A recently released official French report that blames Israeli “apartheid” water policies for Palestinian water problems was angrily rejected by Israel, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that the “systematic evading of simple facts that are available for verification within the field indicate the blatant bias of the author.” But the French report was (unsurprisingly) not the first one to falsely accuse Israel of depriving the Palestinians of water that is rightfully theirs.
In October 2009, Amnesty International made similar charges in a report that was poetically entitled “Troubled Waters.” Israel responded to the allegations by pointing out that the Amnesty report “ignore[d] Israeli data, papers and reports, although they contain verifiable facts presented with total transparency. This questionable approach, which consists in systematically disregarding Israeli material while relying exclusively on Palestinian allegations, raises doubts as to the real intentions of the report’s authors and of the organization itself.” The Water Authority also provided a detailed response refuting Amnesty’s claims.
By now, there is also a new study by Professor Haim Gvirtzman, a hydrologist at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University, who highlighted how ridiculous the charge of “apartheid” was by pointing out that since 1967, Israel had connected more than 700 Palestinian villages to running water. Or, to quote the statement by Israel’s Water Authority:
Before the Six Day War in 1967, only about 10% of Palestinian households in the West Bank were connected to a central water system, while today more than 90% receive regular supply of water.
Yet, there is no reason to assume that any of Israel’s detailed refutations will prevent the recycling of the claims made by Amnesty or the new French report – and, needless to say, the media and the anti-Israel blogosphere also love to deal with this subject.
I think of it as the “water libel” because it often echoes the medieval accusations that Jews were poisoning wells. One widely noted example is the “Stinking Op-ed” penned by the now disgraced British columnist Johann Hari to mark Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008. Another arguably even more revealing example is a Guardian article by Victoria Brittain that was published in December 2009 under the title “Who will save Gaza’s children?” Brittain claimed that due to Israel’s blockade of Gaza,
there is now no uncontaminated water; of the 40,000 or so newborn babies, at least half are at immediate risk of nitrate poisoning – incidence of “blue baby syndrome”, methaemoglobinaemia, is exceptionally high; an unprecedented number of people have been exposed to nitrate poisoning over 10 years; in some places the nitrate content in water is 300 times World Health Organisation standards; the agricultural economy is dying from the contamination and salinated water; the underground aquifer is stressed to the point of collapse; and sewage and waste water flows into public spaces and the aquifer.
The latest contribution to the water-libel-genre seems to be a stylish essay in Harper’s December issue on “Israel’s water war with Palestine” by Ben Ehrenreich – who, in case you are not familiar with his views, thinks that “Zionism is the problem.” While the Harper’s essay is only available to subscribers, anti-Israel activists could of course not resist the temptation to “share” it….
Just as the title of Ehrenreich’s piece insinuates that Israel is conducting a “water war” against the Palestinians, the French report claims that Israel is using water as a “weapon”. But it is arguably closer to the truth to conclude that it is “the Palestinian Authority [that has] neglected the basic needs of its citizens and cynically uses water as a weapon in a PR campaign against Israel.”
While Israel can demonstrate that it has fulfilled its obligations from bilateral agreements and willingly shared its water-related innovations with the Palestinians, it is clear that managing a scarce resource like water requires cooperation. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are apparently not only unwilling to address their negligent management of water and waste-water, but they seem indeed quite content to pose as the innocent victims of Israeli “water war”-crimes for eager activists and writers in search of yet another false accusation against Israel.