The World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Seven Weeks for Water Lenten campaign through its ecumenical initiative — Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) — has gained much attention recently, but the campaign is not new.
It started in 2008 as a gathering of weekly reflections and other resources on water, says Dinesh Suna, EWN coordinator since November 2012.
“The primary objective of the Lenten campaign is to engage people on the issue around World Water Day on 22 March, which always falls in Lent,” says Suna, a member of India’s Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church in Odisha.
“We collect theological reflections on particular themes related to water. These involve small Bible studies, questions and discussions on water that give ideas for action. There are seven theological reflections for seven weeks.”
“EWN is a strong advocate of water justice, focusing on injustices and situations where people are deprived of access to water,” says Suna, who has worked for more than 20 years in ecumenical organizations.
“This year focusses on the Middle East with specific reference to Palestine. Therefore the theme is “Thirst for Justice” and a pilgrimage of water justice,” says Suna.
“We think the water issues faced by people in Palestine are unique,” he observes while noting that the Israeli and Palestinian people live in a parched land compared to other parts of the world.
“People depend on the mountain aquifers for their water needs. The whole issue of occupation by Israel also makes the water issue all the more complex,” says Suna.
He asserts that what makes the water issue so evident is the disparity between Palestinian and Israeli access to water.
“Even though not as obvious as the dividing wall, the disparity related to access to water runs deep among Israelis and Palestinians,” he says.
The disparities are well-documented by UN agencies and other international agencies such as the World Bank and Amnesty International.
“One community is deprived of water. The other community has plenty of it, even more than in some developed countries.”
Suna notes that some West Bank communities spend up to half their income on water, particularly in the designated Area C, under Israeli control. This is around 60 percent of the West Bank. (Area A is under Palestinian control, and B – civil administration — is under Palestinian control while security and ground water falls under Israel.)
In Gaza, the disparity may be greater where the population is more confined and is increasing, while water resources remain static.
“People in Gaza will have to import water. We found this on a fact-finding mission to Gaza in 2014,” says Suna, adding that almost 95 percent of the water sourced from the aquifer in the region is not usable anymore.
The Israeli government is not happy about the WCC’s Lenten campaign refuting its arguments, and the New York-based conservative Gatestone Institute has sprung to Israel’s defense through articles on its website.
In one of its articles it accuses the WCC of spreading lies and says that the Palestinians’ water management is to blame.
Suna refutes the Gatestone Institute’s accusations that the WCC is demonizing Israel.
“Throughout this campaign, all our sources are well-documented,” he says, referring to the UN and international sources he cited. “We are not basing our statistics on one government, but being impartial and basing our campaign materials on . We are not demonizing Israel. We are highlighting the plight of Palestinians with regard to access to water. The occupation is responsible for this injustice in water distribution. We are urging the Israeli authorities to address this issue.”
Suna explains that since the Oslo II Accord of 1995 there has been an Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC).
“But there has been almost negligible approval for new water facilities for Palestine,” he observes while noting that Israel can veto Palestinian proposals in the JWC.
“There is also the fact that Israel continues to overdraw without the JWC approval on the estimated potential by more than 50 percent, up to 1.8 times its share under the Oslo II Accord.”
WCC responds to Gatestone Institute’s criticism of Lenten campaign on water (WCC press release of 2 March 2016)
WCC campaign Seven Weeks for Water: www.oikoumene.org/7-weeks-for-water
WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace: www.oikoumene.org/pilgrimage