Sunday, March 27, 2011

On World Water Day, support the academic boycott call

I didn't recognize her name until I got to the end of this article, but I met Susan last fall at the Middle East Film Fest. She was on a solo speaking tour, talking about her experience working with LifeSource in the West Bank.

Full article by Susan Koppelman and Nidal Hatim

Palestinian water rights denied

Israel prevents Palestinians from developing normal water infrastructure and from continuing to use the natural resources that Palestinians have been using for centuries. According to consumption figures from the Israeli Hydrological Service and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Palestinians are limited to merely 17 percent of the water under the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, even though more than 80 percent of the rain that recharges the shared groundwater falls over the West Bank. Israelis consume on average more than 3.5 times as much water per capita than Palestinians (see B'Tselem, "The gap in water consumption between Palestinians and Israelis"). Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley export water-intensive crops to Europe, virtually exporting an amount of water equal to about one quarter of the total amount of water that 2.5 million Palestinians have for domestic purposes, agriculture and industry -- while many Palestinians survive on just twenty liters of water per person per day! Meanwhile, springs located amid Palestinian farmland between Palestinian villages continue to be stolen by illegal Israeli settlers with the support of the Israeli military, such as those at Nabi Saleh in the northern Ramallah district and Wadrahal in the Bethlehem district, just to name two recent examples where the theft is current or only recently transpired.

Discriminatory policies in wastewater infrastructure development are also appalling, and particularly relevant to understanding why we are getting behind this call on the University of Johannesburg to terminate its cooperation with Ben-Gurion University.

The biggest obstacle to wastewater treatment in the West Bank is Israeli negotiators, Israeli policy-makers and the Israeli military. The Palestinian Authority has funds ready from the international donor community for the development of wastewater infrastructure, the plans are ready, everything is ready -- but Israeli permission is denied. Even one time, in a 15-year window, when Israeli permission was given for the Salfit Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Israeli military interfered and shut down the project (see World Bank, "Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development" [PDF]). Israel paid the German contractors an apology worth one million shekels for shutting down the project after it had been fully permitted. Meanwhile, the rest of the wastewater projects applied for from 1996 on, still were not permitted by 2010, again, despite millions of dollars of funds at the ready, leaving only one completed wastewater treatment facility in the West Bank, one that was built in the tiny window after the Oslo accords before the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee was formed.

Today in Gaza, Israel's blockade is preventing the import of building materials, spare parts and energy needed for even the most basic treatment of wastewater. Even PVC for the pipe factory is prohibited. Chemicals for desalinating the brackish water that comes from the ground are prohibited. Several sewage basins built as a project of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Rafah, along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, were lined with slabs from the cement wall that once existed along the border between Gaza and Egypt and which was dismantled when Hamas came to power. In Beit Lahiya, in the north of the Gaza Strip, a foreseeable collapse of a sewage basin caused five residents of the village Umm al-Nasser to drown to death in sewage, because materials needed were denied entry despite desperate calls on Israel from local authorities and the UN to avert this disaster. The UN and other agencies continue to invest hundreds upon thousands of hours in negotiating with Israeli authorities for the entrance of certain priority materials, including the most basic spare parts and building supplies needed for safe water and sewage infrastructure.

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, despite paying equal or higher taxes (for not serving in the army), sewage infrastructure is not a given. Some Palestinian neighborhoods of Lydd, for example, do not have basic sewage pipes, while Jewish Israelis who have moved to the city in recent years receive necessary sewage infrastructure.