LET ANYONE WHO IS THIRSTY COME TO ME AND DRINK, JOHN 7:37
The midday sun is coming into it’s own as we seek sanctuary under a tree in ‘Ein el Beida. As the first EAPPI Jordan Valley team, we are warmly welcomed by Abu Omar and his elderly uncle Abu ‘Akab a kindly man with a sense of humour, against the odds.
‘Ein el Beida and its neighbour Bardala are located in the far north of the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley makes up almost a third of the West Bank, and is traditionally known as being the ‘breadbasket of Palestine’ because of its fertile land for agriculture. Yet Palestinian farmers in the area are struggling to survive. We have come to find out why.
“Before they were public springs, no one paid, it was communal water in ‘Ein el Beida, our tradition. After, they take our spring and we have to pay them agora [money] for our own water, and then they do not give us enough”, Abu Omar explains.
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ Abu Omar refers to is the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 1967 saw a series of military orders declaring all Palestinian water resources to be Israeli state property. Under these orders, Palestinians are prohibited from developing water resources without a permit from Israel. This means that they cannot maintain a spring, repair a cistern, or develop irrigation networks without Israel’s permission, and 97% of permit applications are refused.
Under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians are only allowed to take 20% of the ‘estimated potential’ of the Mountain Aquifer under the West Bank, and Israel extracts the balance. Israel correctly maintains that this quota was agreed by Yasser Arafat on behalf of the Palestinian people. However, this agreement was a 5 year roadmap for peace and to realise the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory (UN Security Council Resolution 242). We are now 14 years past it’s expiration date. Palestinians are therefore forced to purchase half their water from Israel, who takes it from the Mountain Aquifer, over which Palestinians have rights to an equitable share under customary international law.
In Bardala, Israel confiscated the land of the village’s main spring and the Israeli national water company Mekorot dug deeper into the mountain aquifer. As a result, the nearby Palestinian spring in Bardala, and the 9 more shallow springs of Ein el Beida, dried up. According to the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee there were 774 operating wells in the West Bank in 1967, now due to Israeli restrictions there are just 264 operating wells, an EWASH (Emergency Water And Sanitation/Hygiene Group, a coalition of 30 International and National NGOs and UN agencies working on water and sanitation issues in occupied Palestine) representative informed us.
Abu Omar tells me what it means for his farming:
“It is a huge problem for our plants, the plants are our economy, our resources. We need water for our traditional plants…carrots, nuts…Now we have to try plant vegetables that don’t need as much water. But then we all produce the same, tomatoes and cucumbers in greenhouses, and this reduces the price at market so we cannot make a living. The water goes to the settlements and they have as much as they like.”
Bardala’s water is diverted to nearby Israeli settlements including Mehola and Rotem. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under International Humanitarian Law since Article 49 Geneva Convention IV prohibits the transfer of the occupier’s population into the occupied territory. The Jordan Valley settlements are mainly agricultural and export everything from dates to herbs, mostly to European markets.
As we walk around the villages, the contrast between the settlement and village lands are obvious to the eye:
The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 100 litres of water per person per day for domestic use and personal hygiene. Israeli restrictions mean that Palestinians have access to an average of only 70 litres, and many vulnerable communities in the Jordan Valley have to survive on as little as 20-30 litres. By comparison, the average Israeli per capita consumption is about four times this, at 300 litres.
Our average in the UK is 149 litres, take a look at this image to visualise the difference. However, what we’re talking about here is the diversion of Palestinian water to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and here the contrast is stark. According to EWASH the Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area are allocated 75 times more water in total than the average West Bank Palestinian.
Abu Dirra is a representative of Bardala Village Council, a farmer and a father. We ask him about the impact on daily life of the water restrictions:
“We just don’t drink lots of water here. And it’s hot, between May and November it is very hot. You need to shower 4 times a day if you go out. But we have to go 2 or 3 days without a shower. We joke about it, but it is a miserable life.”
We take a walk down to the Bardala springs, where I see the dried up old well that used to be the lifeblood of the village, and the nearby Mekerot pump with it’s protective wire around. There is also armed Mekerot security in all of these areas. We had stopped on the way there take a photograph from afar of Omar settlement and the water pipes, before we can turn our cameras on, a Mekerot armed car and two settler cars pull up behind us to make sure we move on.
We ask Abu Dirar how much of his land he has enough water to plant now compared to before the occupation. He tells us that used to plant 10,000 dunnums (1000 hectares) of his land, but now only a third routinely, the rest only if there are heavy winter rains. “The economy needs water. Now people don’t plant in summer. In summer we just sit”, he says.
As he shows my Norwegian colleague the cut off pipes, our guide and translator, lawyer Niveen Barhme, starts to reminisce: “I remember as a child sitting here with my aunt and the women of the village, they would sit under this tree and sing. It was green, we had water, it was a happy time. Now there is only this tree, it is a Shajarat al-Jannah (In Arabic, the tree of heaven) they still manage to survive when there are no other plants.” She takes anyone who will come, around the Jordan Valley, to show them the life here. She tells me in the car about her two young children, she doesn’t want them growing up knowing only military occupation. This is her resistance.
Niveen has left her home in Bardala for the Palestinian city of Tubas, “Life is just so much easier there” she explains (it’s Area A under Oslo, so one of the few parts of Area A near the Jordan Valley under full Palestinian control). I reflect on the fact that many people move from rural areas to urban for all sorts of reasons. In many countries, people migrate because of scarcity of water. But what is different here is that her move was at least in part, forced. The Jordan Valley is a water rich area, this is not a natural problem but a man made one.
Abu Dirra is keenly aware of the impact of occupation policies in the Jordan Valley on the next generation, the future of Palestine: “the young people are researching jobs in the cities, they are leaving. I will cope, but my son, I know he will leave.”
After all they need somewhere to drink.
Take Action now to support Palestinian water rights.
 EWASH presentation Ramallah, data from Israeli NGO BIMKOM (2013)
 World Bank (2009), Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Development
 Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997); see thirstingforjustice.org
 Amnesty International (2009), Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Their Fair Share of Water
 This is based on the 10,000 settlers in the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea who get 44,8 million m3 of water allocated and 2,44 million Palestinian in the West Bank get 144,4 million m3 of water. Btselem Report, Disposession and Exploitation: Israel‘s Policy in the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea, 2011, 25.