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Bitter Harvest Writer: Mark Zeitoun

The provision and denial of water in Palestine-Israel masks ulterior political motives that seek to replace one population with another. It will be another meager crop this year for the Palestinian subsistence farmer in the Jordan River Valley. Casting an eye over dusty fields in Fesa’el, he contemplates whether he should continue to eke out a living this way, or move to Nablus or to the Gulf and work as a day laborer like so many before him. He turns his back on the lush orchards of the adjacent Israeli agri-business settlement of Tirzah, which has taken land from villages like his own. Climate-proof thanks to a reliable and cheap supply of water, such settlements continue to expand as evermore people are lured to them. Along the west bank of the Jordan River, there is considerable evidence that the allocation of water is a mechanism for ulterior political goals. A December 2011 French Parliamentary report by MP Jean Glavany suggests “water apartheid” poli­ cies are designed to keep Palestinian and Israeli communities in the West Bank sepa­ rate, while journalist Ben Ehrenreich notes in the same month’s Harper’s that water is used for ethnic cleansing. However, the manner in which it is provided or denied suggests an even greater perversion of the life-providing essence of water: to replace one population with another.

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Water as a military tool The diplomatic community focused on envi­ ronmental conflicts would do well to engage with the implications this use of water has for theory, for conflict management practice, and for action. Water expert and president of the Pacific Institute Peter Gleick has identified how groups use water as a military tool for political ends – a practice which has been honed to near-perfection in the protracted conflict for the West Bank. Here, the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict determines the use of water, meaning envi­ ronmental peacemaking efforts interested in more than shallow water cooperation must consider control of the resource: both the mechanisms that enable control, and the politics and ideology that drive it. That control in rural areas throughout Israel and Palestine has been in the hands of suc­ cessive Israeli governments, and achieved through a very effective use of combined hard and soft power. Converting control of water into a demographic shift is evidently simple: first, an area is rid of its inhabitants by denying basic water services, sometimes by claiming there is not enough water. The area is then populated with the preferred inhabitants, by providing the water services that were previously denied.

The United Nations’ (UN) formal recognition of the Human Right to Water in 2010 coincided with a stepped-up violation of that right, just west of Bethlehem. To maintain an income there, farmers who have to battle an array of army jeeps, zoning regulations and the wall have been trickling away for decades. In the Yatta governorate south of Hebron, Israeli army destruction of the most basic of water infrastructure, such as family rainwater reservoirs, has increased dramatically since about the same time. Data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs show that between January and November 2011, 45 cisterns and rainwater structures were destroyed in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, with demolition orders issued for many more. It may be difficult to believe – but visible to anyone who visits – that these people are prevented even from collecting the rain. Israeli citizens are not spared the pain, par­ ticularly the inhabitants of ‘unrecognized vil­ lages’ in the Negev Desert who have largely been denied basic water services since Israel’s establishment in 1948. The recent moves to push over 30,000 Bedouin people into ‘government-recognized settlements’ will be only the latest in a long chain of trans­ gressions against them. And it shows how water can cleanse: if the communities had been provided with a regular and safe supply

Profile for REVOLVE

Water Around the Mediterranean  

A special report by Revolve on WATER in association with the Union for the Mediterranean.

Water Around the Mediterranean  

A special report by Revolve on WATER in association with the Union for the Mediterranean.

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