Restoring U.S. Aid Crucial to Avoid Gaza Water Catastrophe

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Water Day on March 22.

Drinking water in Gaza is causing a rising number of its residents to fall ill and the UN says scarcity and pollution of water resources are at the forefront of the territory’s scourges.

Matthias Schmale, IPS – Inter Press Service, March 27, 2018

GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2018 (IPS) – World Water Day (March 22) could not come at a more critical time for the people of Gaza who are facing a humanitarian catastrophe The recent decision by the United States to reduce funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), jeopardizes its role as a critical source of clean drinking water when Gaza’s supplies slow to a drip.

An estimated 1.2 million Gaza residents have no access to running water. For those who do, up to 97 percent of the water they receive is too polluted with salt and sewage to drink. The salt comes from seawater, which penetrates Gaza’s only aquifer when the water table drops too low. Palestinians in Gaza consume on average fewer liters per person per day than the World Health Organization recommends, and less than a quarter of the average per capita consumption in Israel.

Nevertheless, the combination of rapid population growth and regional climate change extracts 200 million cubic feet of freshwater each year from an aquifer that receives only 60 million cubic feet of diminishing rainfall annually.

As the water level steadily drops, more seawater seeps in, increasing the aquifer’s salinity. Only around 22 percent of wells in Gaza produce water with acceptable salt concentrations. The rest are anywhere from two to eight times saltier than global standards, with some wells exceeding the official standard for “brackish.” The high salinity puts Gazans in jeopardy of kidney stones and urinary tract problems.

But high salinity is not the worst of Gaza’s water problems. Years of conflict have damaged or destroyed much of its critical water and sanitation facilities—including wells, pumps, desalinization plants and sewage treatment plants.

The crippled infrastructure that survives can only be used the few hours a day Gaza receives electrical service. A newly completed World Bank wastewater treatment plant in Beit Lahia, for example, sits idle much of the time because Gaza doesn’t have enough electricity to run it.

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Gaza Unlocked Issues: Electricity

Gaza Unlocked Issues: Electricity — American Friends Service Committee

Gaza’s power system is at risk of collapse. In 2006, the Israeli military bombed Gaza’s only power plant, destroying its six transformers. Under the blockade, the power plant can’t import parts to replace damaged components. Temporary fixes have allowed the plant to function at a minimal level, but those solutions were never made to last.

Other factors have exacerbated the power crisis, including a halt in smuggled fuel from Egypt in 2013, the destruction of fuel storage tanks and other structures at the plant by Israeli airstrikes in 2014, and the destruction of infrastructure and distribution networks throughout Gaza. Since April 2017, the Gaza power plant has been offline due to limited fuel imports, further limiting electricity in Gaza.

While Gaza’s electrical grid is linked with the Israeli system, Israel limits how much power it sells to Gaza, and existing power lines can only supply a fraction of Gaza’s total needs.

Today, less than one-third of Gaza’s electricity demand is being met. Rolling blackouts leave Palestinians in Gaza with less than four hours of electricity per day—affecting the health and well-being of residents; jeopardizing critical services, such as hospitals, schools, and water sanitation; and making it impossible for businesses to function.

Ending the blockade is crucial to address the power crisis, but it will not improve the situation immediately. Even if new parts could be imported and additional infrastructure could be built, it would take up to five years for the system to reach a point where current needs could be met.

People in Gaza have no more than 4 hours of electricity per day.

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Gaza Unlocked

American Friends Service Committee
Gaza Unlocked
What is Gaza Unlocked?

For over a decade, two million Palestinians in Gaza have lived under a brutal military blockade imposed by Israel.

Media stories about Gaza primarily focus on violence and politics, while stories of how the blockade impacts everyday life remain largely untold.

Gaza Unlocked gives you access to first-hand accounts from Palestinians living in Gaza, information about the blockade, and opportunities to make a difference. Learn more.

Raise awareness. Bring Gaza to your Farmer’s Market

Strawberry farmers in Gaza
Join our summer engagement effort to raise awareness about the Gaza blockade.


Water and Sanitation
Osama Khalili, 46
Head of the Nutrition Department,
Palestinian Ministry of Health
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Amira Hass: I Went to See the Plight of the Dried-out Settlements. I Found a Pool

Amira Hass, Haaretz, June 26, 2016

With Israel having cut the Palestinians’ water supply, I visited two settlements where the people are supposedly suffering too.

Thus tweeted MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) on Friday: “No joke: We’ve gone back 100 years!” He reported on five stations for providing drinking water that were placed that morning in the settlement of Kedumim.

That day, the religious Zionist weekly Makor Rishon published an article titled “The water crisis in Judea and Samaria: In the settlement of Eli huge bags of drinking water were distributed to the residents.”

So I set out to witness this suffering at two settlements. I left before I saw the tweet by one Avraham Benyamin in response to Smotrich: “We’re waiting for a series of empathetic articles in Haaretz. We’ll continue to wait.”

Indeed, last week I started writing my annual series of articles on the systematic theft of water from the Palestinians. I was surprised not to find any newspaper reports about water problems in the settlements. There weren’t any on Army Radio and Israel Radio – notorious clandestine supporters of the BDS movement. But neither did I find any mention of it on websites linked to the settlement lobby.

After all, since the beginning of June, when the Mekorot national water company began cutting water supplies to the Palestinians in the Salfit and Nablus areas by some 30 to 50 percent, Israeli spokespeople have claimed there is a shortage in the settlements too. (Or in the unsanitized words of a Palestinian employee in the Civil Administration: They’re cutting back from the Arabs so there will be water for the settlers.)

Makor Rishon reporter Hodaya Karish Hazony wrote: “In the communities of Migdalim, Yitzhar, Elon Moreh, Tapuah, Givat Haroeh, Alonei Shiloh and others there have been water stoppages. ‘We’re between insanity and despair on this matter,’ said one resident.”

So I went to check the water shortage that’s driving the people from insanity to despair in Eli. I looked for people lining up for water. I didn’t find them. Then I drove from the center of the lush settlement to isolated Hill No. 9, the site of the Hayovel neighborhood mentioned in the article.

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Amira Hass: Israel Incapable of Telling Truth About Water It Steals From Palestinians

Water is the only issue in which Israel (still) finds it difficult to defend its discriminatory, oppressive and destructive policy with pretexts of security and God

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Jun 21, 2016

Israeli spokespeople have three answers ready to pull out when they respond to questions on the water shortage in West Bank Palestinian towns – which stands out starkly compared to the hydrological smugness of the settlements: 1) The Palestinian water system is old, so it suffers from water loss; 2) the Palestinians steal water from each other, and from the Israelis; and 3) in general, Israel has in its great generosity doubled the amount of water it supplies to the Palestinians, compared to what was called for in the Oslo Accords.

“Supplies,” the spokespeople will write in their responses. They will never say Israel sells the Palestinians 64 million cubic meters of water a year instead of the 31 million cubic meters agreed to in the Oslo Accords. Accords that were signed in 1994, and that were supposed to come to an end in 1999. They will not say that Israel sells the Palestinians water that it first stole from them.

Bravo for the demagogy. Bravo for the one-eighth portion of truth in the answer. Water is the only issue in which Israel (still) finds it difficult to defend its discriminatory, oppressive and destructive policy with pretexts of security and God. That is why it must blur and distort this basic fact: Israel controls the water sources. And being in control, it imposes a quota on the amount of water the Palestinians are allowed to produce and consume. On average, the Palestinians consume 73 liters per person per day. Below the recommended minimum. Israelis consume a daily 180 liters on average, and there are those who say even more. And here, unlike there, you will not find thousands who consume 20 liters a day. In the summer.

True, some Palestinians steal water. Desperate farmers, regular chiselers. If it was not for the water shortage, it would not happen. A large part of the thefts are in Area C, under full Israeli control. So please, let the IDF and police find all the criminals. But to justify the crisis with theft – that is deceit.

With the Oslo Accords, Israel imposed an outrageous, racist, arrogant and brutal division of water sources in the West Bank: 80 percent for Israelis (on both sides of the Green Line), and 20 percent for the Palestinians (from wells drilled before 1967, which the Palestinians continued to operate; from the Mekorot water company; from future wells to be drilled in the eastern basin of the mountain aquifer; from agricultural wells and springs. Many of the springs, by the way, dried out because of Israeli deep wells, or because the settlers took them over. The ways of theft know no bounds.)

Twenty percent is actually good, because now only about 14 percent of the water from the mountain aquifer is accessible to Palestinians in the West Bank. Technical reasons, irregularities and human error, insufferable Israeli bureaucratic foot-dragging, whose entire goal is to delay the development of the Palestinian water infrastructure and the upgrading of what now exists; unexpected difficulties in producing water from wells in the allowed places, old wells that have dried out or whose production has fallen, and which Israel does not allow to be replaced by newly-drilled wells – all these explain how we have reached 14 percent instead of what was signed in Oslo, and why Israel sells the Palestinians more water that it committed to back then. After all, it has been left with more water to produce from this natural resource, which, according to international law, an occupying country is forbidden to use for the purposes of its civilian population.

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Amira Hass: Israel Admits Cutting West Bank Water Supply, but Blames Palestinian Authority

Israel says region’s intense heatwave combined with Palestinian Water Authority’s refusal to approve additional infrastructure had led to ‘old and limited pipes being unable to transfer all the water needed.’


A water tanker in the Palestinian village of Halhul, near Hebron. Michal Fattal

Amira Hass, Haaretz, Jun 21, 2016

Since the start of this month, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been suffering the harsh effects of a drastic cut in the water supplied them by Israel’s Mekorot water company.

In the Salfit region of the West Bank and in three villages east of Nablus, homes have had no running water for more than two weeks. Factories there have been shut down, gardens and plant nurseries have been ruined and animals have died of thirst or been sold to farmers outside the affected areas.

People have been improvising by drawing water from agricultural wells, or by buying mineral water or paying for water brought in large tankers for household use and to water their livestock. But purchasing water that way is extremely expensive.

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Ramadan 2016: Israel 'cuts off water supply to West Bank' during Muslim holy month

Israeli government insists there is ‘no truth’ in claims and says shortages down to faulty water lines

Peter Yeung, The Independent, 17 June 2016

water-shortage-palestine.jpgPalestinian children fill bottles with water from a public tap in Khan Younis due to water shortages (file pic) Getty Images

Israel has cut off the water supply to large areas of the West Bank, Palestinian authorities have claimed.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have reportedly been left without access to safe drinking water during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a period of fasting, at a time when temperatures can exceed 35C.

The northern city of Jenin, which has a population of more than 40,000, said its water supplies had been cut in half by Mekorot, Israel‘s national water company. Jenin is home to a refugee camp, established in 1953, which contains 16,000 registered refugees.

Ayman Rabi, the executive director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, told Al Jazeera that in some areas people had not received water for more than 40 days.

He said: “People are relying on purchasing water from water trucks or finding it from alternative sources such as springs and other filling points in their vicinity.

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It’s World Water Day! Say No to Water Apartheid

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Ramah Kudaimi, March 22nd, 2014

Support Palestinian Water Rights

Today marks the start of the first International Week Against MekorotIsrael’s state-owned water company that is responsible for implementing "water apartheid" on Palestinians. 

Mekorot has been responsible for water rights violations and discrimination since the 1950s, depriving Palestinian communities from access to water. It provides vital support to Israel’s settlement enterprise, commits war crimes by pillaging Palestinians’ natural resources, and is a proud partner of the Jewish National Fund’s "Blueprint Negev" campaign to displace around 40,000 Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel in the Negev.

In 2005, Mekorot established a business arm to begin a process of international expansion. Several lucrative contracts have been signed in countries like the U.S., Cyprus, India, and Uganda. But civic groups are fighting back against rewarding Mekorot for its involvement in violations of international law and human rights. In Argentina, activists recently announced they succeeded in suspending the construction of a $170 million water regeneration plant. Vitens, the largest water supplier in the Netherlands, ended a contract with Mekorot just days after it was signed.

Starting today, World Water Day, through March 30, when Palestinians mark Land Day, PENGON/Friends of the Earth Palestine, the Palestinian BDS National Committee, and the Land Defense Coalition are asking people worldwide to say no to water apartheid!

Take the following actions targeting Mekorot and other companies like SodaStream that are complicit in depriving Palestinians of their right to water by operating in a settlement

Watch Mekorot: An Apartheid Adventure. Share with your friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter.

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Rafah Prep School Water Filter

Girls Preparatory School A, Rafah

A gift from the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and others, Dedicated to Karin Sandvik

 

More on the Maia Project from the Middle East Children’s Alliance:

  • Completed Maia Project Water Purification and Desalination Units, January 2014
  • Maia Project Photo Album
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    Palestinian non-violent resistance leader speaks in Madison

    Veena Brekke, December 19, 2012

    On Sunday afternoon, December 16, citizens of the Madison area were fortunate to hear a presentation by Iyad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer and leader in non-violent protests currently on a four-month speaking tour of the United States. About 60 people gathered at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg to view photos and videos and to listen to stories of successful organizing of grassroots non-violent protests against Israeli occupation in a West Bank farming village called Bil’in.

    Bil’in has recently become famous as the subject of the award-winning film, “5 Broken Cameras,” by Burnat’s brother Emad Burnat and Israeli director Guy Davidi.

    Since the 1967 war, Israel has illegally occupied and expanded its military presence in the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 242 and many others which demand “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the (1967) conflict.” It has placed nearly 500,000 illegal Israeli Jewish settlers on Palestinian land in direct violation of international law.

    In 2003, Israel began building a hugely controversial “separation wall” primarily on the Palestinian side of the “green line” between the West Bank and Israel proper. Burnat reported that the wall, which is 8 meters high in some places, has taken over half of Bil’in’s farm land.  It was in opposition to this wall that Bil’in citizens began their weekly marches to the fenced area.  Since 2005, Bil’in farmers have been joined by Israeli and International peace activists and protests have spread to about 20 other villages in the West Bank.  

    The videos showed creative methods used by from 200 to 4000 demonstrators every Friday and the violent response from Israeli soldiers. Demonstrators repeatedly endured injuries from tear gas rockets, chemical infused water, and rubber-coated metal bullets.  Burnat reported 40 deaths and 1,300 injured among all the villages. He argued that the goal of Israel’s separation wall is not security but the confiscation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlers, the theft of Palestinian water to supply them, and to put more Palestinians in prison.

    In a soft-spoken voice, Burnat explained that the “olive tree is the life of farmers in this area.”  He showed videos of demonstrators chaining themselves to olive trees and of the burning and bulldozing of olive groves, noting sadly that many Palestinian farmers who used to sell olive oil now have to purchase it.  As a result, over 60 percent of Palestinians are unemployed in Bil’in.

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