Water in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

For two of the most belligerent ethnonational groups in recent history, water has been a source of both conflict and cooperation.

One land

In 1967, the Six-Day War left Israel with control over 80% of the water in its Occupied Territories. That figure remains true even to this day, with devastating consequences for displaced Palestinians now subject to the whims of their powerful neighbours. Barred from building new infrastructure, they are instead forced to purchase water from Israel at inflated prices.  
 
As the threat of climate change looms large, more equitable water distribution seems a prerequisite not only for peace, but also for survival. That’s why when Oxfam asked us to produce a documentary on the issue, we knew it would be a great opportunity to advocate for change. 

Two realities

Until the Last Drop throws into sharp relief the disparity between water access for communities living on either side of the Israeli West Bank barrier. Juxtaposing the lives of a Palestinian farmer with an Israeli settler, it gives visual form to the idea of accumulation by dispossession currently in vogue amongst opponents of the occupation.

One such opponent is Abu Saqer, the farmer in question and leader of the Al Haddidya. Speaking to The Wire, he claims that of all Israel’s crimes “the worst crime, a moral monstrosity, is denying us water.” Abu and others like him rely on external actors to help relay their message to wider audiences.

Muddying the waters

For his Israeli counterpart, however, the message is that they’re unwilling to give up the Jordan Valley. Eli still carries a burden from when his mother was a prisoner at Auschwitz, yet while the Holocaust is often cited as a reason for securitisation of water it is by no means the only one. Take, for instance, the economic benefits.  

By his own admission, Eli manages a ‘huge’ date plantation that daily consumes a thousand litres of water per tree. He is part of an export-oriented agricultural sector that accounts for roughly 50% of all water use in Israel, thus pointing to the structural changes that would be necessary to resolve resource conflicts.

Making waves​

In light of this, it may be surprising to learn that there have been instances of Israelis and Palestinians working together to improve water infrastructure. In 2001, EcoPeace Middle East launched the ‘Good Water Neighbours’ program to raise awareness about shared water problems facing the two communities. Participants report having broken down stereotypes during cross-border visits, as well as an increased understanding of environmental issues more broadly.  

That’s exactly the sort of contribution Third Sector organisations have to offer, especially in a country like Israel where there remains a political stalemate. For our part, we are set to launch a communications campaign with UNECE on the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention). This will promote the sustainable management of shared water resources, the prevention of conflicts, as well as peace and regional integration. 

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