By Stephanie Westbrook
“How do you tell the difference between an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian town? Just look at the rooftops.” That was advice given to a delegation of activists from the Italian movements against water privatization visiting Palestinian and Bedouin communities in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel as part of SCI Italy’s Beyond Walls project.
The rooftops of Palestinian houses are dotted with water tanks as a reserve for water that is never sufficient. However, it is not water that is lacking, but access. Israel’s discriminatory policies have created a manufactured water crisis used as one of the tools to drive Palestinians from their land.
The main goal of the delegation was to document these policies in support of the campaign against the cooperation agreement signed between Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, and Acea, Italy’s largest water company.
Mekorot operates some 40 wells in the occupied West Bank and regularly reduces or cuts off water supplies to Palestinian communities, who are forced to purchase their own water from the Israeli company, in order to guarantee service to illegal Israeli settlements.
Israeli water policies towards Palestinians, and Mekorot’s role in implementing them, are perhaps most evident in the occupied Jordan Valley. The date palm plantations and greenhouses of Israeli agricultural settlements stretch out as far as the eye can see. Perched on the hills throughout the valley are Mekorot water tanks, while the company’s deep wells and pumping stations are drying up Palestinian water sources, leaving Palestinian towns, and the valley’s farmers, without sufficient water. Some Palestinian farmers have taken the drastic step of cutting down their own trees and crops. No longer able to work their own fields, many Palestinians have no other choice but to work as day laborers in the settlements.
In the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, where 13,000 refugees have lived on little more than one square kilometer since they were forced from their homes in 1948, having water often comes down to timing. Water is turned on just once every two weeks and being home that day becomes crucial, as does having electricity and a working pump to fill rooftop tanks. Next door, at the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo there are no water tanks on the roofs and water runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
However, it is not just in the occupied West Bank that Israel is using denied access to water to force Palestinians from their land.
Although Al Araqib was founded in 1905 in the Naqab desert, the Israeli government considers it to be one of 176 so-called “unrecognized” villages. Israeli authorities refuse to provide even basic services to these villages, whose residents are citizens of Israel, including water and electricity. Making matters decidedly worse, since July 2010, Israel has demolished Al Araqib 76 times. Israel has confiscated the villages water tanks and declared it illegal to bring in water from outside the village. Meanwhile, not only is the neighboring Jewish Israeli settlement of Givot Bar, created just ten years ago, connected to the Israeli water network, it also refuses to sell water to the families of Al Araqib.
Demonstrating extraordinary sumud, or steadfastness, Palestinian communities have stood firm against Israeli policies, refusing to leave their land. And across the world, as part of the international campaign against Mekorot, groups working for Palestinian rights have joined forces with those struggling against the privatization of water to denounce Mekorot’s role in denying Palestinians access to water and oppose its international efforts to turn a profit from a vital common good. The Italian Forum of Water Movement and the No Acea-Mekorot campaign plan to use the first-hand accounts and documentation gathered during the trip to maintain pressure on Acea and the City of Rome, which owns a majority share in the company, to interrupt the agreement with Mekorot, defending the fundamental right to water, from Rome to Palestine.
Per gli articoli della delegazione sul web: