RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah denounced Israel’s policies affecting Palestinians’ access to water during a speech on Wednesday, calling on the international community to intervene in improving access to safe, clean water in the occupied Palestinian territory and Gaza.
In his speech, intended to commemorate International Water Day which occurred a week earlier on March 22, Hamdallah said that Israel was using its control of water resources to “apply pressure on the Palestinian people” and attempt to erode the economic and social fabric of the Palestinian community, as well as to obstruct the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state.
Hamdallah added that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had prioritized the issue of water and established a water committee which he claimed would enable the PA to work on water infrastructure projects in the occupied West Bank, including in Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank under complete Israeli military control.
Hamdallah was seemingly referring to the Palestinian-Israeli Joint Water Committee (JWC), whose activities resumed in January after a years-long PA boycott over its imbalance of power, which has allowed Israel to consistently veto developments in Palestinian water infrastructure.
Israelis, including settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory, have access to 300 liters of water per day, according to water rights NGO coalition EWASH, while the West Bank average is around 70 liters, below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 100 liters per day for basic sanitation, hygiene and drinking.
According to Amnesty International, nearly 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank do not have access to running water.
Meanwhile, just half of Palestinian proposals for wells and improvement projects to the water network were approved by Israel between 1995 and 2008, compared to a 100 percent approval rate for Israeli projects, according to a 2013 report by Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) affirmed in a statement earlier this month that “since 1967, not a single new well has been approved by Israel in the Western Aquifer,” adding that wells built by Palestinians without Israeli-issued permits were extremely vulnerable to demolition at the hands of Israeli forces.
“As the occupying power, Israel has very specific obligations toward the land and population it occupies,” the PLO statement read. “Unfortunately, Israel not only fails to fulfill these responsibilities, which are obligations under customary international law, but in fact continues to exploit Palestinian natural resources in the territory it occupies.”
With regards to the besieged Gaza Strip, Hamdallah warned that the water crisis in the small Palestinian territory had reached a “very dangerous point,” and that the PA was working hard to raise political and international awareness of the issue.
Hamdallah called on the international community to join a funders’ conference in April and support the establishment of a desalination plant in Gaza projected to cost $600 million, while also demanding that Hamas give away the land where the plant is set to be built.
The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas became the de facto ruling party in the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008.
The UN has warned that the besieged Palestinian territory could become “uninhabitable” by 2020, as its more than 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy and the infrastructure.
In November, the World Bank stated that only 10 percent of the population in Gaza had access to safe drinking water.
In its 2013 report, Palestinian rights group al-Haq said that “Israel’s illegal exercise of sovereign rights over Palestinian water resources… (is an) integral element of an institutionalized system of Jewish-Israeli domination over Palestinians as a group, in the form of a colonial and apartheid regime.”
“Despite all the difficult challenges, our ambition and will are strong, as well as our trust in our partners and the international society who believe in our just cause,” Hamdallah said. “This strengthens our determination to build a better future for our generations, a future where Palestinian children will live a normal life just like other children around the world.”