Two pipes for two peoples: The politics of water in the West Bank
In a new series, Haaretz explores the inequitable distribution of drinking water in the West Bank, where supply for the Palestinian falls far short of that of their settler neighbors as well as the standard set out by the WHO.IDF’s Civil Administration is preventing the Palestinian Authority from laying a water pipe that would alleviate the acute water shortage for more than 600,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.
The reason given for preventing the pipe’s construction is that a section of less than two kilometers of it, laid on the margins of Route 50, would disrupt Jewish passenger traffic on the road.
The annual water amount provided to the district is about 20 million cubic meters – some 90 liters per capita per day. A considerable part of the water is lost on the way due to leaks and faulty connections.
The district needs an additional 13 million cubic meters a year for domestic use, apart from farming. From May to October the water to the Palestinians in the area is severely rationed. Some neighborhoods have water for a few hours once a week, others twice a month or less.
Banal functions such as house cleaning and laundry all depend on the water supply. Every day some 400 tankers transfer water from central depots to hospitals, factories, schools and other public facilities in the region.
About half the water amount to the Hebron district comes from springs and wells. The PA buys the other half from the Israeli water company Mekorot. Some 10,000 cubic meters a day – more than a third of the amount bought from Mekorot – are funneled from the Dir Sha’ar (Etzion junction ) pumping depot in an 11 kilometer pipe.
About half the water is lost on the way, Mekorot’s monthly invoices show. The Palestinians pay the amount registered at the depot, minus the water the pipe provides the Carmei Zur settlement (about 100 cubic meters a day ). The water meters in the Palestinian neighborhoods show that the amount actually supplied to the Palestinians is much smaller.
The PA has been planning to replace the pipe since 2008, with the financing of the United states Agency for International Development.
The pipe, built by Israel in 1972, loses 45-50 percent of the water flowing in it due to deterioration, illegal connections, bad construction and faulty installation, the American construction company MWH wrote in its project description.
Much of the water flowing in the pipe, which passes under residential and farming areas, is stolen, especially for farming. The water quality is unsafe, the company wrote.
The Palestinian water authority and MWH planned a new route alongside the road, to prevent hooking up to the pipe illegally. A new, wider pipe would reduce leaks and ensure the water’s quality, they said. Mekorot agreed to increase the water amount to the Hebron district by 5,000 cubic meters a day.
The project was approved by the joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee in August 2010, as required by the Oslo agreement.
The Civil Administration had to approve the route, located in Area C. Finally it was agreed to lay nine kilometers of the pipe alongside an existing farm route, leaving 1.9 kilometers of pipe along Route 60. “This is necessary to avoid destroying two houses and fatally damaging vineyards,” an engineer said.
But the Civil Administration refused “because the construction would disrupt the Jewish drivers’ traffic,” the Palestinian engineer said.
“When they do maintenance work on other roads in the West Bank, don’t they disrupt the traffic?” he asked.
Like all Hebron neighborhoods, Jabar, located in Area H2 (in Israeli jurisdiction ) has water only once every few weeks. Some of the residents’ front doors and windows have been sealed and the alleys in the neighborhood are blocked. Only Israeli vehicles to and from the Jewish homes in ancient Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs are allowed to travel there. Water tankers to the Palestinian houses are not allowed and the residents use water holes.
On August 26, an Israeli bulldozer accompanied by soldiers began digging among the houses in the neighborhood. After several protests, the residents were told by a Civil Administration official that the water pipe serving the settlers, whose water is not rationed, is being replaced by an elevated one.
The Palestinians fear the construction in the narrow streets will damage the ancient houses, dating back to the Mamluk era. In some places, parts of the new pipe have been attached to the Palestinian houses.
The Coordinator of Activities in the Territories said “the decision to replace the underground pipe with an elevated one is pending a High Court of Justice ruling. Replacing the pipe, which serves the Jewish settlement in Hebron, stems from water theft by the Palestinians. It is planned to be mostly elevated, but in every place it passes past houses’ openings, it will be buried underground.”
As for the water pipe near Route 60, “the Civil Adminisration approved most of the route but in one section it would harm the traffic. It cannot be built on the road shoulders because there are houses adjacent to the road. Alternative plans have not been received yet.”
* Amira Hass is a prominent Israeli journalist and author, mostly known for her columns in the daily newspaper Ha’aretz. She is particularly recognized for her reporting on Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, where she has also lived for a number of years.
The daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Oct. 20, the International Women’s Media Network reward Hass the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award. Hass was the recipient of the Press Freedom Hero award from the International Press Institute in 2000, the Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award in 2002, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2003, the inaugural award from the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund in 2004 and Hrant Dink Memorial Award in 2009.