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.
Palestinian Water Authority officials told Haaretz that people at Mekorot have told them the supply cuts were going to last the entire summer. The sources said they were told by the Israelis that there is a water shortage and that everything must be done to assure that the local reservoirs (located in the settlements) stay full so that the necessary pressure can be maintained to stream the water through the pipelines leading to other settlements and Palestinian communities.
Palestinian municipal officials say that Palestinian workers for the Civil Administration who are sent to regulate the quantities of water in the Mekorot pipes told them the water cuts were made to meet the area settlements’ demand for water, which is rising in the hot weather. Similar cuts were initiated in the same areas last year, when the severe water supply interruptions also occurred during Ramadan.
Mekorot would not answer questions, referring Haaretz to the Israel Water Authority and the Foreign Ministry. Uri Schor, the Water Authority spokesman, wrote that the quantities of water Israel sells to the Palestinians throughout the West Bank, including in the Salfit area, has gone up over the years.
“A localized water shortage has developed for Israelis and Palestinians alike in northern Samaria and it stems from the especially high consumption because of the region’s intense heat,” Schor wrote. He added that the shortage developed because the Palestinian Water Authority is refusing to approve additional water infrastructure in the West Bank through the joint water committee, “which has led to the old and limited pipes being unable to transfer all the water needed in the region.”
An Israeli security source said settlements are also complaining about water shortages.
Palestinians deny foot-dragging, say water goes to settlements
A senior Palestinian Water Authority official denied that Palestinian foot-dragging was contributing to the water shortages.
“The Israeli Authority is misleading the public,” he said. “The pipes do not need to be upgraded. USAID, for example, just finished the new pipeline in Deir Sha’ar to serve the population in Hebron and Bethlehem. Israel needs to increase the pumping rate from the Deir Sha’ar pumping station and more than half a million Palestinian would receive their equitable share.
“Israel, however, submitted a project to increase the size of the pipe serving Israeli settlements in the Tekoa area, and the Israel Water Authority is blackmailing the Palestinian Authority to approve the Israeli project in exchange for increasing the water from the Deir Sha’ar booster station.”
Schor brought examples from the months of January-May over the past four years that show that there has indeed been an increase in the quantities of water supplied to the Salfit and Nablus districts, from 2.7 million cubic meters of water in 2013 to 3.48 cubic meters this year.
But the internal records of the Palestinian Water Authority show that in May of this year there was a cut in the water supplied to the town of Bidya, with 12,000 residents, from 50,470 cubic meters in March, to 43,440 in May. In May of last year, Bidya received 45,000 cubic meters.
In the town Qarawat Bani Hassan, consumption in May was higher than in March (17,000 cubic meters compared to 15,000), but last May consumption reached 20,000 cubic meters, and according to a Palestinian official there’s no way to explain the drop in usage other than by a drop in supply. The supply cut in June, meanwhile, has been much sharper – of up to 50 percent per hour.
The Oslo Accords, which were meant to remain in effect until 1999, preserved Israeli control over the West Bank’s water sources and discriminates in how the water is divided. Under the agreements, Israel gets 80 percent of the water from the West Bank mountain aquifer, while the rest goes to the Palestinians. The agreement also sets no limit on the amount of water Israel can take, but limits the Palestinians to 118 million cubic meters from the wells that existed prior to the accords, and another 70 million to 80 million cubic meters from new drilling.
For various technical reasons and unexpected drilling failures in the eastern basin of the aquifer (the only place the agreement allows the Palestinians to drill), in practice the Palestinians produce less water than the agreements set. According to B’Tselem, as of 2014 the Palestinians are only getting 14 percent of the aquifer’s water. That is also why Mekorot is selling the Palestinians double the amount of water stipulated in the Oslo agreement – 64 million cubic meters, as opposed to 31 million.
The Coordinator for Government Activity in the Territories said, “As a result of increased water consumption in the summer, it’s necessary to manage and regulate the flow to enable the highest possible supply to all the populations. Given the problem, the head of the Civil Administration has approved an emergency regulation to operate the Ariel 1 drill rig to increase the amounts of water to residents of northern Samaria, with an emphasis on the Salfit area; another 5,000 cubic meters of water per hour was also approved for the southern Hebron Hills.”
The coordinator also noted that the Civil Administration has to battle theft from water lines that lead to Palestinian communities. Just yesterday, it said, it had discovered two thefts of water from a pipeline that supplies the Salfit area.