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Once Justice Rolls, Then the Water Will Flow

Written by Marla Schrader
June 10, 2007

"But let justice roll like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." Amos 5:24

I used to love this text from Amos.  Growing up in water abundant North America, the imagery of water that did not cease to flow was meaningful to me.  I could visualize justice rolling down with might and authority, like Niagara Falls.

All of this changed when I was called to serve in the land where this scripture was inspired -- today's holy land of the Israeli occupied Palestinian territories.  It is not poverty, low rainfall or lack of technology that lies as the root cause of the water crisis in this part of the world.  Rather, the cause is injustice, or more precisely an unjust 40 year long Israeli military occupation.  The resolution lies in our advocacy efforts to end this occupation of the indigenous Palestinian people and their land and water.

Three good quality, underground water aquifers lie under the occupied West Bank and, in some areas, cross over the green line into the state of Israel.  Israel leaves Palestinians with less than 20% of their own water resources, while siphoning off at least 80% of this water through water wells and diagonal drilling.  While some Israeli constructed wells are located inside Israel, many are located within illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.  After stealing the water, Mekorot, the Israeli water company, then sells it back to the Palestinians at much higher prices then it is sold to Israeli citizens.  Furthermore, Israeli settlers receive water with even additional subsidies.

Under international law, the state of Israel as the occupying power is responsible for supplying the basic needs of the population it occupies.  And yet, Palestinians under occupation are deprived access to the Jordan River System and are subject to a grossly unfair distribution as downstream tributaries. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Agency for International Development place the minimum per person per day water quantity for basic consumption at 100 liters.  And yet, per capita consumption in the West Bank is suppressed to 60 liters per person per day while, in comparison, Israelis use 330 liters per person per day.  This translates to about 5 and a half times the Palestinian consumption.

Moreover, approximately 220 villages or some 215,000 West Bank Palestinians are without a running-water network.  In these villages, rainwater is collected in the winter months, but by Spring people must rely on less reliable springs (if available) and/or purchasing water from private companies who distribute by water-tankers when they are allowed mobility and access through the over 500 Israeli military checkpoint and the Separation Wall --which is built upon and divides West Bank land (See recent General Assembly and General Synod resolutions on the Separation Wall). 

With nearly half of occupied West Bankers living under the poverty line, the cost of purchasing water is a heavy financial burden and in some cases may amount to up to 10 percent of a family's income. 

This summer will be especially financially burdensome as we enter the second year of the state of Israel refusing to transfer to the Palestinian Authority tax money that it collects on its behalf, in addition to the crippling international boycott of aid to the Palestinians.

In the Gaza Strip, the fresh water aquifer was extensively over pumped via wells drilled by illegal Israeli settlements and now salty sea water has seeped in to contaminate the only domestic and agricultural water supply for over 1 million Palestinians.  The extent of ensuing health problems has yet to be fully evaluated, however increased kidney failure and flurosis of the teeth have been documented.  Moreover, salinity levels are well above WHO standards for safe drinking water.

Last summer, the Israeli military bombed Gaza's sole power plant.  This has left Gazans with 8 hours a day with electricity and 16 hours a day without.  As electric pumps are required to access and distribute underground water, Gazans are left with only a few hours a day of running water.  Without a clean, reliable water supply the risk of outbreak of communicable disease multiplies.

We must never think it acceptable for ourselves, our churches or our government to support, directly or indirectly, an occupation that violates international law, human rights and an indigenous people's access to their own natural resources, including safe water.  

Let us end the Occupation.  Only then will justice begin to roll and the peoples' water flow once again.

Note:  Statistics mentioned in this paper are quoted from B'tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Yours faithfully,

Marla Schrader lived ten years in the occupied Palestinian territories.  She continues to support the theological work of Jean Zaru, Clerk of the Ramallah Friends Meeting.

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