Water Policy in Israel and Palestine
There's Enough Water for Both

Water plays a key role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Joseph Croitoru reports that a German hydro-geologist now questions the firmly entrenched views of Israelis and Palestinians on water policy

Bringing water home in Palestine (Photo: AP)
For many Palestinians, bringing water home is hard work

​​Water, a resource essential for life, is becoming increasingly scarce in many areas of the world. In terms of the Middle East conflict, it is well known that the diversion of a river or even the additional pumping out of water can quickly turn into grounds for war.

The distribution of existing water reserves between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not only a result of the Middle East wars, but also due to various points of view on how water can be obtained in the region. The German hydro-geologist Clemens Messerschmid, who has lived and worked in Ramallah for a number of years, regards these viewpoints as out-dated and biased.

It's not true that there's a shortage

Messerschmid's critique, which has recently caused quite a stir in Israel, is directed primarily against the Israelis. They remain in control of most of the water resources in a region that the German hydro-geologist regards – contrary to prevailing opinions – as not being all that arid.

His view is that the Palestinians are mistaken in their conviction that the region suffers from a water deficit, which he claims Israel consciously promotes as being a naturally occurring phenomenon. This false representation enables Israel to maintain the unfair distribution of existing water resources to its own benefit.

The increasing difficulties with water availability, concludes the hydrogeologist, result from Israel using the majority of water resources for agricultural purposes, although this sector today represents a very small portion of the Israeli economy.

False priorities

Despite this, the Israeli state remains unswervingly committed to the Zionist foundation myth, which regards the promotion of agriculture as a central tenet in the Jewish settlement of Palestine.

Messerschmid, in turn, sees the priorities of Israeli water policies as fundamentally flawed, leading to a wasteful use of the precious resource. Large areas of land, for instance, are still intensively watered even during conditions of very high temperatures, although most of the water immediately evaporates.

A tractor carries water (Photo: AP)
Messerschmid criticises the water policies of both Israelis and Palestinians

​​The Palestinians, by contrast, do not even have the amount of water at their disposal that was promised in the Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. Messerschmid accuses Israeli authorities of blocking Palestinian access to the largest ground-water resource in the country, the so-called Western Aquifer. Although isolated drillings have taken place on the Palestinian side, these are far from sufficient to supply enough water.

Messerschmid, whose criticism has been vehemently rejected by the Israeli water authorities, also spares no criticism for the Palestinians. Not all of their complaints about Israeli water policies are justified. Israeli settlers in the West Bank, for instance, hardly make use of Palestinian water. And the water that Israel sells to Palestinians does not cost any more than what Israeli communities pay.

Ecological madness

The German hydro-geologist argues that the only chance of fairly resolving the Israeli-Palestinian water conflict lies in a fundamental change in the Israeli position and in the closer cooperation of both sides.

The Israelis could also benefit by applying traditional Palestinian methods of preserving and using water, which are economical and suited to the dry climate. Employing vast amounts of water to grow flowers in the Israeli desert for European export, he continues, is ecological madness. One might just as well sell Israeli water to Europe.

Joseph Croitoru

© Qantara.de 2008

Translated from the German by John Bergeron


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