Palestinians Thirsting for Justice in Water-Starved Occupied Territories

12:00 Aug 26 2011 West Bank

STOCKHOLM, Aug 26 (IPS) - In the strife-stricken Middle East, oil has always been in the realm of politics. But in the Israeli-occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, oil has been supplanted by water.

Shaddad Attili, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, told IPS that the Palestinians have not only been deprived of water as a basic human right but that water is also being used as a weapon of war by the Israelis.

"Water is a humanitarian issue. It should be taken out of politics," he said, pointing out that everyone in the region, including the Israelis, the Jordanians, the Lebanese and the Palestinians, should all be rightfully entitled to a basic human need.

Expressing strong feelings of anger and frustration, he said the deliberate destruction of water cisterns, wells and other essential water infrastructure by Israel continues - and targets the most vulnerable Palestinian communities.

Together, he said, these ‘facts of occupation’ greatly impact "our ability" to meet Palestine’s domestic, agricultural and industrial water needs both now and into the future.

"Simply stated, the Palestinian people are thirsting for justice and call on all states to demand the above from Israel, the occupying power, to bring an end to this unjust and deplorable situation," Attili said.

Addressing the Stockholm international water conference Friday, Attili said: "Israel exploits over 90 percent of our shared water resources for its own use, while exerting tremendous influence over the remaining 10 percent for Palestinian use."

"Not only are we denied our equitable and reasonable share of water under customary international water law; Palestinians have also been prevented from developing essential water infrastructure," he said.

Last year the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising the right to water and sanitation as a basic universal human right. But that basic human right is so far not applicable to the Palestinians.

Although the resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of states in the General Assembly, Israel abstained on that vote, along with the United States, Britain, Australia, Austria, Canada, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland - among the Western industrial nations.

In a critical report released last month, the U.N. Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in Occupied Territories, expressed dismay at Israel’s "continuing disregard of its obligations under international law".

"Unfortunately, what we found (in Gaza) was that the oppressive restrictions imposed on Gaza by Israel have the effect of collectively punishing the population," said the three member committee following a visit to the Israeli-occupied territory.

With around 35 percent of Gaza’s land area excluded from agriculture due to Israel’s vague buffer zone along the border, and its fishing areas limited to only three nautical miles from the coast (85 percent of fisheries), the people of Gaza could hardly feed themselves, much less revive a decimated economy through exports, the committee said.

"It would be the occupying powers responsibility to assist with the reconstruction of Gaza," noted the committee. Beyond the homes, schools and businesses that were destroyed, there is an urgent need for water treatment facilities, roads, sewage treatment and the restoration of power, it said.

In a paper presented before the General Assembly last year, the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations said that for 42 years, Palestine and its land have "witnessed all kinds of cruelty, destruction and abuse at the hands of Israel, the occupying power, targeting Palestinian life, livelihoods and resources."

The right of the Palestinian people to have access to water resources and better utilise them was not exempted from these violations.

Following the Israeli occupation in 1967, and in violation of international law, Israel took control over all natural freshwater resources, including surface water, underground aquifers located beneath the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, in addition to exclusive access to the Jordan River Basin, the statement added.

Attili told IPS that it is time the international community intervened to resolve the problem.

Addressing delegates, he warned: "Make no mistake: there can be no viable Palestinian state without our having access to, as well as control and management over, sufficient water resources capable of meeting our present and future domestic, agricultural and industrial water needs."

"We know what peace requires: what has been lacking up until now is the international political will to bring it about. It is this that needs to change, and I hope that this conference will help to make that change possible," he added.

Attili also said in certain ways, the water-related challenges facing Palestine are the same or similar to those facing nation after nation around the world.

Fresh water availability is a critical issue in Palestine. "In addition to suffering acute water shortages, we also face enormous problems in terms of water quality. Over time, these problems have become dramatically worse."

He said the year 2011 is of particular importance for Palestinians. A majority of nations have already recognised the state of Palestine, and "as you know, we will be seeking to have Palestine admitted as a member state of the United Nations in the coming month."

"At the Palestinian Water Authority - as at many other institutions in Palestine, both in the public and private sectors - we have been preparing hard for the moment of statehood. We are ready to accept and carry out our responsibilities to the full, and to cooperate with others in the region for effective management of our shared water resources in accordance with the norms of international national law and best international practice."

Originally published by InterPress Service.
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