Thirsting for Peace in Palestine and Israel – Water is a human right.

This posting is the third in a series regarding the water and sanitation crisis in the Israeli government’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, particularly East Jerusalem and the West Bank. For more information about this crisis, click here.  

From a distance in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, distinguishing settlements and Palestinian communities is relatively easy, by the presence of black water tanks on Palestinian rooftops. Palestinians do not know for certain when the water will flow into their homes each week.

Old City - Palestinian water tanks are black. - East Jerusalem - 13 Feb. 2011 - Photo: Sherry Ann

In the West Bank, Palestinians may have the means to reach water in the ground but they are not allowed to do so. I’ve lost track of the number of news stories that I’ve read about water cisterns to collect rain water being destroyed by the Israeli army in the West Bank not necessarily new cisterns but also rock cisterns, thousands of years old. (For examples, click here and here.)

A Palestinian near Um Al Kher shows an EA damage to a water cistern near an Israeli military patrol road - 2010 - Photo: EAPPI

According to EWASH (Emergency Water and Sanitation Hygiene – Advocacy Task Force, in the occupied Palestinian territories – click here), “some [Palestinian] communities have to rely on water delivered by tanker, which costs as much as ten times the amount of water distributed via the water network, and is not always of acceptable quality. Some households are currently paying up to 40 per cent of their household income on clean water. Consequently, domestic consumption in such communities has fallen to as little as 20 litres per person per day, well below the 100 – 150 litres the World Health Organisation recommends to ensure all health concerns are met.” (EWASH fact sheet #2, p. 3)

Israeli authorities are requiring that if the West Bank Palestinians choose to build a water network, they must connect the Israeli settlements to that network. However, these settlements are illegal. This population transfer is a war crime according to Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Click here and here). According to Article 43 of the Hague Convention, “Israel, as an occupying power over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has the ultimate responsibility to as far as possible ensure that public order and safety are upheld in the territory it occupies, including securing the welfare of the population (article 43, Hague Convention)” (Diakonia, 30 Apr. 2011).

This environmental structural violence (Zaru, 2008) has not been making the news headlines. Yet, literally, Palestinian society has been thirsting for peace. Many Israelis may be unaware of this effect of their government’s policies. Israeli settlers travel on settler-only roads and other Israelis have the Separation Wall/Barrier blocking their view.

Water is a critical point of discussion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Water is one of the “permanent status issues – borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and water” (UN General Assembly media release, 12 Feb. 2010). 

Further, access to clean water and sanitation are now recognized as human rights (July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly vote. Click here.)

I write from a place, Alberta, Canada, that is just beginning to wake up to a water crisis. We, locally and globally, need to learn a new reality that water is a geo-political issue, a human-rights issue, an economic-justice issue, an issue tied to war and peace, and an issue related to respecting nature.

"Turn on the water!" - Separation Wall - Bethlehem - 13 Jan. 2011 - Photo: Sherry Ann

We all need water for physical reasons and spiritual reasons. This winter, at the height of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem, I was a tightly wound bundle of nerves. I had a very difficult time relaxing. But, I was the lucky one. On my three days off, I could ‘go to the water’, to Tel Aviv in Israel, to the Mediterranean Sea. I just went and sat on rocks by the water. I watched. I listened. I breathed. I took off my boots and I walked in the water.

Mediterranean Sea - Tel Aviv - Looking west toward Gaza - 30 Dec. 2010 - Photo: Sherry Ann

Not everyone who is a tightly wound bundle of nerves in Palestine can do that. For those who live in what has been called, the “largest open-air prison in the world”, Gaza, they may more easily ‘go to the water’. But that water is increasingly contaminated. (See EWASH factsheet #1 here).

We need to realize that the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is not only having a local impact. In terms of water, alone, this conflict is having international effects. Just think about how the water of the Mediterranean Sea is shared in that region of the world and flows into the Atlantic. Efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine are particularly focused on the Mediterrean as I write given the efforts of the Freedom Flotilla II.  

Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, the founder of Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem, once said to an international conference in Washington, DC:

“Keep the energy; keep the fire burning. I hope some of you will get together and begin working on a strategy because many of us cannot listen anymore to analysis. We must move beyond that to effecting change. And I think we can do it.” (Click here.)


Zaru, Jean. (2008). Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks. Foreword by Rosemary Radford Ruether. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

This posting, “Thirsting for Peace in Palestine and Israel – Water is a human right”, and the previous two postings on this blog are drawn from a spiritual gathering on 1 May 2011 at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For an audio version of this series of postings, please click here.

1 thought on “Thirsting for Peace in Palestine and Israel – Water is a human right.

  1. Pingback: Water – Learning the depths of this justice issue | EA Stories4Peace

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