The Future of Water in the Middle East

“It is written that “Enannatum, ruler of Lagash,” slew “60 soldiers” from Umma. The battle between the two ancient city states took place 4,500 years ago near where the great Tigris and Euphrates rivers come together in what is today Iraq. The matter in dispute? Water. More than four millennia have passed since the two armies clashed over one city state’s attempt to steal water from another. But while the instruments of war have changed, the issue is much the same: whoever controls the rivers controls the land. And those rivers are drying.” (Foreign Policy in Focus)

Rivers of Dust: The Future of Water and the Middle East

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Contrary to Popular Belief--

Israel: the second most ‘water stressed’ country in the world

Ever since the publication of Seth Siegel’s hugely hyped book, Let there be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water Starved World (2016), Israel and agencies like the Jewish National Fund have been marketing Israel’s ‘water miracles’ around the US and globe.

The gush of greenwashing propaganda is exemplified by David Hazony’s “How Israel is solving the world’s water crisis” in which he states that thanks to its desalination plants and technical know how, “Israel has become immune to the intense droughts that have plagued the Middle East…”.

Really? This sunny picture is resoundingly refuted by the latest ranking of water-stressed nations produced by the World Resources Institute. In early August 2019 its Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas placed Israel as the second most water-stressed nation in the world, just behind the leader Qatar, and ahead of Lebanon (#3), Iran (#4) and Jordan (#5).

It did not include Palestine in its list. In a footnote it stated that it was only ranking full member nations of the UN, and that if Palestine were a full member, it would be ranked between Lebanon and Iran.

A closer look at the stress ratings of Israel’s particular localities - with anything in the 4 - 5 range being ‘extremely high risk’ - is of particular interest. Jerusalem gets a 4.78; Tel Aviv a 4.79; and Golan a 5.00.

Yes, the Golan gets the very highest ‘extremely at risk’ ranking it is possible to receive. This is jolting on a few accounts, not least because the World Resources Institute appears to be in full accord with Trump’s March 2019 tweet saying it is time to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

What has happened to this once water-rich region? The Golan Heights, source of the headwaters of the Jordan River flowing into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea, was so coveted by the Zionists for its water resources that they included it in the map outlining their future state as presented to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

With the control of water one of the factors that led to the 1967 war, Israel used the opportunity presented by the conflict to seize the Golan Heights from Syria, occupied it and declared its annexation in 1981.

For decades the Sea of Galilee, fed by the Golan Heights, provided Israel with most of its drinking water. As late as 2009, Israel depended on the Golan for 30 percent of its water resources.

Israel’s National Water Carrier (Mekorot) began pumping water from the Sea of Galilee to the coast and to the Negev in 1965, causing its level to fall precipitously over the years. Over the last decade, drought has reduced the rate of flow into the Sea of Galilee to the lowest it has been in a century. Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are today rapidly disappearing.

Can Israel’s own water crisis be solved by desalination? In the short term perhaps, but only at a cost of potentially irreversible environmental degradation and health risks.

Meanwhile, far from solving the world’s water problems, Israel is likely to deal with its own severe water deficit by inflicting ever greater water stress on the people it occupies, whose aquifers it has claimed as its own.

Nancy Murray

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Denied all services, including access to water

Al-Araqib in the Negev desert is classified by Israel as an "unrecognized village" and denied all services, including access to water. But its residents - who are Israeli citizens - have resolutely refused to leave their ancestral land, despite having their village destroyed some 130 times by the Israeli army in its effort to "Judaize" the Negev. Now six residents are being ordered to pay $372,000 to cover the cost of their eviction.

Israeli Court Orders Bedouin to Pay Cost of Their Eviction From Unrecognized Village

The $372,000 to be paid by six people is the latest chapter in a years-long battle by Bedouin in the south to remain on land the courts say they have no right to

Almog Ben Zikri Aug 08, 2019 11:12 AM. Haaretz

A court has let the state seek 1.3 million shekels ($372,000) in reimbursement from six residents of an unofficial Bedouin village in the Negev for the cost of evicting them from disputed land.

The Be’er Sheva District Court granted the state’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling stating that the state was not entitled to collect the sum from the people of the village of Al-Araqib.

It’s the latest chapter in a battle between the state and residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south. The state has already received nearly 320,000 shekels in settlement agreements with 28 other defendants in the case.

For years, the residents of Al-Araqib have been clashing with the state, the Israel Land Authority and the police over land at a site north of Be’er Sheva where they claim ownership rights. The current dispute is over a site hosting a small number of makeshift structures, a cemetery and a building with a permanent floor.

Over the years, officials of the Israel Land Authority have visited the site, accompanied by police, to demolish temporary structures, but after the officials leave, the structures are rebuilt. The village’s 70-year-old leader, Sheikh Sayekh Abu Madi’am, recently served a prison term for trespassing at the site.

The villagers say they own the land on which the village was built and were forcibly evicted by the army in 1950. The state says that the land was taken over by the state in the early ‘50s because it had been abandoned and that attempts by the Bedouin to settle beginning in 1998 were illegal. The courts have upheld the state’s position.

In an earlier stage of the case, the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court ordered the village’s residents to pay the 260,000 shekels incurred to evict them. The residents appealed to the district court, but so did the state, which challenged the amount as too low. It was the state’s appeal that two district court judges granted, with a third judge dissenting.

The judge added that imposing the expense on the six defendants “creates a feeling of unease” because the six are among an original group of 34 defendants, the other 28 of whom reached a settlement. Thus the six must pay a disproportionate share.

Judge Gad Gidion, one of the two judges who granted the appeal in the state’s favor, wrote that he shared Judge Vago’s sense of unease but that, from a legal standpoint, “I believe there is no choice but to grant the state’s appeal at this point in full.”

The two judges in the majority called the case “a years-long joint fight” by all the defendants, while the Bedouin involved, including the remaining six, tried to “make it difficult for the enforcement authorities to exercise the state’s ownership of the land.” They added that the villagers are on the land “in violation of the law and in contempt of judicial orders.”



An Eyewitness Palestine meeting in Al-Araqib in November 2018. Photo H. Murray

An Eyewitness Palestine meeting in Al-Araqib in November 2018. Photo H. Murray