Douglas Jehl got just about everything wrong in his August 15
New York Times story about water problems in Hebron. Entitled "Water
Divides Haves From Have-Nots in West Bank," the piece was an anti-Israel
caricature. It misrepresented that nation's role in providing water to the
Palestinians, omitted entirely Palestinian water obligations under Oslo and
focused almost exclusively on denunciations of Israel.
Jehl got even the basics wrong. He claimed Israel is required by Oslo to "make
available a fixed amount of waterslightly over one billion cubic feet a year"
to meet the "immediate needs" of the Palestinians. Indeed, Annex III,
Article 40 of Oslo II, to which he was apparently referring, does stipulate an
increase of water for Palestinian use; it calls for an additional 28.6 million
cubic meters, or Jehl's "slightly over one billion cubic feet." But,
in his apparent rush to blame Israel for Palestinian deprivation, the reporter
neglected to mention that a full 19.1 mcm, or two-thirds of the total, were to
be developed by the Palestinians.
The agreements also spell out in some detail the measures each side is to
take to achieve this increased water supply. But Jehl excluded all reference to
such matters, omitting even a hint of Palestinian responsibility for delivering
more water to its own populace. Instead, he quoted one Palestinian after another
excoriating Israel and the Jews.
"[T]here is not enough to go around, because it is all in the hands of
the Jews," said one man. "The main reason for this water [problem] is
the Israelis," said another.
Nor, obviously, did Jehl describe what each party to the Oslo Accords has
actually done to comply with its commitments. Yet this information is crucial
to understanding the realities about the water crisis in Hebron and elsewhere,
and it recasts dramatically the crude and false picture sketched by the
Whereas Israel has moved expeditiously to fulfill its side of the water
bargain, the PA has severely neglected its obligations. For example, to
increase water for the Palestinian city of Jenin, it was agreed that Israel
would provide a major new well there, making available an additional 1.4 million
cubic meters of water for residents. The Palestinians, for their part, were to
connect the new well to consumers. More than a year ago Israel completed the
well, which cost in excess of $2 million, but it has gone unused because the PA
failed to implement the connection.
In Hebron, the focus of Jehl's article, Israel was to provide licensing for
additional major wells. This was done and a German company completed the
drilling of two large wells in March. However, the PA has yet to put down
piping to deliver the water to residents as it was obliged to do. Indeed, the PA
has yet to obtain full rights-of-way to lay the pipes. If the wells were
functioning, they would provide water for 70,000 people.
In the Bethlehem area, the PA was to dig two wells but Palestinian officials
have yet to take the first step of seeking licenses from Israel to begin the
project. In the Tekoa area, the PA sought and received approval for wells and
dug at least one, but has done nothing to provide the infrastructure to deliver
the water to residents. In the Salfit area, the Palestinians were to provide
connecting pipeline to receive more water, but, again, they have failed to
fulfill their obligations. The same negligence by the PA is evident in numerous
All this information is available to reporters. But assembling it would have
required both footwork and an open mind. It would have entailed deviating from
the path of the journalistic herd that, like clockwork every summer, recites
the propaganda fable of blameless, parched Palestinians abused by Israelis. Jehl
stuck to the well-trod fiction.
Consistent with his repetition of other distortions, he recycled the canard
that, while Palestinians endure shortages, "There is no sign of a water
shortage in the Jewish settlements just outside Hebron." In fact, there
are many such signs for a reporter willing to look.
Immediately to the west of Hebron are two Jewish communities, Telem and
Adura, which suffer severe water problems. As reported by Haggai Sari in the
Makor Rishon on August 21, Adura has experienced chronic water shortages
for years and has recently been without water entirely for five days. A
spokesman for the community said residents were forced to travel "with
jerry cans to the gas station at Beit Jubrin, so that they could wash their
Moreover, even when the community has water in the taps it is undrinkable
and is deemed usable only for cleaning purposes. Bottled water must be brought
in for drinking. The uncertain availability of water for the Adura community
entails frequent costly purchase of water from water trucks. In addition, under
the Oslo Accords, the community is at the mercy of Palestinian authorities who
control water to Adura and who, according to residents, turn off the supply "whenever
Water shortages affect Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank. Mevo
Dotan, for example, experienced such severe problems that Israel considered
evacuating the entire community. Kiryat Arba, which adjoins Hebron, is, like
other settlements, without water one day each week. Within Israel proper, too,
communities suffer water shortages, especially in the Upper Galilee.
In other words, the vicious stereotype of Jews luxuriating in water at the
expense of Palestinians is untrue. It hardly needs saying that Jehl's story did
not include mention of wealthy Palestinians in Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah
whose private swimming pools and ample water supply further belie his
typecasting of Arab and Jew.
Jehl also omitted two other critical factors contributing to the water
crisis in Hebron. First is the disastrous leakage from antiquated and corroded
pipes which causes water losses of 20% - 50% in the city. Israeli experts, such
as former water commissioner Dan Zaslavsky, have noted that these losses
continue unstanched because repairs by the municipality have met resistance
from Arab well-owners who profit during the dry summers from private sales of
In addition, there is massive theft of water by Palestinians from water
pipes in the Hebron area, reducing availability of the resource for residents.
Israeli spokesmen familiar with the theft problem report that scores of water
trucks tap the resource illegally from water mains, then sell the water to
thirsty customers. One official stated recently that he had disconnected five
illegal taps in one day. A water expert cited by Haggai Sari in
Makor Rishon characterized efforts by the Civil Administration and
Israel's national water agency, Mekorot, to block the pirate hook-ups as "Sisyphean."
Why, one might ask, would an experienced reporter at the world's
most influential newspaper produce a news article that violates so grossly the
tenets of responsible journalism? Whatever the answer, whether because of
laziness, naivete or ill-will, Jehl's piece defaming Israel can only fuel
baseless enmity toward an entire people.
Moreover, such scapegoating of Israel harms not only the Israelis but also
the Palestinians. As Sari observed, Arafat has seized on the water issue for
his own political uses, and in blaming Israelis "has created an excellent
cover for the failings of his government" and "its rampant corruption."
In this, Jehland his editors in New Yorkhave lent a hand.