“The Palestinian people thirst for water justice.” So claims a recently issued statement by a fact-finding group that this month visited Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza to better understand the critical issues of water and sanitation in Palestine.
Comprised of ten members of the international reference group of the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN), a network of churches and Christian organizations promoting people's access to water around the world, the group spent nearly ten days in the area, interacting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, non-governmental organizations, and church leaders.
The network is a global initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The EWN programme executive Dinesh Suna said, “The trip was an eye-opener for me. Never had I seen this glaring a level of disparity over water.”
“The problem is not scarcity as such,” he said. “Though an arid area, Israel and Palestine both receive enough precipitation. Ramallah gets more rain per year than London! But an average Palestinian there gets only 70 litres water per day, while the average Londoner gets around 150 litres per day, and the average Israeli over 300 litres per day.”
The statement focuses on the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation in the West Bank and Gaza. It notes the steep challenges facing Palestinian residents and farmers. Among other factors, it cites Israeli control over access to water in the West Bank, acquisition of precious aquifers by Israeli settlers, a complex and discouraging legal framework, prohibitions against Palestinian use of well water to raise crops and animals, and prohibitions against West Bank residents building essential new water supply and wastewater treatment plants.
“In Gaza,” the statement says, “the situation is even direr,” with microbial contamination of 80 percent of drinking water, 95 percent of groundwater rendered unusable by the intrusion of sea water, contaminated aquifers, and inadequate desalinization facilities.
“The Palestinian people are denied their internationally recognized human right to sufficient safe, accessible, and affordable water and adequate appropriate sanitation,” the statement concludes.
Just resolution of issues of equity and trust about water resources, the group urged, “would foster trust and dramatically increase the likelihood that Israel and Palestine could resolve the other difficult issues that currently separate them.”
To confront the “unholy reality” of water injustice in a landscape sacred to three great religious traditions, the statement argues, religious leaders and others must “convince those who wield the lesser powers of commerce and government that God demands all his children to do justice and seek peace.”