Saturday, August 23, 2008

West Bank Water Crisis Coverage

The BBC's website and al Jazeera both had coverage this week about the water situation here in the West Bank. The village I live in is connected to the West Bank water system, and the water has been off several days each week most of the summer. We have storage tanks on the roof of the house so we don't immediately run out of water when the main line runs out, but many times the storage tanks ran dry too. Alhamdulillah we live in a house with a cistern to collect the rain water that fell on the roof during the winter, so we use that when the water is off. Last week the water went off on Tuesday, and our storage tank on the roof was empty by Wednesday night. I have dozens of bottles of drinking water stored around the house, and we use the garden hose from the cistern to bring water to wash and flush toilets. That week the water stayed off until Saturday. This week the water went off on Tuesday as usual, but I did dishes and made everyone bathe with the well water so that the storage tank on the roof didn't run out. And I always use the hose to fill up my washing machine. I am so glad I have an American style top loading machine! My friend down the street lives in an apartment building without a cistern, and it is much harder for her. When her water runs out, it is really hard, since she has 5 kids. Can you imagine not being able to flush the toilets regularly? But I know that we still have it better than all those villages that aren't even connected to a water supply, like those in the article and video below. On the other hand, in one of our neighboring villages, they are connected to the same system as the neighboring Israeli settlement, and their water is on all the time.

I used to mostly use the cistern's water for my garden and cleaning outside, but this year I have let a lot of the garden die. Last year the cistern ran dry before the summer was over, and I can't afford to have that happen again. Much as I love flowers, flushing the toilets is a higher priority.

West Bank struggles for water

By Wyre Davies
BBC News, Jerusalem

The former United Nations Secretary General, Boutros Ghali, may not have been right when he said in the 1990s that the next major war in the Middle East would be about water, not politics.

His statement, though, accurately reflected the strategic and political importance of water in the region.

For Israelis and Palestinians the control of water is almost as important as the control of land.

This year, much lower than average rainfall has led to drought conditions.

In Israel it is only just beginning to have an impact, but just a few miles away in the occupied West Bank, the crisis is much more acute for the Palestinians living there.


Rabab Zorab lives just outside Bethlehem. Her husband has a good job and they have a comfortable home.

But, playing with her one-year-old daughter Justina, Rabab said it was humiliating having to wash at the homes of family members, or to go days without clean clothes because they have no water.

The Zorab family hasn't had running water for more than two weeks.

Like every other family in this apartment block they have "back-up" tanks on the roof.

The tanks, though, are nearly empty despite the family's careful attempts not to use much of the precious water.

Abir Suqar lives in the same apartment block. She also has young children, two small boys, and has nowhere near enough water to do her daily chores.

"There's no water to have a bath or shower," says Abir.

The young mother looks almost embarrassed as she says she is having to buy the boys new clothes because she cannot wash the ones they have.

In some areas of the West Bank, Palestinians only have one-third of the minimum daily amount of water recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Official figures show that per capita water consumption is three times less than in Israel, even though Israelis and Palestinians theoretically share many of the same water supplies.

Growing population

It is all about control.

Agriculture is an important industry in Israel and the country has developed some of the world's most efficient irrigation systems.

But the cultivation of non-native crops - like bananas, which consume large amounts of water - is controversial.

Human rights groups accuse Israel of using its occupation of the Palestinian territories to control the supply of water from vast underground aquifers.

Uri Shani, the Director of Israel's Water Authority, says the problem is more fundamental.

"The population of this region - Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Jordan - has grown by more than 20 million in the last century", said Mr Shani.

"All of these people use, consume and drink water."

One of the West Bank Palestinians' greatest grievances is that while they struggle with irregular or unpredictable water supplies, nearby Jewish settlements enjoy the benefits of regular access to running water.

The settlements, considered illegal under international law, are highly controversial and, like water, are seen as one of the biggest obstacles to peace.

The Israeli government insists that all communities in the West Bank - Jewish or Palestinian - have the same access to resources.

'Crisis management'

The Head of the Palestinian Water Authority is Shaddad Attili.

With a shrug of the shoulders, he says that because of the Israeli occupation he is utterly disempowered to do anything about the chronic shortage of water.

" I am the minister for "virtual" water," says Mr Attili, without a hint of a smile.

On a map of the West Bank he shows that the Mountain Aquifer lies largely under Palestinian territory, but says his department is prevented by Israel from sinking wells to extract water.

"All I do is crisis management. I can't even put two ends of a pipe together without Israel's permission", he says, somewhat sarcastically.

Israel insists that it is supplying the Palestinians with more than their agreed share of water, under interim agreements.

In the meantime Israel is helping to ease the pressure on traditional supplies by developing alternative sources of fresh water, especially desalination plants on the coast.

But with more than two million Palestinians in the West Bank not connected to a running water supply, there are concerns that the current drought may lead to an even more unfair distribution of this precious resource.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/08/20 10:47:39 GMT

Friday, August 22, 2008

The checkpoint is gone!?!

When my husband told me they Israelis were removing the checkpoint between where we live and Ramallah yesterday, I thought he was joking, but they really did it. Honestly, I would not be surprised if they put it back later, but I hope it stays gone at least until after Ramadan. When was the last time it was possible to get from Bir Nabala to Ramallah without passing a checkpoint? Years and years. Before they put up the wall and this new checkpoint, we used to go to Ramallah through the Qalandia checkpoint. That checkpoint has been there since the mid 90's, although at first it was not always manned. Of course we still can't get to Jerusalem or even upper Beit Haninah without passing Qalandia. But at least I can get to the town of Ram without passing a checkpoint, which I used to be a 25 minute walk. It still will be a much longer trip, but you have no idea what a relief it will be to not have to go through that checkpoint. And, a certain friend of mine has refused to visit me for months because the last time she came here, her car was damaged by the way the checkpoint forced the Ramallah bound traffic to swerve around rocks and drop off the pavement at the checkpoint. So I expect a visit now M!

BIR NABALA, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel, under international pressure to ease restrictions on Palestinians, removed a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Thursday that had curbed movement outside a main Palestinian city.

The move came ahead of a planned visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next week to continue to push Israelis and Palestinians to pursue talks Washington has hoped could lead to a peace deal by early next year.

An Israeli military spokesman said soldiers had been instructed to remove concrete blocks and a checkpoint where soldiers inspected traffic leading to Bir Nabala, a town near Ramallah, where the Palestinian government sits.

It was the third such checkpoint Israel has removed this month, meeting requests from the U.S. and Middle East envoy Tony Blair to help peace moves and to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed government.

Tawfiq Nabali, head of the Bir Nabala village council, said the checkpoint that was lifted had restricted movement for more than 50,000 Palestinians living in 15 villages near Ramallah.

"We welcome any step in which the Israeli occupation leaves us alone, living in dignity without checkpoints and racism," Nabali told Reuters.

Palestinians say hundreds of Israeli roadblocks erected in the past eight years in occupied territory stifle their economy and amount to collective punishment.

Israel, which placed most of the barriers after a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 when peace talks failed, says the measures are necessary to prevent suicide bombers from reaching its cities.

(Additional reporting By Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)

(Reporting by Ammar Awad, Writing by Avida Landau and Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Editing by Michael Winfrey)