electronic devices, or through complicated procedures of almost-impossible-to-obtain 'visitor' or 'permanent resident' permits.

In addition, since 2010 the Society of St. Yves has provided legal representation in over 50 cases of demolition orders for water structures in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has designated just one per cent of the land for Palestinian development.

As the St. Yves' report says, "With such tight restrictions on Palestinian construction, the development of water and sanitation infrastructure is usually done without proper authorization. Many communities are at risk of losing their means for surviving, and face the fear of receiving demolition orders". In these latest regards, half of the water collection structures demolished since 2009 have occurred in the first half of 2011.

Raffoul Rofa, Director of St. Yves, says that, "The right to water is a basic right guaranteed under international law. Where there is no water, there is no life, and without cisterns the Palestinian farmers cannot cultivate their lands thus causing them to abandon it."

Nowadays, one of the major concerns of OCHA is represented by the 26 West Bank springs identified as being at risk of settler takeover. Although at the time of the survey Palestinians still had control of those springs located in Area B, the constant presence of armed settlers in the area has an intimidating effect that might discourage farmers' and residents' access in the future.

In half of these cases, the aim to accomplish a full takeover of a spring is reinforced by the deployment of physical infrastructures by the settlers at the spring site.

"This is part of a larger trend entailing the promotion of the tourism infrastructure in Israeli settlements," the report states. "It expands the scope of territorial control of settlements; it adds a source of employment and revenue for the settler population; and it contributes to the 'normalization’ of settlements in the eyes of large segments of Israeli society, as well as some foreign tourists."

Israeli settlements - constructed since the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan by the occupying Israeli power - are illegal under international law. Yet the methods enacted by Israeli settlers to gain control over Palestinian springs, such as trespass, intimidation, physical assault, theft of private property and construction without building permits, are also illegal under Israeli legislation.

Furthermore, by demolishing rain collecting cisterns, Israel violates its legal obligations as an occupying power - under Article 54 of the Protocol 1 Addition to the Geneva Conventions (1977) and, in addition, breaches a joint declaration signed in 2001 between Palestinian and Israeli, who agreed to keep water infrastructure out of the cycle of violence for both parties.

What OCHA on a global and Thirsting for Justice campaign on a local scale agree to is that "the continuous encroachment on Palestinian land for the purpose of a settlement expansion" and the "policies of water infrastructure demolitions" are parts of a strategy aimed to undermine the right of the Palestinian people to their self-determination.

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