By Matthew Richard and Jad Issac
For more than 44 years, the Israeli Occupation has violated the Palestinian right to the equitable and reasonable utilisation of shared water resources. Following the 1967 War, Israel initiated its occupation of the Palestinian territory and swiftly imposed military orders to achieve ultimate control over land and water resources. These orders dissolved the legal system that existed before 1967, which consisted of Ottoman, British, Jordanian (in the West Bank), and Egyptian (in Gaza) laws. Today, the administration of water resources in the West Bank is under Israeli control, with almost 2,000 military orders and proclamations forming the foundation of the Occupation. These orders are further reinforced by the demolition of Palestinian infrastructure, the expansion of Israeli settlements, and the construction of the Segregation Wall.

Water resources in the oPt consist of groundwater resources, the West Bank’s aquifer System, and the coastal aquifer, in addition to the Jordan River system. Israel controls almost all the Palestinian water resources and is exploiting around 89 percent of the available water, leaving only 11 percent to the Palestinians. Moreover, since 1967, Palestinians have been denied their right to access and utilise their share of the Jordan River system. Over the last decade, the water Palestinians are able to pump from the West Bank aquifer system has been declining. The total amount dropped from 138 million cubic metres in 1999 to 93 million cubic metres in 2009. Moreover, the Gaza coastal aquifer has been over-pumped at the rate of more than 155 million cubic metres annually, around 300 percent of the safe yield. The result is the groundwater table has been lowered below sea level and saline water has begun to enter the aquifer.

Water Access Violations
The 1995 Oslo Accords divided the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) into three areas: A, B, and C. Area A, which is mainly fragmented urban centres, was placed under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B was placed under PA civil administration but is under Israeli security control. Area C, which covers the Jordan Valley region and the settlements, remained under full Israeli control, especially with regard to issues of security, planning, and zoning. This division was only intended to last until a final status agreement was reached within five years. With the collapse of negotiations in 2000, approximately 36 percent of the West Bank had been categorized as Areas A and B, with an additional 3 percent of land designated as nature reserves. This left 61 percent of the West Bank as Area C. Approximately 150,000 people live in this zone, with around 18,500 in small, sedentary villages, and 27,500 residing in Bedouin and other herding communities.

Water projects and infrastructure within Area C require an official permit from the Joint Water Committee (JWC) and the Israeli Civil Administration. This is a long, bureaucratic procedure, which often results in permission being denied. Projects executed without prior approval are demolished by the Israeli military. Recently, there has been a significant increase in these demolitions. Between 2009 and 2011, the Israeli military demolished 173 water, sanitation, and hygiene structures, including 57 rainwater collection cisterns, 40 community wells, irrigation equipment vital for food production, and at least 20 toilets and sinks. This has affected an estimated 14,937 people. Palestinian water structures that have been destroyed include storage and rainwater cisterns, wells, springs, water tanks, and agricultural ponds. Some of these structures were demolished under the pretext that they were constructed without obtaining the relevant Israeli permit, but many were demolished without reason. This aggressive policy is intentionally restricting, displacing, and eliminating Palestinians from specific areas of the West Bank. These are areas of particular strategic interest to Israel, usually because they are designated for the expansion of Israeli settlements and related infrastructure.

Israeli settlements
Israel carries out a policy of territorial expansion that aims to appropriate land and water resources. This policy is reflected by the strategic location of Israeli settlements and settler activity in the West Bank. The Israeli government has invested heavily in settlement construction, expansion, and defence. Settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank is considered illegal under international law. Nevertheless, there are currently 179 settlements with more than 628,000 settlers (civilians) in the total area occupied by Israel, including 257,000 in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel land confiscation policy, which is based on security reasons and military needs, is intended to furnish the Israeli settlers with territory they can build and live on, and eventually transfer as many civilians as possible into the oPt. This is the process through which Palestinians have lost more than 50 percent of their land.

In addition, Israeli settlers have established 232 illegal Israeli settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank. Outposts are built without official permission, but receive support and assistance from Israeli government ministries. In order to supply water to the settlements, Israel has developed wells in the West Bank (largely in the Jordan Valley), and a water network that is linked into the Israeli national network. The discrimination in water allocation is evident when comparing the daily water consumption between the Palestinians and the illegal Israeli settlers. This is a violation of Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 that prohibits an occupying power from discriminating against residents of an occupied territory. The average rate of water used by the settlers is more than 350 litres per capita per day, while Palestinians in the rural communities in the West Bank survive on less than an average of 73 litres per capita per day. In some cases, the per capita water use does not exceed 20 litres per day.

In recent years, water springs in the vicinity of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank have become the target of settler activities that eliminated or put at risk Palestinian access to these springs. A report published by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs identifies a total of 56 such springs, the large majority of which are located in Area C on land recorded by the Israeli Civil Administration as privately owned by Palestinians. Thirty of these springs were found to be under full settler control with no Palestinian access to the area. At 22 of these sites, almost three-quarters, Palestinians have been deterred from accessing the spring by acts of intimidation, threats, and violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers. As for the remaining eight springs under full settler control, half of them have been blocked by physical obstacles, including the fencing off the spring area, creating its de facto annexation to the settlement. The other half have been isolated from the rest of the West Bank by the Segregation Wall and have subsequently been designated as a closed military zone. The other 26 springs are at risk of a settler takeover. This category includes springs that have become the target of regular tourism activities from settlers and regular patrols from settlement security. The inability to access or use springs has significantly undermined the livelihoods and security of Palestinians living in affected communities. Many farmers have been forced to either cease cultivating their land or face a reduction in productivity. This also has increased the expenditure for herders and households who are forced to purchase water that is brought in through pipes and tankers. Many other springs and related water infrastructure that are utilised by Palestinians are also subject to malicious attacks and vandalism from settlers

Israeli settlements are also a major cause of environmental pollution in the West Bank as untreated and unregulated wastewater is allowed to flow from the settlements onto communities and agricultural land. This is the case in Salfit, where local residents have witnessed the contamination of their agricultural lands and water resources and have contracted serious diseases, including cases of cholera. The Barkan settlement, near the Qana Valley, has the largest industrial complex of the Israeli settlements, and waste from industrial activity is dumped onto sites surrounding Salfit. In November 2011, wastewater from the Revava settlement near Salfit completely destroyed 20 olive trees and flooded a further 100 trees in Palestinian land surrounding the settlement.

The Segregation wall
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak approved the first proposal to build a “security barrier” (the Segregation Wall) in November 2000. Two years later, construction started west of Jenin. The wall is still under construction, and when completed, its length will total approximately 774 kilometres. The Wall is composed of barrier trenches, exclusion zones, electric fences, and thick concrete slabs stretching 8 metres high. The route of the Segregation Wall deviates substantially from the from the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line), cutting deep into the occupied West Bank. The map highlights the path of the Wall in the occupied West Bank. In 2004, the International Court of Justice declared the construction of the Wall, and the associated Israeli regime in the oPt, as illegal under international law.

Construction of the Segregation Wall has created Seam Zones that lie between the Segregation Wall and the Green Line. The Seam Zones include 238 square kilometres of agricultural land and 28 groundwater wells, 19 from the governorate of Qalqilya and 17 from Bethlehem. The total yield of the isolated wells is 4 million cubic metres per year, which constitutes more than 30 percent of the Palestinian share in the western aquifer as stated within the interim agreement. The map attached to this report also highlights the Palestinian wells and springs that were segregated by the construction of the Wall. Jayyus village, for example, lost two-thirds of its land (9,200 dunums) and six groundwater wells following construction of the Wall. As a result, the quantity of water available to the village has been drastically reduced to 23 litres per capita per day. Prior to construction of the Wall, Jayyus was a leading agricultural area with some of the most productive land in the West Bank.

The appropriated groundwater wells cannot be replaced because Palestinians are restricted from drilling new wells in the West Bank. The implementation of the unilateral Israeli separation policy, especially the construction of the Segregation Wall, does not only damage Palestinian lands and water resources, but it also directly harms and destroys the social life and cultural heritage of the villages that have been separated from each other or from their agricultural lands.

In conclusion, the Israeli water regime in the West Bank is a system of apartheid that severely discriminates against Palestinians. Israel should end all administrative demolition of water and sanitation infrastructure. Furthermore the government of Israel should allow Palestinians to develop large-scale infrastructure in the West Bank to allow for sustainable long-term solutions to existing needs. Finally, the government of Israel should end policies and practices that are illegal under international law and harm the livelihoods of Palestinian civilians

Dr. Jad Issac is the director of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ). Matthew Richard is a postgraduate from Oxford University working as research Associate with ARIJ. ARIJ is a Palestinian research organization working in the fields of socio-economics, natural resources, water management, sustainable agriculture, and political dynamics of development in the oPt. More information can be found at