It's the Water, Stupid

By Ralph Marquardt

In recent days, since the horrible pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem, in which 15 Jews were murdered, dozens more injured, and one deluded Palestinian, there has been a rising chorus among American journalists that Israel must retaliate in a drastic manner to put an end to these crazy suicide bombings by West Bank Palestinians.

The usual scenario offered is that Israel should just go into the "Occupied Territories", off anyone who is or might be a threat to Israel's security, abandon "some" of the settlements, retreat, then build a big wall to hermetically seal the Palestinians into their Bantustans, and then let them stew in their own juices for a generation or so. Sounds neat. Neat, that is, so long as we ignore the enormous cruelty and irony of such a move. But in fact, such ghettoization of the Palestinians for the sake of the host population - sound familiar? - would not only be morally wrong but it could never be done. The Israelis can't leave the Palestinians to stew in their own juices because they've got no juice to spare.

Build a Well, and They Will Come

The main problem in Israel and the Occupied Territories is a five letter word that none of our over-paid spinmeisters care to mention, probably because their heads are filled with obsolete and useless notions about morality and history. The main problem for everyone is not bombs, but water.

In 1995, the United Nations published a book by Masahiro Murakami on water resources in Israel and Palestine. We can do no better than to just quote his own words:

Apart from heavy financial and political investment in the new settlements on the West Bank, Israel is dependent on the West Bank for some 430 million m per year of its water supply out of a total 1,655 million m, a quarter of the annual water potential. Israel's heavy dependence on the fresh renewable water resources in the occupied Golan Heights also amounts to 305 million m per year, accounting for 90% of the total potential yield of 330 million m. Thus, Israeli dependence on the water sources in occupied Palestine including the Golan Heights and the West Bank amounts to 735 million m per year, which accounts for 45% of its total annual water consumption of 1,655 million m (Zarour and Isaac 1993). This would be less critical if Israel were not already over-exploiting its water potential and facing increasing demands on water supply to cover a deficit of 230-340 million m per year. Since 1982 Israel's national water company, Mekorot, has been integrating the West Bank supplies into the Israeli network. It seems clear that control of these sources will not be surrendered until alternative resources have been secured or the demand can be reduced by water conservation. The water resources of the West Bank being diverted into Israel account for 73.5% of the West Bank's water resources. (Source: Masahiro Murakami, "Managing Water for Peace in the Middle East: Alternative Strategies", 1995)

Let's crunch these numbers a little. Israel uses 1,655 million cubic meters of water per year, of which 303 million cubic meters comes from Golan (mostly from the now drying out "Sea" of Galilee) and 430 million cubic meters from the West Bank. The West Bank water plunder by Israel is 73.5% of the total, which means that the overall water available in the West Bank per year is about 585 million cubic meters. Even so, about 45% of Israel's water comes from lands not accessible to 1967 Green Line Israel.

There's more. Israel's deficit is 230 million cubic meters a year, which means that Green Line Israel only produces about 49% of Israel's current water needs.

Now let's put this in human terms. There are 2.2 million Arabs in the West Bank. If they had access to the water catchments in the West Bank, they would have access to 585 million cubic meters per year, which works out to 266 cubic meters per person per year. But because of the Israeli piracy of their water, they are now reduced to a niggardly 70 cubic meters per person per year.

Now let's look at Israel. There are about 4.5 million Jews in Israel (there are over a million Arabs, but we will follow the Israeli right wing and not count them.) They use 1,655 million cubic meters of water each year. This comes out to a swimming pool sized 368 cubic meters per person per year. Israeli water usage is almost five times greater than that of the Palestinians, and mostly because the Israelis are simply taking the water. It's hard not to feel that "Water Discrimination" is at work in the Middle East.

The situation looks even worse if we transfer the 300 million or so cubic meters that comes from the Pond of Galilee. By all rights, we should, because Galilee is simply the northernmost point of a water system that follows the River Jordan through the Dead Sea and on to Aqaba. In other words, if the Israelis were not occupying the Golan Heights, that water would be available to thirsty Syrians, Jordanians, and Palestinians, not just Israeli garden hoses.

Wadi You Going to do?

While the media types don't mention it, there have been a number of strategies proposed to solve the problem.

One solution involves a sort of peripheral canal running water from Turkey all the way down to Israel. If you ever wondered why Israel gladly accepts the Turkish version of the Armenian "non"-genocide, you now have your geopolitical explanation: the Israelis want Turkish fluids.

Another solution involves setting up expensive desalinization plants to help Israel meet its water needs. But the cost of such plants is huge, and they use lots of thermal energy, usually from fossil fuels, in which Israel is deficient. You may have noticed that former Senator Simon from Illinois wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times this past week, describing the need for the US to fund the establishment of such plants overseas. Transparent bailout of Israel that it may have been, now one can understand why it was written.

Further suggestions include water conservation, and cooperative water projects with Arabs. Under the current circumstances, neither of these is very likely, especially the latter. In the meantime, the IDF can still bulldoze a few more Palestinian orchards, reducing the water needs of the West Bank in increments.

A Wall with a Water Pipe in it

One thing should be clear from the above. The Israelis are not going to leave the West Bank and they are not going to give up that water. If they did so, without developing one of the above plans, they would be reduced to using only twice as much as the Palestinians use today, and I don't think they would be able to handle it. All this talk about giving up 90% of the West Bank has always cleverly disguised the fact that the arrangement of Jewish settlements and "security zones" is closely linked with all identifiable catchments and aquifers in the region.

Yet, any of the above plans would take years to implement, and wouldn't address the problem of population growth in the region, which projects to be mostly Arab. So an Israeli abandonment of "some" settlements and a retreat behind a wall should be seen for what it is: a wet dream, at least for the foreseeable future.

Nor can the Israelis hunker down behind some magic wall that will keep out suicide bombers and other Arabs lusting after a cool glass of water. Simply put, if the Palestinians controlled the West Bank, there would be nothing to stop them from busting the pipelines and using the water for themselves. In fact, they would have every right to do so. At least in the West Bank, it's their land, and their water.

In short, Israel can't do anything about the Occupied Territories, except to continue to play terror bean bag with the armies of - probably very thirsty - young Arab males who for all we know may be suffering from water deprivation psychosis.

What I mean is that Israel will never be able to disentangle itself from the Arabs in the West Bank, for the simple reason that a higher power than the United Nations decreed that in terms of water, the region is one. We predict over time that the situation will only grow worse, the stresses between the wet aristocrats of Zion and the dry peons of Judaea and Samaria will only increase, and eventually, a hopefully peaceful change of structure will lead to a shared state - and water -- structure for both Jews and Arabs. To be sure, that will mean the end to the Zionist dream: but as the facts show, that dream dried out a long time ago.

Installed: 07/27/98, 1: 00 AM, PST


Source: The Revisionist, Codoh Series, No. 1, 2002, pp. .
Back to Table of Contents