Friday, February 12, 2016


When I was a kid in grade school, my greatest fear surfaced when I encountered the Miller brothers. They called themselves the “Kings,” but everyone else called them the bullies. Their childhood philosophy was; “What’s mine is mine and I will keep it, and what’s yours is mine, and I will take it.”  Whatever generated such an attitude is beyond my understanding. Hopefully, in time, the Miller brothers have grown up.  On the other hand, Israel is now 68 years old and shows few signs of growing up, especially when it comes to water.

Three things make water unique. First of all, there is no substitute for it. Chemists and engineers produce amazing products which make our lives longer, safer and better. But with all our ingenuity, brain power and money, no one has ever produced one drop of water or a satisfactory substitute for it.

Second, water is absolutely essential for life. Nothing lives without water.  Yet fresh water represents less than 2.5 percent of all available water on earth.[1]

Third, a large portion of water is “consumptive,” meaning that when it is used, it is gone forever.  

For these reasons, every nation on the globe is establishing water policies designed to preserve and extend its water supply. Even so, every nation is experiencing “water problems.” Consider the recent water crisis in Flint Michigan and the unprecedented drought in California. A Presbyterian Women’s study for 2016 reported that, “twenty-four states in the United States reported prolonged drought conditions.”  Every nation on the globe is suffering water shortages. That is, every nation, but Israel.

Israel’s history of addressing its water needs is, as long as we have a weaker neighbor with a water source, we will never run out; “What’s mine is mine and I will keep it, and what’s yours is mine, and I will take it.”  Mr. Katz-Oz, Israel’s negotiator on water issues, said, “There is no reason for Palestinians to claim that just because they sit on lands, they have the rights to that water”[2]

Of the water available from West Bank aquifers, Israel uses 83%, leaving only 17% for Palestinian use.[3]

Facts and figures don’t address the question of equity. Arguably 50% or more of the water that Israel uses is unilaterally appropriated from water that should fairly go to its Arab neighbors. Even the New York Times uses the word “theft.”[4]

 Most people remember the 1982 invasion of Lebanon because of the horrendous massacre of some 2000 unarmed men, women and children in the refugee camps of Sebra and Shatila. Israel invaded Lebanon supposedly to destroy the PLO. But for almost 20 years after the PLO had vacated Lebanon, until the year 2000, Israel remained in Lebanon and controlled the Litani River, pumping millions of gallons of water into Israel. “What’s yours is mine, and I will take it.”   

The US media applauds Israel’s wall as being necessary to keep out suicide bombers. It is significant that the wall around Qalqiliya, which traps that city of about 60,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side of the green line, just happens to sit upon the largest fresh water aquifer in the Middle East. Surely, no one would suspect the cutting off of farmers from their fields, doctors from their hospitals and kids from their schools had anything to do with the water under Qalqiliya.  It’s simply an outcome of, “What’s yours is mine.”

Thousands of Christians pilgrims visit the Holy Land every year and nearly swoon at the sight where Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. It is beautiful; Rich blue waters surrounded by lush green trees, all placid and clean. One can just picture Jesus and John appreciating the beauty of nature.  This site, called Yardenit is easily accessible to tourists. However, this is not the whole story. According to Christiana Z. Peppard in her powerful little book, Just Water:

Several hundred meters south of Yardenit, the calm waters of the Jordan disappear. The river has been dammed, siphoned, redirected into underground pipes heading for Tel Aviv, and replaced by a spout of barely treated sewage that foams into a dry, rocky canal. Here the Jordan is a limp toxic strip of river… Still, a few hundred meters north, eager Christians continue their ritual purification and prayers at Yardenit, oblivious to the defiling sludge just downstream.[5]

Not only does Israel soak up water like a sponge, Israel uses water as a weapon of genocide.

Israel deliberately targeted wells, cistern, roof water tanks, storage tanks, miles of pipelines, water treatment facilities and sanitation plants during its bombardment of Gaza last summer. Today, Israel continues to destroy Palestinian water supplies.  “Wells are increasingly infiltrated by salty sea water because Israel is over-pumping the groundwater. UN scientists estimate that Gaza will have no drinking water within fifteen years.”[6]

In the West Bank:

Besides attacking Palestinian homes, torching their crops and animal barns, settlers confiscate water springs, poison Palestinian water wells with  chemicals, spoil them with dirty diapers, with their own feces or with dead chickens, and topple and shoot roof top water tanks.[7]

Settlers have few restrictions on water use:

When supplies of water are low in the summer months, the Israeli water company Mekorot closes the valves which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as not to affect Israeli supplies. This means that illegal Israeli settlers can have their swimming pools topped up and lawns watered while Palestinians living next to them, on whose land the settlements are situated, do not have enough water for drinking and cooking.[8] 

The question remains; Is water a right or a commodity.  Be careful how you answer. If you say it is a commodity, you join everything Israel, and the Miller brothers, stand for: “What’s mine is mine and I will keep it, and what’s yours is mine, and I will take it.” On the other hand, declare water a right, you immediately become a responsible citizen of the human community.

Thomas Are
February 12, 2016

[1] Christiana Z, Peppard, Just Water, (Orbis Books, 2014) p. 21.
[2] Ronald Bleier, Israel’s Appropriation of Arab Water: An Obstacle to Peace. Middle East Labor Bulletin, Spring, 1994
[3] Water in Palestine, Palestine Monitor.
[4] Ronald Bleier, Israel’s Appropriation of Arab Water: An Obstacle to Peace. Middle East Labor Bulletin, Spring, 1994
[5] Christiana Z, Peppard, Just Water, (Orbis Books, 2014) p.102.
[6] Water in Palestine, Palestine Monitor
[7] Elias Akleh, Israel’s Water Genocide, May 19, 2014
[8] Water in Palestine, Palestine Monitor