Obstacles to achieving greater water availability in the Palestinian Lower Jordan Valley

Most residents in Auja and Jericho list the availability of water as one of their primary concerns. The obstacles to achieving greater water availability can be divided into two categories – those that involve Israel, and those that exist independent of Israel. 

Israel maintains full control over access and distribution of water in the West Bank, restricting Palestinian use, distribution or management of water resources. Any major water infrastructure projects must be approved by the Joint Water Committee (JWC) (1). The Palestinian Authority is often prevented from unilaterally constructing new water facilities by a combination of Israeli coercive power and donor insistence on full JWC approval. If Palestinian residents wish to construct new wells or repair existing ones, they are often required to apply for a permit through the Civil Administration (2), a process that is complex, lengthy and often ends in denial. Israel has also confiscated lands to construct many Israeli settlements in the area, with water resources often diverted to these settlements. Per capita daily water consumption within Israeli settlements is much higher than that of neighbouring Palestinian communities, whose daily consumption levels are at times below minimum World Health Organisation standards.

In early December 2016, I visited a small Bedouin community that is situated within the traditional boundaries of Auja village, but technically in Area ‘C’, under full Israeli civil and military control. They had no sanitation services, limited electricity and lived in basic dwellings that were exposed to the natural environment due to restrictions on constructing permanent structures. 

Israeli Defence (IDF) regulations sometimes restrict Auja EcoCenter from undertaking its functions. The ability to promote the environmental tourism branch of the Center is hampered by constraints on erecting signs that direct visitors to the Center. While Auja village is mostly in Area ‘A’, under full Palestinian control, the main road which bisects Auja is classified as Area ‘C’ and any construction on this road is eventually removed by Israeli authorities. A recent attempt to control erosion through revegetation works at Auja Spring, located in Area ‘C’, was removed by the IDF. Privately, IDF officials indicated their support for the erosion control measures, but explained the need to follow appropriate procedures.

The lengthy and complex permit procedure discourages residents from following the authorised process. Many residents manage these constraints by violating the directive not to construct unauthorised structures, with an understanding that they will be eventually demolished. 
These Israeli approaches contribute to the feeling of water injustice felt by most Palestinians. A Jericho souvenir shop owner explained that the occupation was the root cause of water management problems in the region. He stressed that local institutions, such as Auja EcoCenter, can only do so much, but that water management issues will not be solved until justice is achieved. Like many residents, he described how the Lower Jordan Valley once maintained a highly productive agricultural sector that brought wealth and maintained social cohesion in Palestine. 

There has been some commentary that water saving projects cannot proceed effectively due to Palestinian political resistance to cooperate with Israeli counterparts, rather than occupation policy. After speaking with a local official, it is evident that despite sufficient donor money and project designs, implementation does not proceed because of the need for JWC approval. The requirement for JWC consensus results in project denial from both parties, with Israeli officials claiming ‘security issues’ and Palestinian officials unwilling to support projects that will aid Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 

Independently of Israel’s coercive and obstructive approach, there are several factors that impede the ability to secure future water resources. Palestinian control of communication between Israel and Palestine delays and deters cross-border interaction and makes the JWC difficult to circumvent. If Palestinian officials at a local government level wish to contact with their Israeli counterparts, they must do so formally through the Palestinian Authority. 

Auja EcoCenter promotes a message of environmental conservation. Despite this, Auja’s streets are covered in solid waste. It is difficult to understand precisely why this occurs, but discussions with residents and stakeholders reveal some possible explanations. Littering is likely to be caused by an insufficient understanding of its consequences. One of the Center’s employees explained that he used to litter before he worked at the Center, but hasn’t ever since after learning about its effects. A lack of incentive to dispose of waste effectively may also contribute to excess waste. The Joint Services Council (JSC) (3) only collects rubbish from Auja residents who have paid for their service. Consequently, many residents burn their trash as a free method of rubbish removal. It could be the case that public spaces are not considered part of the collective property; as Auja’s homes are free of litter, but garbage is often amassed outside their properties. 

Strong allegiances to the family result in delays for small environmental projects. A Development Advisor with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) explained that 50 tree seedlings were grown at the Center, with the aim to distribute them around Auja for improved vegetation. The planting of these seedlings was delayed as each location considered brought the possibility that one of Auja’s six main families would be favoured over another. Eventually, the seedlings died as staff were unable to decide on a fair location to plant them.  

Domestic water supply is affected by ageing infrastructure, which suffer high distribution losses and inaccurate meter readings. At a recent conference of the Union of Palestinian Water Service Providers, I met stakeholders who explained that in addition to ageing infrastructure, water theft and lack of enforcement contribute to these system losses.

Finally, political division within domestic politics has made policy and planning difficult, leading to difficulties with poverty alleviation and service delivery.

1.  The Joint Water Committee is an authority established through the Oslo II Accords to manage water in the West Bank. It consists of equal members from Israel and Palestine and all decisions made by the JWC must be reached by consensus.

2. The Civil Administration is an Israeli authority established following the occupation of the West Bank in 1967. It is responsible for bureaucratic functions in the West Bank and is subordinate to the Israeli military.

3.  The Joint Services Council is an official body responsible for providing public services such as solid waste management.

Further Reading

Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem 2012, Auja Town Profile, Applied Research Institute, viewed 12 December 2016, <http://vprofile.arij.org/jericho/pdfs/vprofile/Al%20’Auja_tp_en.pdf >.

Further Reading
Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem 2012, Auja Town Profile, Applied Research Institute, viewed 12 December 2016, <http://vprofile.arij.org/jericho/pdfs/vprofile/Al%20’Auja_tp_en.pdf >. 

Burkart, L 2012, ‘The politicization of the Oslo water agreement’, Doctoral dissertation, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. 

Hareuveni, E 2011, Dispossession and Exploitation: Israel’s Policy in the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea. Discussion Paper, B’Tselem, Jerusalem, viewed 18 December 2016, 

Haddad, M 2007, ‘Politics and water management: a Palestinian perspective’, in H Shuval & H Dweik (eds), Water Resources in the Middle East, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 41-52.

Selby J 2013, ‘Cooperation, domination and colonisation: the Israeli-Palestinian joint water committee’, Water Alternatives, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 1-24.

State of Palestine 2014, ‘National Development Plan 2014-2016: State Building to Sovereignty’, State of Palestine, viewed 18 December 2016, <http://www.mopad.pna.ps/en/images/PDFs/Palestine%20State_final.pdf&gt;.

Leave a Reply