To exist is to resist: the struggle for water rights in Palestine


07 June 2012

On 23 May I went along to an event organised by Friends of the Earth in North London, an evening of discussion with incredibly inspiring Palestinian water activist Zayneb Al Shalafeh. Part of the grassroots Palestinian group Lifesource which has been campaigning for water justice for Palestinians since 2007, Zayneb focussed on the fact that the right to water is a right explicitly recognised under international law. 

Olive trees in Palestine (from Karathepirate on Flickr)

The water rights of Palestinians are, however, severely compromised under the current Israeli occupation, and the “peace process” as it has been conducted has actually often contributed to a worsening of this dire situation. Here’s a low down on some key things to know, and also what you can do to help.

Five things to know about water in relation to Israel and Palestine

1. Water is a human right

In a 2010 resolution, the UN General Assembly recognised “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” Also in 2010, the UN Human Rights Council recognised the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation as “derived from the right to an adequate standard of living” and “inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity.”

2. Net consumption of water in a typical Palestinian household is below World Health Organization (WHO) minimum guidelines

The WHO recommends a minimum water consumption of 100 litres of water per day to ensure an adequate level of sanitation for daily living. In Palestine, average water consumption is half of this at 50 litres of water and a number of communities average significantly less than this. The average daily consumption of water per person in Israel is, by contrast, 300 litres.

3. The wall separates Palestinians from many water sources they have used for centuries

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) deemed the establishment by Israel of a “barrier” or wall illegal and today it separates many Palestinians from cisterns, wells and springs that they have relied on for access to water for generations.

4. Palestinian access to water is severely compromised by continuing Israeli restrictions

According to the Oslo accords, any areas of the West Bank deemed to be in Area C are off limits to Palestinian development of any kind, which would include the building of infrastructure for water and sanitation. 61% of the land in the West Bank is deemed to be Area C and these restrictions also greatly limit the ability of Palestinians to develop water infrastructure elsewhere. 

5. Disposal of waste water into Gaza carries grave environmental risks

Up to 80,000 cubic metres of raw or partially treated sewage are pumped out into the sea at Gaza on a daily basis according to the United Nations Environment Programme, and this carries with it serious environmental risks for the population, many of whom live in refugee camps.

Five things you can do to help

1. Support the BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it respects the human rights of Palestinians and upholds international law. 

2. Support fair trade Palestinian producers such as Zaytoun who produce a delicious range of products for sale in the UK which includes olives, olive oil, dates, almonds, cous cous, and the extremely tasty traditional herb mix Za’atar. 

3. Lobby your political representatives about companies involved in supporting the occupation such as Veolia, security firm G4S or the Jewish National Fund, which currently enjoys charitable status within the UK.

4. Use alternative media sources to learn the news from Israel and Palestine such as Electronic Intifada.

5. Visit Palestine and learn about the situation there for yourself.

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