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Breaking the Israeli water siege

7 of August, 2009.

International human rights activists together with Israelis and Palestinians escorted a convoy of water tankers, breaking the Israeli water siege of the village Qarawat Bani Zaid and delivering water to residents.

At 12 pm ISM activists and other Internationals set off from Al Manara, Ramallah, to join the water convoy. After departure, passing checkpoints and settlements, the convoy could, without further delay, cross the border into the Palestinian Authority controlled Qarawat Bani Zaid, arriving at 15.00 pm.

Upon arriving to the village center, the local residents gathered to welcome the water aid. The water convoy was celebrated throughout the village with music, dancing and speeches by villagers and activists. Banners proclaiming ”End the water siege” and ”No More Thirst” in Arabic, Hebrew and English were exchanged and held up by Palestinian, Israeli and Internationals throughout the water delivery.

A local representative asked the Israeli activists to return home with a message of peace:

”We want peace and water. We are the only people in the world who have to buy water from our occupiers. Now, we are welcoming you because you come as friends, not as attackers, soldiers or occupiers. Please tell your government, we do not want your water, we want our own water.”

Since the middle of March the taps in Qarawat Bani Zaid have been running dry – no water for drinking, for washing, for livestock or agriculture. In the surrounding villages of Kafr Ein, Beit Rima, Dayr Ghasana and Nabi Saleh the water supply is failing too. Living in this area, north-west of Ramallah, are around 15,000 people, who at the height of the scorching summer season receive a ration of water amounting to 48 liters per person per day – approximately one fifth of the average consumed by Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories and residents of Israel (235 liters) and less than half of the WHO’s measure of ‘water deficiency’ (100 liters a day).

In previous years the households of Qarawat Bani Zaid and the surrounding villages received water from the Aboud spring. However, since 2000 the Israeli water company Mekorot has controlled the area’s supply of spring water, only 20% of which is now fed to the Palestinian water distribution network. Around 100 cubic meters per hour would be needed to supply all the families in the region through the network of pipes. Currently the pipes supply a maximum of only 70 cubic meters per-hour, and in the summer this remains as low as 30 cubic meters per-hour.

The village Qarawat Bani Zaid is furthest from the spring, and therefore suffers most from water shortages: 90% of residents have not received water from the pipes for over four months. To compensate, they have been forced to buy water at high prices from tankers – one cubic meter (1000 liters) costs around 40 Shekels, $10 US; approximately ten times the cost from the pipes. The poorest families struggle to afford enough water to drink.

“If the situation doesn’t change, many people will have to leave the region” says Sabri Arah, a member of the municipality, “this is central to the project of the Israeli occupation.”

Since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 the Israeli government has controlled local water resources and diverted them to meet the needs of Israel and Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. Israel and Palestine rely on two common water systems: the Mountain Aquifer and the Jordan Basin which also belongs Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Around 67% of the water from the Mountain Aquifer is claimed by Israel. Large parts of the Jordan Basin fall within the West Bank, but while Israeli companies control 31% of the basin’s water, Palestinian companies have no access to this water at all.

Around 30% of Palestinian villages are not connected to the water network, and are therefore dependent on wells and the collection of rainwater in cisterns. Ground water is considered property of the Israeli state and the construction of wells and cisterns without written permission is a criminal offence. Permits for these structures entail a long and complex application process and permission is rarely granted. In many cases, Palestinians are denied access to their village’s wells because they are on land confiscated by illegal settlements, military bases or closed off by the apartheid wall.

As long as Israel continues to occupy Palestinian land, the provision of water for domestic, public, agricultural and industrial needs should not be a favor granted by the Israeli government, but is its legal obligation as an occupying power. To fail to meet this obligation is a serious violation of international law.

The purpose of today’s action was to raise public awareness of this vital issue. The organizers call for an ongoing protest campaign in Israel and continued international solidarity.