The construction of the Wall by the Israeli government in the West Bank is viewed by many as the third and final wave of expulsion of the Palestinian people, following the forced Palestinian exodus in 1948 in the wake of Israel’s independence, and then the 1967 Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Perhaps, more than any other element of the occupation, the Wall illustrates the severity of the Palestinian situation and the urgency for access to resources, including water.
The World Health Organization records that Israel uses 83% of the water in the West Bank. After the vast majority of water is expropriated from their land, only 17% is left for Palestinians. As a whole, Palestinians presently use only one quarter of the water consumed by Israelis and one third of their Jordanian neighbors, according to a study by the Palestinian Hydrology Group. Water use in Israeli settlements, deemed illegal by international law and the world community, exacerbates the situation. On average, Israeli settlers are allowed 2,400 cubic meters of water per capita per year. This number is 48 times greater than the 50 cubic meter average allotted to a Palestinian civilian. To add insult to injury, oftentimes sewage runoffs from hilltop settlements compromise the health and limited water access of the Palestinian villages located beneath.
Now the Wall adds to the disparity. It cuts deep into the West Bank rather than being built on the internationally recognized Green Line – annexing not only land but Palestinians’ most vital source of life – water. The human cost of not having enough water has been devastating for Palestinians, in some cases threatening their very survival. As a barrier that ensures unequal access to resources like water, the Wall makes a geographically contiguous State within the 1967 borders virtually impossible.
The Wall has obstructed and further threatened any Palestinian control over water. The barrier’s construction strategically underwent its first phase in the north, cutting off access to the Western Aquifer. It further changes the territorial allocation of the Western Groundwater Basin leaving the majority of it trapped between the Wall and the Green Line with Israel gaining control of an additional 38% of the Basin.
Israel’s control of West Bank water allows for control and domination by the settlements and the government in any future negotiations. The Wall’s final phase will essentially mean cutting off the Jordan River and the Jordanian border to Palestinians. The strict Israeli policy of controlling water includes permitting, denying permits to and monitoring all wells built by Palestinians, often destroying them.
The politics of controlling water resources are in no way intended to be clandestine, as they were clearly outlined in several agreements. During the 1978 Camp David Accords with Egypt, Israel stated its intent to maintain control of the Western Aquifer in any future agreement. Again at Camp David in July of 2000, the purportedly generous offer proposed to Palestinians failed to afford authority over their water. Topographical evaluation confirms that the Wall annexes the mass of the Western Aquifer so that the Palestinian localities are dependent upon Israel for the quantity and quality of water that they receive. The Israeli-owned company Mekerot sells water to Palestinians at prices they cannot afford.
In addition to the enormous implications of the Wall as a physical barrier that secures the cantonization of the West Bank, its effect on people’s access to the most precious of all resources is suffocating. The human cost amounts to a deepening cycle of poverty and hopelessness, and further complicates the possibility for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.