“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” John 7:37
by Sophie, Jordan Valley team
The midday sun is coming into it’s own as we seek sanctuary under a tree in ‘Ein el Beida. As the first EAPPI Jordan Valley team, we are warmly welcomed by Abu Omar and his elderly uncle Abu ‘Akab, a kindly man with a sense of humour, against the odds.
‘Ein el Beida and its neighbour Bardala are located in the far north of the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley makes up almost a third of the West Bank, and is traditionally known as being the ‘breadbasket of Palestine’ because of its fertile land for agriculture. Yet Palestinian farmers in the area are struggling to survive. We have come to find out why.
“Before they were public springs, no one paid, it was communal water in ‘Ein el Beida, our tradition. After, they take our spring and we have to pay them agora [money] for our own water, and then they do not give us enough”, Abu Omar explains.
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ Abu ‘Omar refers to is the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank. In 1967, a series of military orders declared all Palestinian water resources to be Israeli state property. Under these orders, Palestinians are prohibited from developing water resources without a permit from Israel. This means that they cannot maintain a spring, repair a cistern, or develop irrigation networks without Israel’s permission, and permission is almost always refused.
In Bardala, the Israeli government confiscated the land of the village’s main spring and the national water company, Mekorot, dug deeper into the mountain aquifer. As a result, the nearby Palestinian spring in Bardala, and the 9 more shallow springs of Ein el Beida, dried up. According to the Joint Water Committee there were 774 operating wells in the West Bank in 1967, now due to Israeli restrictions there are just 264 operating wells, an EWASH (Emergency Water And Sanitation/Hygiene) representative informed us.
Abu ‘Omar tells us what it means for his farming:
“It is a huge problem for our plants, the plants are our economy, our resources. We need water for our traditional plants…carrots, nuts…Now we have to try plant vegetables that don’t need as much water. But then we all produce the same, tomatoes and cucumbers in greenhouses, and this reduces the price at market so we cannot make a living. The water goes to the settlements and they have as much as they like.”
Bardala’s water is diverted to nearby Israeli agricultural settlements including Mehola and Rotem, illegal under International Humanitarian Law. They export everything from dates to herbs, mostly to European markets.
The difference in overall consumption is stark. According to EWASH, a coalition of 30 NGOs working on water, hygiene and sanitation issues in the Occupied Palestinian territoriesthe Israeli settlers in the northern Dead Sea area of the Jordan Valley are allocated 10 times more water than the average West Bank Palestinian.
As we walk around the villages, the contrast between the settlement and village lands are striking.
Abu Dirar is a representative of Bardala Village Council, a farmer and a father. We ask him about the impact on daily life of the water restrictions:
“We just don’t drink lots of water here. And it’s hot, between May and November it is very hot. You need to shower 4 times a day if you go out. But we have to go 2 or 3 days without a shower. We joke about it, but it is a miserable life.”
The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 100 litres of water per person per day for domestic use and personal hygiene. Israeli restrictions mean that Palestinians have access to an average of only 70 litres, and many vulnerable communities in the Jordan Valley have to survive on as little as 20-30 litres because it must be tankered in at high cost.
Abu Dirar used to plant 10,000 dunums (1000 hectares) of his land, but now only a third routinely, the rest only if there are heavy winter rains.
“The economy needs water. Now people don’t plant in summer. In summer we just sit.” He is keenly aware of the impact on the next generation, the future of Palestine, “the young people are researching jobs in the cities, they are leaving. I will cope, but my son, I know he will leave.”
After all they need to go somewhere to drink.
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* A previous version of this post stated that Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area are allocated 75 times more water than the average West Bank Palestinian. Israeli settlers in the northern Dead Sea area are allocated 727 litres per day and the average West Bank Palestinian consumes 73 litres per day. We have now changed the statistic to 10 times more water, which is a more accurate reflection of the statistics.