Should Israel be punished for allegedly denying Palestinians sufficient access to water supplies?
Water is a vital yet scarce resource, especially in the Middle East. One of the areas most afflicted with this dilemma is Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The distribution of water resources has been heavily criticised in a recent Amnesty International report, though the issue has been prominent for many years. Notwithstanding the complex nature of the "crisis", the uncertain legal case, and the fact that apportioning blame or punishment is somewhat subjective, should Israel face penalties for it's alleged denial of fair access to water resources for the people of the OPT?
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Humanitarian crisis in Gaza
The recent Amnesty International report on water resource allocation in Israel and the OPT described an emerging crisis, especially in Gaza, for Palestinian facing a drastic shortage of clean, treated water. Although the report fails to identify concrete actions or punishments to address the situation, it does highlight several key areas where Israel has performed actions that exaccerbate the already desperate situation-these include military operations, confiscations, denial of well-building permits, and deliberate contamination. The report argues that, due to the policies of the Israeli government, the people of Gaza and the West Bank are facing a "protracted denial of human dignity". [[http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_19771.pdf]] If this is the case then, clearly, the Israeli leadership should be castigated and held up for charges against humanity.
Rather than concentrating on punishing the Israelis and spending time and money finding out what they may or may not have done with an investigation it would be better spending the time and effort on finding a way to share resources more equitably. Any punishment would just make the Israelis more likely to hold up such a process or refuse to talk at all. The Israelis hold the trump card of having military control over the water sources so their agreement is needed.
Listing the 'crimes' of Israel
Several specific charges were laid against Israeli authorities in relation to the limited supply of water resources to the OPT in the Amnesty report:
1. Israel has "entirely appropriated the Palestinians' share of the Jordan river" and uses 80% of a key shared aquifer.[[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8327188.stm]]
2. West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells without Israeli permits, which are often impossible to obtain.
3. Rainwater harvesting cisterns are "often destroyed by the Israeli army".[[http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_19771.pdf]]
4. Israeli soldiers confiscated a water tanker from villagers who were trying to remain in land Israel had declared a closed military area.
5. An unnamed Israeli soldier says rooftop Palestinian household water tanks are "good for target practice".
6. Much of the land cut off by the West Bank barrier is land with good access to a major aquifer.
7. Israeli military operations have damaged Palestinian water infrastructure, including $6m worth during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza last winter.
8. The Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza has "exacerbated what was already a dire situation" by denying many building materials needed for water and sewage projects.
It's their Country they can treat illegal occupants or squatters however they like. 'Palestine' isn't even recognised as astate by most of the world.
Compare how Israelis treat Palestinians with how any other sovereign nation would treat foreigners trespassing their borders.We (any other Country in the world other than Israel) would either shoot illegal entrants (border crossings) or deport illegal occupants.
Given that comparison, Israel's treatment of Palestinians (who aren't Israeli citizens who don't hold any legal documents highlighting their right to be on that land and who bomb themselves in public places in Israel in the stubborn denial of the reality that "their" nation no longer exists) is quite humane and lenient.
Decide for yourself...
If this example of Israel discrimination does not convince you that punishment is necessary then nothing will...
Aisha and Hafez Hereni live in the small village of Tuwani, located in the Southern Hebron Hills. The village is not connected to a pipe network, and so they rely on rainwater, stored in cisterns, and water delivered at great expense by tankers.
The cisterns are often soiled by Israeli settlers, Aisha says – they have found nappies and dead chickens in the supply. With the family's goats a key food source, and five children, the need for an adequate supply is critical. "We save every drop, but it's never enough," Aisha goes on. "It is a daily struggle."
Nearby Israeli settlements are fully plugged in to the water network; indeed, one water conduit passes through Tuwani on its way to an illegal settlement. The Israeli army has denied the village permission to tap into that supply, despite a prolonged drought. And in July this year, soldiers delivered a stop work order for a large cistern that could have greatly eased delivery costs by providing a long-term storage option. "We spend a lot of money on water and we never have enough," says Hafez. "They are trying to force us out of the area by all means. Taking our land is one way and limiting our access to water is another way."[[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israel-accused-of-denying-palestinians-access-to-water-1809948.html]]
while an individual example may show that in one instance water is being denied to some individual palestinians it does not show that it is to the whole of the palestinian population. In the case of this example who would you punnish? you cant punnish the whole state for an individual incident. So an individual in the israeli's water board? Someone in the Army who is preventing them being connected to the pipe network?
Israel has ratified the ICESCR and therefore has a duty to ensure access to water in all its territories, and to improve health and quality of life.
Under the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Israel has a duty to 'take appropriate steps' to ensure the realisation of the right to 'an adequate standard of living'[[http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm]]. It is also required to take steps to improve all aspects of environmental health and to prevent, treat and control diseases. The Convention allows for the progressive realisation of these rights, however a developed nation such as Israel has the ability and therefore the duty to realise these rights for all of its citizens. Importantly, under article 2 of the Convention, all State Parties of the Convention are required to guarantee these rights without discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, political or other opinion or national or social origin. The Amnesty International report released last week states that the average Israeli consumes more than four times that of the average Palestinian, with some Palestinians accessing just 20 litres of water a day, the equivalent to the UN's minimum volume of water required in an emergency situation [[http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_19771.pdf]]. Therefore Israel is most likely breaching its duties under the ICESCR, however there is no complaints procedure for this convention, so no International legal action can be taken.
The Oslo Accords
Despite the substantial documented evidence of Israeli denial of water to Palestinians, the authorities in Jerusalem can point to the stipulations of the Oslo Accords. As even the Amnesty report conceded, "In truth...the PA did not acquire control of water resources in the OPT under the Oslo Accords...the PA was given no authority to make decisions relating to drilling of new wells, or upgrading existing wells...Israel continues to control decision-making regarding the amount of water that may be extracted..." [[http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_19771.pdf]] If the very agreement which supposedly maintains at least a decorum of 'peace' between the two sides does not deny Israel the right to control water resources, then no sanctions or punishments can be implemented.
'Mismanagement' of the PA
The Amnesty report was not only critical of the Israeli policy-it also criticised the PA for poor management of the resources and facilities available to them. One source was quoted as saying that the Palestinian water authority, and the sector it controls, were in "total chaos". This renders any punishment for Israel as unnecessary and unfair, given the proportion of blame that should be appropriated to the PA.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli authorities and media have been quick to refute the findings of the Amnesty report. An editorial for the Jersalem Post provided many criticisms of the reports' findings. The first concerns fair process in collecting the data, "Israel's Water Authority was prevented from making any sort of presentation to Amnesty's researchers or responding to the report's charges before publication." Two, the rights of Israel to the the Mountain Aquifer, "Israel [possesses] legal rights by virtue of the fact that it was first to discover, develop and pump from it." Thirdly, the editor points to the net and relative increases in consumption in the OPT compared to Israel, "Israel draws less water from the Mountain Aquifer today than it did 40 years ago, while Palestinian consumption of fresh water has tripled since then." Four, Israel can cite the fact that water supply to the OPT is over and above that stipulated in the Oslo Accords, "Israel supplies water to the PA well in excess of its 1995 Oslo Accords undertakings." and finally, Israel can place blame for the insufficient water supply on the Palestinian authorities and other factions, "Systematically overlooked by Amnesty, meanwhile, are Palestinian breaches of these accords - including pirate drilling, water theft and routine damage to pipelines, failures to purify waste water (despite massive contributions by donor nations), irrigating crops with fresh rather than reclaimed water, dumping untreated sewage into streams, severely contaminating Israel's Coastal Aquifer and forcing Israel to deal with PA sewage." Taken together these cricisms can discredit the Amnesty report and relieve Israel of any punishment, "A readiness to first hear, and then take into account, the Israeli side of the vexed water dispute would have enabled a more credible report - and one more likely to have practical impact."[[http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1256740787743]]
Many severe human rights abuses go unpunished
In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, there have long been severe human rights abuses that have continued with impunity. According to the USA, Israel has the ability as a vibrant democracy to carry out its own investigations and there is, therefore, no need for outside involvement [[http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/01/why-no-justice-gaza-israel-different-and-so]]. Clearly the question here is whether or not Israel SHOULD be punished rather than whether it CAN be, but given the severity of war crimes that have gone unpunished, the chances of this latest report being taken seriously by Israel and its allies are small.
International Human Rights Law and its enforcement in particular is very much in its infancy and is already struggling to prosecute the perpetrators of even the most serious crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is unrealistic to expect issues such as this to be punished when the system is already overloaded with severe human rights violations from around the world.
What do you think?