Water, Palestine

The local water resources originate from the Jordan river, the Tiberiad Lake, as well as a vast mountenous aquiferous sheet almost entirely situated in the West Bank. The occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza from 1967 has enabled Israël to meet its increasing water needs for its economic development and for its colonisation policy.

Since 1967, Israel has elaborated a rigorous legislation limiting the right of the Arab (Druze population of the Golan Heights and of the Palestinians) in using the waters of the Occuppied Territories (rigorous restrictions with regards to forage, strict quotas…). Since then, water has become a « strategic resource under military control « . In 1992, total Israeli water consumption was estimated at 540 m³ per year and per inhabitant, thus on average five times more than its neighbours. The water’s price is fixed by Mekorot, the Israeli water company and varies between $0,50 per m³ For the Israelis and $1,20 $ m³ for Palestinians.

Israel’s economic development is based on an extensive use of the water resources at its disposal: Israel and the Jewish settlements use approximately 81% of this water, leaving only 19% of it to the Palestinians of the West Bank. The excessive exploitation by Israel of this aquifer sheet situated in the West Bank – which covers by itself one third of its water needs – is leading to the irreversible impoverishment of the Palestinian water reserves. In 1987, the water quotas fixed by the Israeli authorities for the West Bank were approximatively 1000 m³ per year and per inhabitant for the Israeli settlers as opposed to 137 m³ for the Palestinians. Only 5% of the lands exploited by the Palestinians are irrigated , as opposed to 69% for the Israeli settlers even though agriculture accounts for more than 30% of the Palestinian GDP as opposed to 5% only of the Israeli GDP. The situation has become even more imbalanced since 1987.

In the Gaza Strip, the water of the local aquifer sheets is being intensively pumped out by Israël for the benefit of its settlements and of the nearby agricultural installations, in the Negev. The waters of Wadi Gaza, the only important local river, are entirely tapped by Israel before reaching Gaza city. In 1987, water quotas in the Gaza Strip were of 2326 m³ per year and per inhabitant for the Israeli settlers as opposed to 123 m³ only for the Palestinians. The use of the aquifer water exceeds its renewal and the Gaza Strip’s water deficit is estimated at 50 million m³/year. Apart from this water deficit, the hygienic situation is quite worrying as water is badly contaminated by the infiltration of sea water, fertilisers and sewage waters so much so that it is almost unfit for consumption.

Control of these resources remains a priority for Israel. The water question should however be discussed – as foreseen by the Declaration of Principles signed in September 1993 by the PLO and Israel (see « Oslo peace process « ) -in the context of the negociations on the final status of the Palestinian territories. For the moment, 4 years after Oslo, the provision of water to the Palestinian population has not increased, quite on the contrary. Thus, in 1999, a report by B’tselem (Israeli organisation for the defence of human rights) gave the numbers of the West Bank waters distribution according to the Oslo agreements:

Shares of West Bank waters:

Israël and Esat-Jerusalem: 340 millions m3 (56,6%)

Jewish settlements: 143 millions m3 (23,8%)

Palestinians: 118 millions m3 (19,6%)

See also:

Water in the Middle East: challenges and strategies