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.
[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.