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Middle East Issues





Dajani's 'Israel's Water War Crimes' Charges Run Dry


Muna Dajani’s recent piece on the Congress blog claims that “[f]or the last decade, Israel has been carrying out a systematic and willful campaign to deny Palestinians access to clean water.”

Water supply to residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip dramatically increased after Israel took control over the disputed territories in 1967. Only four of 700 residential locales distributed water to West Bank residents under Jordanian occupation. By 2004, this number had increased to 643.

If Israel was genuinely perpetrating a “war on water” against residents of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, all it had to do was reduce, not to mention stop supplying water to the territories. Instead, it has provided significantly more than required by the 1995 Israel-Palestinian Agreement (“Oslo II”).
 
That year the Palestinian Authority’s water need was 118 MCM. It was agreed that an additional 20 percent annually would be received by the PA. However, by 2007 the extra supply increased to 50 percent. ("Amira Hass' Water Woes," CAMERA, Dec. 12, 2011).

The 1995 agreement obliges Israel to provide the Palestinian Arabs with 31 MCM. Nevertheless, Israel has provided the PA with 52 MCM, far exceeding its requirement ("The Water Issue Between Israel and the Palestinians," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mar. 5, 2012).  

Following Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, 25 retaining pools and a sophisticated carrier system were transferred to Gaza authorities. But the Palestinian regime in Gaza failed to manage water supplies properly, leading to ecological damage and endangering public health.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Israeli defense ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) approved 235 projects to improve the economy of Gaza. These include completed projects to upgrade water and sewage facilities such as Nahal Oz water main with the capacity to transfer up to 5 MCM of water, improving the capacity of Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) for monitoring water quality supply in Gaza, pumps for the Water Well project in Gaza and other initiatives. ("Projects in Gaza 2010-2012," The State of Israel, Ministry of Defense Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories).  

Unfortunately, while Israel more than fulfilled its “Oslo II’ water commitments, residents of the territories breached Palestinian obligations, digging “pirate wells” that endangered West Bank/Israel aquifers and allowing wastewater to flow into streams ("Is Israel really to blame for Gaza's water shortages?" The Commentator, Feb. 13, 2014). The PA did little or nothing to correct the problems.  

Last year, raw sewage flooded the streets of Gaza. This resulted from the Hamas government’s decision to shut down the city’s only power plant. Without electricity, treatment ceased and sewage overflowed. Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, refused to import diesel fuel to run the power plant because of a dispute over tax payments with Israel. ("Raw Sewage and Anger Flood Gaza's Streets as Electricity Runs Low," The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2013).     

Dajani’s allegations of Israeli “targeting” of Palestinian water infrastructures obscure cause and effect. She seems to be referring to wartime damage in the Gaza Strip that resulted from Israeli retaliation against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and similar  groups that used the area to fire nearly 5,000 mortars and rockets at the Jewish state and to dig infiltration tunnels.

Each one of these launches—including the hundreds that fell short, some killing and wounding Gaza Arabs—and tunnels was a war crime, or meant to facilitate them. So was placing some of the rocket storage and launch sites and tunnel openings among civilian areas that included, among other facilities, water reservoirs (The Times of Israel, Jan. 23, 2014).  Had there been no Palestinian aggression, there would have been no damaged water infrastructure. 

Nevertheless, during Operation Protective Edge in July and August, 2014 Mekorot, Israel’s water company, continued supplying the Gaza Strip with water. Additionally, Israel carried out 18 water supply repairs along with 6 sewage repairs, 55 electrical repairs, and 7 communication repairs ("Humanitarian Aid to Gaza Continues," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Aug. 27, 2014) during the fighting.
 
Many of the problems Dajani alludes to derive from Palestinian practices that waste a great deal of water. These include not building sewage treatment plants, not fixing leaky municipal water pipes, not developing and conserving underground water resources, failing to irrigate land with treated sewage effluents or adopting water-saving practices such as those used by Israel,  including agricultural drip-irrigation and large-scale desalinization ("What Other Nations Can Learn from Israel About Meeting the Scarce Water Wharton University of Pennsylvania, Oct. 10, 2012).

In addition to using false claims to invert reality, Dajani also invoked discredited sources. These include the Russell Tribunal, which dishonestly uses “a legal fašade to create an image of neutrality and credibility” according to the NGO Monitor watchdog ( "Russell Tribunal on Palestine is as dead wrong as Russell was in 1938," The Hill, Oct. 5, 2014).

Likewise, Dajani cites the U.N’s 2009 Goldstone report, on the December 2008-January 2009 Israel-Hamas war to bolster her allegations. That report was so flawed that commission head, Richard Goldstone, the South African judge for whom it was named, disavowed its primary accusations. He wrote that Israel did not intentionally target Palestinian civilians. ("Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes," The Washington Post, Apr. 1, 2011).    

Israel’s “water war crimes” are figments of Dajani’s hostility. 

Kaufman wrote this commentary as a media assistant in the Washington office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. This Backgrounder has been edited slightly; for The Hill version as posted, click here.)


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