Statement of the Ecumenical Water Network, World Council of Churches, Jerusalem, June, 2014

This statement contains the reflections of the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) of the World Council of Churches on the occasion of the visit of its International Reference Group to Israel and Palestine in June 2014. In accompanying churches in this area on the pilgrimage towards water justice, EWN studied the critical issues of water and sanitation in Palestine and journeyed here to better understand these issues. During its visit, EWN consulted with local Christian church leaders, non-governmental organizations, and government representatives in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank to discuss these issues.

“אבל בואו משפט לרוץ במורד כסטים, וצדקה כנחל ומעולם לא נכשל”

“ولكن دعونا لفة العدالة أسفل مثل المياه، والصلاح وكأنه تيار المتدفقة من أي وقت مضى”

”But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24

A faith perspective on water justice

It is extraordinarily apparent in the Middle East that water is truly the source and essence of life. We are all people of the water, utterly dependent upon this gift of creation to drink, grow our crops, water our livestock, power our factories and homes, enable our enterprises, support diverse ecosystems upon which we depend, and provide habitat for fish and other creatures. As the Statement on Water for Life of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches proclaims, all human beings are called by God to act responsibly and justly in their use of water, protecting, conserving, and equitably sharing this gift of God.

The reality of water in Israel and Palestine

We have met in the great city of Jerusalem, an amazing and vibrant place that is one of the most holy places in the world for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Jerusalem is a most significant destination for the pilgrimages by people of all three faiths of the book, and a place where they live side by side. And yet, in this holy place, we have confronted a most unholy reality: the terrible suffering of the Palestinian people from lack of clean water and adequate sanitation. And what is lacking in Palestine is not water; what is lacking is justice. The Palestinian people thirst for water justice.

The people of Palestine suffer incredibly because water in Palestine is not protected from contamination, judiciously conserved or equitably shared. In the West Bank, many Palestinians have neither sufficient safe water for drinking and other domestic uses, nor enough water for agricultural uses. The most vulnerable communities have available as little as 20 liters of water per day, just one- fifth of the minimum required to meet their daily needs. And they pay an outrageous amount, up to two-thirds of their income, for the small amount of water they are able to buy.

In Gaza, the situation is even direr: 95% of groundwater is rendered unusable by the intrusion of sea water due to diversion of recharge waters and excessive pumping. Within two years, the entire aquifer will be contaminated and in six years, the aquifer will be beyond repair. The desalinization facilities in Gaza do not produce sufficient safe water for domestic purposes and the primitive water distribution system leads to microbial contamination of 80% of drinking water. In many respects, the Palestinian people are denied their internationally recognized human right to sufficient safe, accessible, and affordable water and adequate appropriate sanitation.

The arid climate in Palestine, climate change and extended periods of drought all aggravate Palestinian water scarcity, but the Palestinian people do not lack water not because there is an absolute dearth of water in the region, but because of the inequitable allocation of water between Palestine and Israel and because of the actions of the Israeli authorities. They are forbidden from using additional water from the well to raise crops and animals in the West Bank despite substantial population growth and their dependence upon agriculture to live. Palestinians in the West Bank are prevented from building essential new water supply and wastewater treatment projects. Springs traditionally used by West Bank Palestinians have been appropriated for Israeli settlers’ use. Existing Palestinian water springs; wells, cisterns, pipes, and waste water facilities have been destroyed or rendered inaccessible by the Segregation wall, bypass roads, checkpoints, and military zones. Many water facilities have been intentionally demolished by the Israeli government and, in the case of the West Bank, by settlers from the illegal Israeli settlements in the area. Israel has appropriated all of the waters of the Jordan River and the rivers that flow into Gaza. Without adequate wastewater treatment facilities sewage is discharged directly into the ocean, contaminating the beaches and waters where people swim. And the Israeli blockade of Gaza impoverishes Gaza residents and interferes with international humanitarian efforts to construct emergency water and sanitation projects.

Given limited water resources and growing population, every drop of water in Palestine is precious and must be carefully used, cleansed, and reused. This requires changing traditional ways and learning and using new technologies. The Palestinian people are willing to make this transition, but they need both freedom and helping hands. They need Israel to relinquish control over Palestinian water resources and allow the Palestinians freedom to decide the course of development in their land. They also need continuing international support to gain the technological knowledge and financial resources necessary to build water supply, treatment, and distribution facilities and construct wastewater treatment plants. Additionally, the Palestinian people need Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and to desist from violent destruction of water supply and wastewater treatment facilities.

These critical needs must be met now. Israel and Palestine should seek a separate agreement on water resources and provision of water and sanitation; negotiation of such an agreement should not await recommencement of final status negotiations. The suffering of the Palestinian people must be relieved, not at some indefinite future point in time, but now. A just and equitable agreement sharing water resources, providing sufficient water and adequate sanitation to the Palestinian people, would foster trust and dramatically increase the likelihood that Israel and Palestine could resolve the other difficult issues that currently separate them.

A call for political and interfaith dialogue and action

We call upon the leaders of Israel and Palestine, with the support of the international community, to address immediately the urgent needs and long-term problems of the Palestinian people with respect to water and sanitation. To this end, we urge the leaders of all three Abrahamic faiths throughout Israel and Palestine to gather, talk, and commit to action to bring water justice to this region. For they and their followers, all people of the one powerful and merciful God, are best situated to convince those who wield the lesser powers of commerce and government that God demands all his children do justice and seek peace. Without justice, including equitable sharing of water and responsible action to protect and conserve water, there can be no enduring peace here or anywhere else on Earth. Recalling the words of the prophet Amos, we must “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”