Media outlets recently reported that Israeli forces had raided Palestinian farmland near the West Bank city of Hebron and poured concrete into the water sources to stop agricultural irrigation. The reports, however failed to mention that the Israeli move came as a result of illegal drilling, and theft and misuse of water resources by the Palestinians.
In response, the Israeli authorities announced:
"Yesterday there was an enforcement activity in the Idna area near Hebron during which four illegal water wells were sealed. The water wells, which were drilled in violation of the interim agreement [with the Palestinians], damage the natural water reserves and pose a pollution threat to the aquifer [the source of water supplied to both Palestinian and Jewish communities]. The enforcement action was carried out in accordance with the jurisdiction authority and established protocols."
In October 2021, NGO Monitor reported:
"Additionally, there were approximately 2,500 instances during those years in which Israeli authorities disconnected illegal connections to existing water infrastructure."
The "illegal connections" included wells and pipes in the West Bank to illegally divert the water elsewhere, thereby stealing water that Israel had intended for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In 2018, the Israel Water Authority identified 77 Palestinian illegal well-diggings in the West Bank. During the same year, Israeli authorities arrested 25 Palestinians on suspicion of stealing water and disconnected 1,457 illegal connections to water mains. Some Palestinians also reportedly drilled holes in water mains to divert water.
"Without this activity [by the Israeli authorities], the water supply would have been significantly disrupted," the Israeli Water Authority said. The following year, Israeli authorities discovered another 58 illegal water wells and confiscated ten well- drilling machines.
The Palestinians' actions are in violation of the "Water Agreement" that is part of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement ("Oslo II") of September 18, 1995 (Annex 3, Appendix 1, Article 40), which stipulates the manner in which the parties must act in the field of water in the West Bank. This is an international agreement that was not only signed by Israel and the Palestinians, but also witnessed by the US, Russia, the European Union, Norway, Jordan and Egypt. According to the Oslo II accord:
"Each side shall take all necessary measures to prevent any harm, pollution, or deterioration of water quality of the water resources."
To implement their undertakings, the Israelis and Palestinians agreed in 1995 to establish a Joint Water Committee to deal with all water and sewage issues, including protection of water resources. The Palestinian Authority, however, decided to boycott the committee after the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000.
According to a 2017 report from Israel's State Comptroller, the Palestinian Authority prevented the committee from convening for seven years. The report noted that the reason for the Palestinian boycott was to hinder the development of water infrastructure for Israeli communities in the West Bank. Instead, the Palestinian boycott severely hindered the development of water infrastructure for the Palestinians and created a massive blockage of projects, including several waste-treatment facilities.
According to NGO Monitor:
"The decision to hold environmental issues hostage to the political dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is damaging to the environment, and thus harms and endangers both Israelis and Palestinians, in the West Bank as well as in Israel. To do so not only undermines the Oslo framework of cooperation between the sides, but also politicizes an issue instead of prioritizing the health and well-being of civilians...
"[D]espite the Palestinian freeze on [Joint Water Committee] functions, Israel sought to approve Palestinian infrastructure projects outside of this framework, in order to address the acute environmental effects of the lack of sufficient waste and water infrastructure."
While Israel has fulfilled its obligations according to the "Water Agreement," the Palestinians have continuously breached the accord. Israel made available approximately 70 million cubic meters (MCM) a year of water to the Palestinians in the West Bank before they boycotted the Joint Water Committee, even though the agreement allocates a much smaller quantity of only 23.6 MCM/year for the West Bank.
Israel currently supplies the Palestinians with 52 MCM/year of water, which is far beyond its obligation of 31 MCM in the "Water Agreement". The Palestinians, however, in contravention of the agreement, continue to drill many unauthorized wells. By 2012, Israeli authorities spotted more than 300 unauthorized Palestinian wells.
The Palestinians have also failed to treat their sewage, which flows freely into streams flowing through the West Bank and Israel, thereby contaminating both the environment and the Mountain Aquifer for everyone.
The Palestinians are further violating the "Water Agreement" by failing to develop any new water sources, either through sewage treatment or desalination.
The claim that Israel is depriving Palestinians of water in the West Bank is, regrettably, another libel designed to slander and vilify Israel. If anyone is depriving Palestinians of water, it is the Palestinians themselves, specifically those who are drilling illegal wells and polluting the environment. The recent sealing of four illegal wells near Hebron was part of an Israeli effort to stop Palestinian thieves from stealing water intended for Palestinians.
Contrary to false Palestinian claims, the wells were not sealed because Israel wants to deprive them of water and force them from their land. The Palestinians should be thanking Israel for its effort to stop the water theft. Instead of boycotting Israel, which is trying to help them with the water issue, the Palestinians should be cooperating with Israel against the illegal drilling.
Those who are using the water issue to smear Israel would do well to open their eyes to the Palestinians' illegal actions, including water theft. Had the Palestinian Authority abided by the "Water Agreement," the Palestinians would be in a far better situation. Were Palestinians to stop stealing water, there would be no shortage of water supplied to any city, village or farm. Yet the Palestinians, who have chosen to violate their agreement with Israel, manage to blame Israel for their own illegal actions.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.