The issue of water is a common theme throughout the Bible. It begins with the separation of water from water in Genesis (1:6) and ends in Revelation (21:6) with an appeal to everyone, sending the message of salvation in terms of God’s gift, the water of life. Every Christian is baptized with water, showing the very essential and important meaning water has in the Christian religion.
Water is a source of life and a gift of God to all. This becomes especially clear when we read the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-10), when Jesus is talking about the water of life, a synonym for salvation. But also in a literal sense water remains an essence of life. The dialogue between Jesus as a Jew and the woman as a Samaritan makes it very clear; water is life and should be distributed equally to everyone despite his or her cultural, religious or ethnic background. You can even draw the conclusion that everyone is responsible to work for access to water for everyone in this world. In the world today, we call that a human right – the right to have access to water.
Palestinian thirst for justice
As proclaimed by the Bible, in Occupied Palestine (OP) the centrality of water is crucial for life and human dignity. However, Israeli apartheid policies contribute to an alarming water shortage that denies Palestinians their most basic rights and threatens their very future on their land. These policies are leading to a "drying out” of Palestine.
Since 1967, existing shared ground water resources in historical Palestine (Israel proper and Occupied Palestinian Territories) are inequitably and unjustly exploited to serve Israel and its colonial settlers, to the extent of 80% according to Al-Haq, a Palestinian Human Rights Organization. In addition, all the surface water provided by the Jordan River is diverted to Israel while Palestinians are denied any access to this vital resource.
Gaza, a growing human catastrophe
The ground water resource in Gaza has been depleted as Israel has impeded the natural flow of ground water flowing into this aquifer. Later, as part of its water embargo, it surrounded the borders of the Gaza Strip with many deep wells and diverted the Wadi Ghaza waters to its own agricultural fields prior to its arrival in Gaza.
In Gaza, water and sanitation infrastructure have been the regular targets of years of Israeli attacks and destruction. Overcrowding, the three recent wars and the military siege have led to a total contamination of the groundwater, making it unfit for human consumption and leading to waterborne diseases, thus making of Gaza one of the worst catastrophes in the world regarding the absence of drinking water.
In the footsteps of Gaza
After decades of occupation, the water issue also is one of the most essential problems Palestinians are facing in the West Bank, where they barely have access to 20% of this important resource. With the Oslo process which divides the West Bank in Areas A, B and C things became even worse. A so-called “Joint Water Committee” has been established in order to distribute water resources in the West Bank equitably to both, Israelis and Palestinians. Israel never applied this principle to Area C, which constitutes 51 % of the West Bank. Any development in Area C requires the approval of the Israeli Civil Administration yet this is most often denied due to so-called “security reasons”, but it is most surely allowed to Israeli settlements. In fact, water consumption by colonial settlers, with their agricultural and industrial investments, quality housing, lawns and swimming pools, exceeds that of Israelis living within Israel proper.
According to Ma’an Development Centre, Israel as the occupying power has also isolated hundreds of wells, prohibiting Palestinians from using them. The Israeli administration decides the location of wells and their depths – and these decisions are made, of course, in favour of Israeli settlement companies. Fruit and vegetable exporters like ”Mehadrin” or “Arava” produce fruits like dates, bananas, grapes, tomatoes and a lot more for the big European supermarket chains, while Palestinian farmers have to manage the little land and water they are allowed and hence produce too little even for the domestic market.
A Kairos call for resistance
The Kairos Palestine Document, a word of faith, hope and love, has been a call to Palestinians and the world for more than six years now. It’s a call to resist the injustice of Israeli occupation because resistance against any form of injustice is a right and a duty for Christians:
“Seeing the image of God in the face of the enemy means taking up positions in the light of this vision of active resistance to stop the injustice and oblige the perpetrator to end his aggression and thus achieve the desired goal, which is getting back the land, freedom, dignity and independence.” (KP Document 4.2.3)
As a movement of nonviolent resistance, Kairos Palestine advocates for creative resistance in the logic of love and draws on all energies to make peace. An example of creative resistance is of course to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. Besides the agricultural exports, there are massive international investments in Mekorot, the Israeli public water company which has cooperation agreements with countries around the world. We understand that divestment and boycott integrate the logic of love and peaceful resistance. The objective is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil, liberating both the perpetrators and the victims of injustice. Freeing both peoples from extremist positions adopted under different Israeli governments brings justice and reconciliation.
Our faith provides us with hope, even when hope is so distant. Our Kairos Palestine call ends with a vision of a peaceful future: “We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persists in our land. We will see here ‘a new land’ and ‘a new human being’, capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.” Amen.
Thoughts for reflection:
- How would Jesus, known as a man of justice and as an advocate for the oppressed, react to Israeli apartheid policies?
- Think about other stories connected to water in the Bible. Can you draw connections to the situation the Palestinian people face today?
- Think of your local supermarket: Is it really right that tomatoes from the Israeli Occupation are cheaper than the ones from your local farmers? What does that mean?
- Place yourselves in the shoes of Palestinians, how would you react to the suffering imposed on them?
What you can do:
- Study and review the Kairos Palestine Document to better understand the context of Palestinian suffering and what God requires of us as Christians and people of conscience.
- Support the international BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) campaign. Advocate for a boycott of Israeli agricultural products from the Jordan Valley.
- Talk about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in your church. ARIJ and Al-Haq provide excellent maps and other resources on the denial of water access for Palestinians.
- Participate in conferences and seminars related to the Palestinian search for justice and peace, and respond to calls for action and advocacy.
- Ask your local supermarket chain about their trade partners – where does your orange come from? Protest against the illegal trade with products from settlements which most of the time are not even labelled as products from an occupied land.
- Come and see! Visit us in Palestine, see with your own eyes the “drying out of Palestine” and join us in the common struggle against the illegal and inhuman occupation of Palestine.
- Al Haq 2013, “Water for one people only – Discriminatory Access and ‘Water-Apartheid’ in the OPT”.
- Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) 2012, “Water resource allocations in the occupied Palestinian territory: Responding to Israeli Claims” (pdf).
- StopTheWall Factsheet: “Israel’s water company Mekorot – Nurturing Water Apartheid in Palestine” (pdf).
*Ms Hind Khoury is a Palestinian economist. She served as minister of Jerusalem Affairs with the Palestinian Authority and then as Ambassador to France from year 2006-2010. Currently she is the secretary general of Kairos Palestine, a Christian Palestinian movement, born out of the Kairos Document, which advocates for ending the Israeli occupation and achieving a just solution to the conflict.