From her home in a Bedouin community near Tequoa, in Bethlehem's Area C of the West Bank, Im Omar daily checks on the constantly-stretched water supply for the family’s sheep and camels.
“We must provide water all the time, otherwise they will die of thirst,” she said. “Livestock is our main source of livelihood, so we must find water all the time.”
The family keeps the livestock in the shade, and can’t let the animals loose as they used to do in the past. “We want to protect our livestock from dehydration, but at the same time water is a precious commodity around here,” said Im Omar.
Sometimes, the family is forced to feed the livestock the remains of pressed grapes brought from wine distilleries in Bethlehem.
“We cannot let the livestock die of thirst, especially during the summer when the weather is hot and dry,” said Im Omar. “When we are talking about the livestock, we are talking about the means that provide our children with food.”
Thirty-one-year-old Im Omar’s six children are ages 12, 11, 10, 8-year-old twins, and 5. As she considers how young her children are, the age of the water wells around her stands as a stark contrast. “The wells were dug no less than 56 years ago for the benefit of the Jordanian army that was located here,” she explained. “We are not allowed to repair water wells in the area.”
The community has requested from Israel, through the Palestinian Authority, to dig new wells—but has heard nothing back. “We received some international help, whereby wells were rehabilitated, and some new ones were dug, but this is insufficient and does not cover our needs,” said Im Omar.
For now, to get water, the family often has to bring it in from other sources. “We go individually to buy water, because we do not want our children to die of thirst,” said Im Omar. “Providing water is a daunting task, first and foremost because we lack storage tanks; ours are old and very small.”
Bringing in water amounts to hard labor, she added.
“Sometimes the men must drive long hours, and it is a dangerous endeavor because of the Israeli military patrols in the desert,” she said. “There were incidents when the men were attacked by soldiers and our cars confiscated.”
Im Omar does not want to give up her home; she just wants to find enough water for her family. “There are Bedouin families who gave up due to the tremendous shortages we endure in the community,” she said. “They had no choice other than to sell their livestock and to become farm laborers somewhere else.”
Hearing the cry of families such as Im Omar’s, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries Of the Holy Land release a statement in August 2022 entitled “A cry in the heat of the summer to respect the right to water.”
The statement acknowledges the voices of the thirsty. “Water is a vital resource for human existence,” the statement reads. “The right to water is also basic right.”
The statement notes that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians face severe water shortages: “The need for water is universal and God sends his rain down on one and all.”
In Area C where Im Omar lives, more than 150,000 Palestinians live in over 540 communities, 200 of which continue to suffer from a severe shortage of clean water.
Throughout the West Bank, Palestinians are allocated around 70 liters of water per capita per day. According to the World Health Organization, people require a minimum daily water allotment of between 100 and 120 liters to maintain the most basic standard of living. Israeli settlers in the West Bank consume as much as 800 liters per day.