IPCRI Water Articles

Waste Water - Making the Best Use of a Scarce Resource

In August 1997 a group of thirty Israeli and Palestinian experts in the fields of agriculture, the treatment of waste water, and public health met, together with officials from the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the Palestinian Authority, for a one day seminar at Al-Arroub Agricultural College in the Hebron region to plan for a long term program designed to improve the treatment of waste water in the West Bank and Gaza and its effective use in agriculture.

The meeting was organized under the auspices of the IPCRI environmental program and sponsored jointly by the ANERA, Jerusalem; Palestinian Hydrology Group; the Water and Environmental Development Organization, Bethlehem; and the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at the University of Beersheva (Sde Boker). The Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture also took part in the seminar which was held at their training facility.

Speakers emphasized the absolute necessity of using recycled water if the needs of agriculture in the region were to be met (70 per cent of the water on the West Bank is currently used for agriculture at a time when demands for water for industrial and domestic use are growing). Participants did not, however, underestimate the need to educate farmers and municipal authorities of the urgency of the problem. Various speakers also underlined the need to deal with sociological factors which limited the acceptance of the use of waste water among some sections of society. Health problems were also discussed and ways of eliminating them by effective treatment described.

It was determined that the sponsoring organizations would seek funding for a pilot project involving the construction of simple treatment plants on a small scale in two locations in the West Bank. These would enable effective extension work to be undertaken among farmers. IPCRI accepted the need to draw up a project and undertake fund raising and will proceed with this over the coming months.

Israelis MK's and Palestinian PLC Members Confront Water Problems

Thursday, August 27, 1998

At a stormy late night working session of IPCRI's Forum of Palestinian and Israeli Parliamentarians, agreement was reached on immediate steps that need to be taken to relieve the acute water shortage problems in the Hebron and Bethlehem regions of the West Bank. The meeting was attended by Members of Knesset from the coalition and Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and was held at the office of the Palestinian Water Authority in Ramallah. The meetings was also attended by Meir Ben-Meir, the Israeli Water Commissioner and Co-Chairman of the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee (JWC), Shmuel Kantor, a senior Mekorot official and member of the JWC, Mr. Fadel Kawash, the Deputy Palestinian Water Commissioner and three other senior Palestinian water officials.

The IPCRI Working Group Forum of Palestinian and Israeli Parliamentarians head by IPCRI Directors Dr. Gershon Baskin and Dr. Zakaria al Qaq, initiated the meeting after hearing about the sever water problems in the West Bank and desiring to learn more about the problem and possible solutions. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon instructed Mr. Ben-Meir, the Water Commissioner, to attend the meeting, to provide answers and explanations, and to bring back possible solutions and input from the meeting. The IPCRI Working Group Forum of Palestinian and Israeli Parliamentarians is composed of Members of Knesset from the coalition and Palestinian Legislative Council Members from Fatah. Last night's meeting was attended by MK Gideon Ezra and MK Zeev Boim, PLC Member Qadura Faris from Ramallah, PLC Member Jamal Shobaki from Hebron, PLC Member Mohamed Hourani from Hebron, an newly appointed Minister for Prisoner Affairs Hisham Abdul Rizek from Gaza.

The meeting started with a presentation by Palestinian Deputy Water Commissioner, Fadel Kawash, about the present difficulties and acute water shortages faced by the Palestinians, particularly in the southern half of the West Bank. Kawash claims that the pumping figures provided by Israel are not accurate and that Israel is not fulfilling its commitments according to the Water Annex of the Oslo Agreement. Ben-Meir rebutted the charges pulling out a computer paper from his briefcase with what he said "were the latest pumping figures taken from the Water Commission's computer yesterday." Ben-Meir said that the phenomenon of water stealing is much higher than the Palestinians estimate and that the loss of water in the system due to leaky pipes was also extremely high. Kawash stated that in the past months the Palestinian Water Authority completed projects bringing leakage down from 40% to 30%. Kawash admitted that there is a lot of stealing of water, however, he refused to accept the Israeli figures.

The meeting almost exploded and ended in a sharp exchange that took place between Ben-Meir and Minister Abdul Rizek. Ben-Meir yelling that "this is not a court and I am not on trial" stormed out of the room while members of the PLC calmed down the atmosphere. They stated that they are "here to learn and to see what kind of solutions can be proposed". Ben Meir returned to the room and the discussion continued until 11:30 pm. In continuing the discussion, Ben-Meir refused the idea that additional drilling will solve the problem. He likened the situation to a cup of water, adding additional straws to the cup will not increase the quantity of water in the cup. Ben-Meir further stated that he would not "take water from Israelis and give it to Palestinians." He further stated though that Israel would answer any and all needs for drinking water, "no one will go thirsty for drinking water."

In confronting solutions, Ben-Meir stated that the Oslo Agreement is not a solution to the water problem and cannot provide a solution. "We cannot divide the deficit of water between us", he stated. Ben-Meir further said that the situation whereby Israelis have three times more water than Palestinians is also not an acceptable solution and could not last for long. Ben-Meir said that any agreement must be based on the principle of "equality for humanitarian needs", yet it is far from clear of how to reach that agreement, where the water will come from, who will pay for it and who will make the investments to create the water. All of the participants agreed that the ultimate solution will be found in water desalination, however, Ben-Meir stated that the main problem is not in putting up the desalination plants, but in the cost of the new water which will be too high for the Palestinians to buy. Ben Meir said that donor countries should not provide funds for building desalination plants but rather "they should subsidize the cost of desalinated water for Palestinians for a period of ten years, that would make the possibility of desalination possible."

The Palestinian participants were most angered by the great disproportion of water available to settlers as compared to the Palestinians in the same area, sometimes reaching six times more. Ben Meir claimed that even if the settlers were all moved to Tel Aviv they would still use water and "probably even more than they use now." A new well being dug in the Herodian area will hopefully provide the extra water needed in the future, however it will be too late to solve this summer's water shortage.

PLC Members described how a black market of water has developed in the West Bank with prices reaching 25 NIS per cubic meter. There are Palestinian homes in the high areas of Hebron who received water in trucks only once in ten days and are now forced to pay bribes of up to 100 sheckels to receive water more often. Additionally, 160 West Bank villages with 192,000 people have no water systems at all. PLC Member Mohamed Hourani said that he has been told that the IDF is preventing the connection of villages where the pipes have to run through area "c". Both Fadel Kawash and Ben-Meir stated that this was not true.

In the end of the meeting the following agreed summary was presented:

1. The Palestinian Water Authority and the Israeli Water Commission must work on establishing a system whereby data and figures can be agreed upon and presented together.

2. The Israeli Water Commission will look into the possibility of immediately pumping additional water from Gush Etzion at a rate of 400 cubic meters per hour to the Hebron region to relieve the immediate shortage.

3. The possibility of opening a pipeline for filling water trucks in the Hebron region whereby water would be sold to residents at the same price as in Tel Aviv (4-5 NIS per cubic meter) will be immediately investigated. This is a stop-gap measure meant to provide water for the acute shortage and to put an end to the "black market" water.

4. PLC Members will look into taking action against those people involved in selling water for up to 25 NIS per cubic meter.

5. If the Palestinians can provide funds (from a donor country) the Israeli water commission will positively review a plan for laying a new pipeline from within the "green line" to add additional water to the Hebron region.

6. The Palestinian Water Authority will prepare a paper to be presented at the next meeting of the IPCRI Working Group Forum of Palestinian and Israeli Parliamentarians which will compare the Oslo Agreement on Water with their claims of non-implementation by Israel.

Contact Information:

Return to Main Page