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Is Israel really to blame for Gaza's water shortages?

Israel has met and exceeded expectations in terms of the supply of water to the Palestinian people. So why are Palestinian and British politicians still playing politics with this issue?

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A scarce resource, but who is to blame?
On 13 February 2013 13:55

The question is often posed: If their Arab and Muslim brothers around the region feel so strongly about the Palestinian people, why haven't billions of dirhams, dinars, riyals, pounds or even rupees found their way into large-scale development projects aimed at alleviating poverty in the Gaza Strip?

“But.. but... but… Israel!” the cry often comes. An argument that makes as little sense in theory as it does in practice. To get the facts straight from the outset is important, as misinformation propagated by the delegitimisers of the Jewish state often leads to erroneous beliefs being implanted in the minds of journalists, activists and, importantly, legislators. Take a look at what passed between Israel and Gaza just last week, here. and here.

How else could an Early Day Motion in the British Parliament have been tabled blaming the Israeli government for a situation that the World Bank claimed in 2009 would make the Gaza strip ‘uninhabitable’? But the World Bank didn’t blame Israel and a similar report by the United Nations stated that while Operation Cast Lead intensified the problems already faced, Gaza’s problems were “due to underinvestment in environmental systems, lack of progress on priority environmental projects and the collapse of governance mechanisms.”

The Early Day Motion (below) states that “Israeli occupation policies” are to blame for the shortage of water in Gaza. In reality, the situation comes down to a number of factors that are not down to the “Israeli occupation”, a nonsensical reference to the state-of-affairs in Gaza that ended with Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza strip and turned the area into a launching pad for its terrorist attacks against Israel, ordinary Gazans have suffered as Hamas continues to provoke Israeli responses through rocket-fire into civilian areas of Israel. In late 2012, Hamas targeted both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, evidence that its goal is to cause as much human suffering as possible. And indeed it has.

In Gaza, Hamas’s effective dictatorship over the strip means it is the authority responsible for infrastructure. Yet the aid it receives from international donors goes primarily into funding its terrorist activities. Supplies into Gaza are often, rightfully throttled to stop machine parts and materials that can be forged into weaponry getting in. This is not an ‘occupation policy’. It is a necessary defensive move taken by an embattled state in the throes of a prolonged conflict.

The World Bank found that indeed it is the case that a lack of materials remains a pre-eminent factor in the Gazan water problem. While Israel, it claims, is guilty of overreaching in terms of the extract of water from the aquifers; the point has been conversely made that authorities in Gaza have done similar things, such as illegally drilling over 250 wells without authorization from the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee.

Most recently of course, it was announced that the World Bank will be donating $6.4m to Gaza in order to assist in infrastructure building in Gaza. The grant will finally be augmented by an Islamic organisation, the Islamic Development Bank, to the tune of $11.1m, in order to construct water tanks and distribute water. Israel of course, has been keen to move forward with a project of this sort since early 2012, when Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau stated, “Our expertise is available to all of our friends, including some of those who don't accept us there, which is the Palestinians. We would like to see their projects going on. They however say they want to take care of their own needs, which is fine with us.”

Israel is no stranger to resourcefulness in this area, with government-sponsored innovations helping Israel to reduce its wastefulness and bring down the amount of water required per capita. In reality, Israel consumes only a fraction more water than Gaza does, on a per capita basis. The subject of water was agreed upon under the terms of the Oslo Accords (part II) and Israel has not only fulfilled its obligations under the terms of that agreement, but actually supplies more water to Gaza and the West Bank than it is obliged to do. 

To repeat, for this is key, Israel has met all its obligations according to the Oslo Water Agreement, in terms of the additional quantities of water to the Palestinians, and has exceeded the requirements. Conversely, the Palestinians have breached two major areas of the agreement, specifically with relation to the digging of 'pirate wells' and in allowing wastewater to flow into streams untreated. That was their part of the bargain.

Meanwhile, of course, while Gazans continue to require more and more water to fuel the growing population in the area, their brothers in Egypt are squandering gallons of it to close off tunnels that run between Egypt and Gaza, as has been reported today. The Muslim Brotherhood-run country has connected a well on their side of the border to rubber hoses which flood the tunnels. Of course, this is an attempt to crack down on illegal smuggling similar, though arguably harsher and more wasteful than the policies enacted by the Israeli government. One can’t help but wonder when the charges of ‘creating a prison camp’ and ‘oppressing the Palestinian people’ will be leveled at Egypt. I eagerly await the Early Day Motion from Mike Wood.

Here is the text of the Early Day Motion 1062 tabled by Mike Wood MP:

“That this House calls on the Government to recognise the dire water situation faced by Palestinians in Gaza; notes reports by both the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme that found the water crisis in Gaza to be critical and potentially irreversible by 2020; recognises that Gaza is almost completely dependent on a coastal aquifer but that low levels of rainfall have left it filled with inconsumable sea water; expresses concern that Israeli occupation policies in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip mean that essential access to consumable water supplies by Palestinians is hampered; and calls on the Government to lobby its counterparts in Israel to ensure adequate water sources and supplies are restored.”

Signed by:

Sir Peter Bottomley MP,  John McDonnell MP, Mark Durkan MP, Andrew George MPSir Bob Russell MP

Each of the names above links to their relevant e-mail addresses with a pre-written e-mail containing a link to this article. If you feel so inclined, give it a click, and let them know they're misguided on this one. Click here to e-mail them all at once.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and tweets at @RaheemJKassam

Read more on: gaza water crisis, water supply in gaza, EDM 1062, water, Israel , gaza, oslo, Oslo Agreements, Hamas, World Bank, United Nations, Palestinians, egypt, and foreign aid
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