Water Resources in Gaza

In Gaza the Coastal Aquifer is basically the only source of ‘freshwater.’  Aquifer levels are extremely low, the aquifer is highly polluted and the salinity level is sharply increasing.  Up to 95% of the 116 municipal supply wells in Gaza that tap into the aquifer produce water that isn’t fit for human consumption, as chloride levels are greater than 250 mg/l.  It is important to note that the British Hydrological Service observed overpumping of the Coastal Aquifer as early as 1933 before the territory became overcrowded as a result of the 1948 War.

The map of Aquifer Levels in Gaza shows that the aquifer levels are most depleted in Gaza City (population 450,000) and Khan Younis / Rafah (joint populations 251,000).  Contrary to common assumption, the increase in salinity of the aquifer in Gaza comes from Israeli territory in the east, and not from seawater intrusion.  The contour of the aquifer portrayed in this map is in line with this conclusion.  As a result of Israeli obstruction of wastewater treatment plants, untreated and partially treated sewage is being released into the ground and into the sea.

Gaza is a city and is best supplied like other cities, i.e. not from within city boundaries. Desalination plants are un-ecological, dependent on fossil fuels, highly expensive, unsustainable, and easily disrupted.  According to international water law, Gaza has a right to an equitable and reasonable share of water from the Coastal Aquifer within Israel.


Watch LifeSource film Gaza is Floating



Related page: Siege on Gaza

Mountain Aquifer

Cross Section of Mountain Aquifer

In contrast to Gaza, the West Bank lies in a mostly sub-humid climate where bountiful rainfall provides for high groundwater recharge rates into the shared Mountain Aquifer, which consists of three basins – the Eastern, North-Eastern and Western Aquifer Basins.  Among these three basins the Western Aquifer Basin or Western Aquifer is the purest and most abundant ground water reserve in the region.  Israel has prevented Palestinians from drilling a single new well in the Western Aquifer since 1967.

According to a World Bank study, “about 85% of the recharge of the Western Aquifer is in the West Bank.”[i]  But the Israeli military is limiting Palestinians to a mere 6% of this precious resource.  If Palestinians had access to only half of the sustainable yield of this aquifer, Palestinians’ total water supply in the West Bank would double.[ii]

This cross-section of the Mountain Aquifer shows that within the West Bank the land above the Western Aquifer is mountainous and has sharp inclines.  Only a relatively narrow strip along the Green Line has productive conditions as the slopes and mountains are unproductive.  Israel has constructed the Segregation Wall or Apartheid Wall to capture these future abstraction zones.


[i] World Bank (2009), “Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development,” p. 35.

[ii] The “estimated potential” of the Western Aquifer at the time of Oslo was 362 million cubic meters. According to the Israeli Water Authority, total water supply to Palestinians today is 180 million cubic meters annually in the West Bank.  Israel Water Authority (April, 2009), “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” (p. 15).

The Wall

Israeli Wells & the Wall 


In 2002 Israel began to construct the Segregation Wall or Apartheid Wall, impacting Palestinians’ current access to water, more significantly, it will have a much greater impact on future access if it becomes an internationally recognized border.

The Wall grabs Palestinian wells, springs, and cisterns that Palestinians have been dependent upon for centuries.  The Wall is also designed to capture most of the few future potential Palestinian abstraction zones of the Western Aquifer Basin.  The Wall stands to cut Palestinians off from areas that would yield an addition 90 million cubic meters annually.[i]  Compare this amount to Palestinians total current water supply in the West Bank, which is just 180 million cubic meters according to the Israeli Water Authority.[ii]  Palestinians in Nabi Saleh and elsewhere are engaged in weekly demonstrations against the Wall to reclaim their water resources.

Today Israel dominates the Western Aquifer by preventing Palestinians from drilling new wells, by imposing quotas on existing Palestinian wells, and by drilling many very deep wells on Israel’s side of the Green Line for Israeli use.  Israel’s deep productive wells tap into the Western Aquifer almost exclusively from within Israeli territory, compared to less than a handful of Israeli wells accessing the Western Aquifer from inside Palestinian territory, as seen in the map Israeli Wells and the Segregation Wall.  But if the Wall becomes the new internationally recognized border between Israel and Palestine, then Israel will retain near-exclusive control of this basin and its benefits, even though it is recharged largely inside the West Bank.  Thus it would be able to prevent Palestinians from accessing significant reserves in the Western Aquifer even after the formal military occupation is over.





[i] From Clemens Messerschmid (2011), “The Last Sip: Water crisis in Palestine [Arabic publication],” p. 6.

[ii] Israel Water Authority (April, 2009), “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” (p. 15).





“Area C”


In the West Bank, Israel zones 61% of internationally recognized Palestinian territory to be “Area C” and off-limits to Palestinian development of any kind, including houses, schools, clinics, and water and sanitation infrastructure.  But Israel permits the development of illegal colonies in Area C in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly prohibits an occupying power from transferring their civilian population to occupied territory.  Israeli settlements are built with water and sewage networks without seeking approval from the Joint Water Committee established under Oslo, even though it is clear according to the Oslo Agreement that Israel is supposed to take all water and sanitation projects it proposes in the West Bank to this Joint Water Committee for approval.

As the “Area C” map shows, Area C weaves throughout the West Bank transforming Palestinian populated areas into a series of enclaves cut off from one another and often from agricultural land and water resources outside of municipal areas.  90% of the Jordan Valley is off limits to Palestinian development, while illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley export water-intensive crops like grapes, dates and flowers to Europe.

The fact that Area C meanders between and around enclaves where Palestinians are permitted limited development means that Palestinians are prevented by Israeli restrictions imposed in Area C from developing regional water conveyance networks to improve water supply in Palestinian enclaves.  Even simple water projects that are not in Area C are impacted by restrictions on workers and equipment passing through Area C.

Israel routinely destroys rainwater-harvesting cisterns that farmers use to irrigate small patches of land and that shepherds depend upon for providing their herds with water.  In 2011, Israel demolished a cistern in the village of Susia that dates back to Roman times displacing the families that were dependent upon it for survival.  Israel’s demolition of Palestinian water infrastructure increased in 2011, bringing total demolitions of water and sanitation infrastructure since 2009 up over 100 structures in the West Bank alone.  Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, underscored the importance of addressing these demolitions in a news release by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.[i]

There are 60,000 Palestinians prevented from constructing water connections in their homes.[ii]  Households that do not have a tap must rely on transporting water.  Tankered water costs up to twelve times as much as water from the tap and carries increased risk of water-borne disease.[iii]

While many organizations are bringing media attention to Israeli restrictions and demolitions in Area C, few are challenging Israel’s policy of demolition directly on the ground.  International humanitarian and development organizations for the most part are following Israeli policy in Area C in order to avoid having their projects demolished or other repercussions from Israel.  With rare exceptions organizations only implement projects in the other 39% of the West Bank, which is already overcrowded.  In doing so, well-meaning organizations are actually creating incentives for Palestinians in 61% of the West Bank to abandon their land and relocate to the overcrowded enclaves where they may have more affordable and more reliable water access.


Watch Filling Point (15 mins) and Jordan Valley Blues (43 mins) – 2 LifeSource films which illustrate Israeli violations in Area C



[i] “ ‘At least 20 cisterns and 12 wells have been demolished since the beginning of 2011, affecting access to drinking water for tens of thousands of Palestinians,’ underscored the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque,” OHCHR news release 27 September 2011: West Bank: demolitions and attacks against Palestinians must stop – UN experts.

[ii] OCHA (December 2009), “Restricting Space: The Planning Regime Applied By Israel In Area C Of The West Bank. Special Focus.”  Also in EWASH Fact Sheet 5: Access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Area C, “The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) cluster in the oPt estimates that 60,000 of those living in Area C are not connected to a water network.”

[iii] “up to twelve times as much as water from the tap” calculated using figures from the WASH rapid assessment water scarcity data from July 2011 collected by UNICEF.







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Jordan Valley

Water Networks in the West Bank

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal colonies according to international law.  It is also illegal under international law for Israel to operate any wells in the West Bank for the benefit of Israeli citizens.  This includes the Occupied Jordan Valley.

Illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley contain large agricultural plantations and export water-intensive crops like grapes, dates and flowers to Europe, while Palestinian villages are frequently demolished and Palestinians are denied access to local springs. Israel zones 90% of the Jordan Valley “Area C” and off limits to Palestinian development.

In 1967 there were 210,000 Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley.  Today there are only 56,000 Palestinians left.  Palestinians in the Jordan Valley have been greatly affected by the diversion of the Jordan River, Israeli military rule, and Israeli colonial takeover.

As part of the Oslo Agreement, Israel was allocated 40 million cubic meters of water in the Eastern Aquifer, an amount it is consuming largely from deep wells in the Jordan Valley.  Israeli plantation owners in the Jordan Valley complain that the 9,400 Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley can’t have more water, while this amount equals 22% of the total amount of water available to 2.5 million Palestinians for domestic purposes, agriculture and industry, including the amount purchased from Israel.

Israel frequently points out that the majority of water it supplies and consumes in the West Bank comes from inside of Israel.  But from inside of the Green Line, Israel is abstracting 80% more from the Western Aquifer than its Oslo allocations!

As the map “Water Networks in the West Bank” illustrates: 100% of water supplied by Israeli networks in the Jordan Valley is from local water sources belonging to Palestinians. While many water networks in the West Bank are linked to pipes inside of Israel, the water network in the Jordan Valley is a closed circuit, drawing completely from local sources.

Palestinians have had their land and water resources confiscated by the Israeli military, their homes and water tanks destroyed.  Palestinians who still own arable land are not allowed access to sufficient quantities of water to irrigate it.  The area is constantly under military rule, where farmers may be shot at by the army for being outside of their homes between the hours of 7pm and 7am.  Local residents labor in the settlements without rights, fair pay, benefits or job security.

Even farmers working in the settlements support the boycott of agricultural products these settlements are exporting to Europe, knowing that this could put them out of work in the short-term, because they view boycott as a tactic that will help to achieve justice in the long-term.

Watch the 44-minute LifeSource feature film Jordan Valley Blues.

Boycott Mehadrin and Israeli agricultural produce.

Gradoremabglam .

Filling Point (15 mins)

Two neighboring Palestinian communities in South Hebron, As-Samu’a (20,000 people) and Imneizel (500 people) suffer from bizarre restrictions imposed by Israel on the development of their basic water infrastructure. After years of negotiations, As-Samu’a was permitted to access some limited additional quantities of water, but on the condition that this water not be distributed to residents through their existing internal piped water distribution network. 30 rainwater-harvesting cisterns have been isolated from Imneizel village by the Segregation Wall. Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human right to water are making it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to access the basic necessities for life and to stay on their land.

Directed by Pietro Bellorini. Directed and Produced by LifeSource.

January 2010




Jordan Valley Blues (43 mins)

Meet Palestinian farmers living in the Jordan Valley, who are forced to abandon their land due to lack of water and harassment from the Israeli military.  One tests his entrepreneurship in his home village; the other accepts work in an illegal Israeli colony, sacrificing his rights as a worker and so much more.  Then meet an Israeli settler who asserts he is so happy to be able to give 35 Palestinians jobs, for without him, they'd starve.

Israeli permitting restrictions are drastically limiting Palestinian water and sanitation development throughout the West Bank, and obstructing nearly all Palestinian development in the Jordan Valley – 90% of which is classified "Area C" or "under Israeli control".  Israel is demolishing Palestinian wells, pipelines and even rainwater-harvesting cisterns.

January 2010

Written, Directed & Produced by LifeSource Collective


Gaza is Floating (9 mins)


A short film from LifeSource about how the Israeli siege is leading to a sanitation disaster in Gaza, causing environmental catastrophe and human tragedy.

Directed by Fady Al-Ghorra.  Produced by LifeSource.

September 2009



Siege on Gaza

Water Resources in Gaza



Telugu to Tamil

By Land or by Water (9 mins)

By Land or by Water, directed by Mohammed Majdalawi and LifeSource, includes original testimony with families who had their water infrastructure directly targeted by Israel during the 23-day 2008-9 offensive on the Gaza Strip.

This testimony provides human faces to the finding of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict that water and sanitation resources and infrastructure were intentionally targeted by Israel.*


*“Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” para. 1023, UN Doc. A/HRC/12/48 (15 September 2009).

We, the Women of Jayyous – 34 mins

Take a tractor ride through the Jayyous countryside behind the Wall, where more than 70% of the village’s land and all six of its ground water wells have been confiscated.

See the illegal Israeli dump with industrial waste from the settlements located just above Azzoun’s Well, from where the Jayyous residents now get their water.

Learn about the sewage crisis affecting 90% of Palestinians in the West Bank.

And meet the women of Jayyous, who together with LifeSource, are beginning to do something about all of this.

LifeSource, 2008, 34 mins


Director’s note:

In the summer of 2008, LifeSource met with the Jayyous Women’s Association, a group who is active with the local Land Defense Committee protesting the Wall that is stealing 72% of their land and all 6 of their groundwater wells.

The women are deeply concerned about the quality of water from the Azzun well, where they now take their water.  In addition to the natural calcium deposits from the well’s geological location, they fear that Israel’s illegal landfill – with waste from industrial settlements – is contaminating their drinking water.  They know that if they drink the water without boiling it they will be sick.

Together the Jayyous Women’s Association, a nearby municipality’s water quality manager, and LifeSource set out to determine the source of their drinking water’s contamination – and stumble upon a highly disturbing situation.

This is the extended edit of the film which is a little slow at the beginning, but is already, one month after its creation, an historic artifact, as Israeli construction of the new settlement “Northern Tzufim” and the new route of the Wall have already begun!