Monday, March 20, 2006

Do Palestinians have enough bread and water?

Occupied Territories, March 19, 2006
( & News Agencies)

The Palestinians are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, as the UN warns, not just because of food shortage caused by Israeli closures but also because their agriculture-dependent territories are being sliced from the main water resources by the Israeli separation wall.
"With the wall, the Israelis clearly sought to commandeer water resources," Hind Khury, a former Palestinian cabinet minister responsible for Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and now the government's representative in Paris, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Sunday, March 19. "Without water, there is no life. Israeli policy has always been to push Palestinians into the desert," he added.

Israel is monopolizing around 75 percent of Palestinian water resources in the occupied West Bank, a region where rainfall is infrequent and water a strategic asset.
The 700km-long separation wall has cut more than 220 Palestinian communities in the West Bank -- around 320,000 people – from main water resources.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now forced to buy water from trucks -- an expense many can ill afford -- to supplement local supplies that often fall woefully short of requirements. Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan rely on the River Jordan which Tel Aviv controls and has cut supplies during times of scarcity. The International Court of Justice has asked Israel to tear down the barrier, which resulted in the confiscation of 11,4000 dunums (2,850 acres - 1,140 hectares) of privately-owned Palestinian land, and compensate affected Palestinians.

The Israeli separation wall – seen by the Palestinians as a land grab designed to delimit the borders of their future state – is believed to be deliberately built to siphon off their aquifers.
"The route of the wall matches that of water resources, the latter being conveniently located on the Israeli side," said Elisabeth Sime, director of aid organization CARE International in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Abdul Rahman Tamimi, director of the non-governmental Palestinian Hydrology Group, agreed.
"The wall cuts some communities off from their only source of water, prevents tanker trucks from getting around and puts up prices," he said.
He added that in the West Bank city of Qalqilya around 20 wells, making up 30 percent of the town's resources, were lost because of the wall.
While agriculture accounts for nearly a third of Palestinian gross domestic product, only five percent of Palestinian land is irrigated.
About 70 percent of Israeli and Jewish settlement land, on the other hand, is watered, even if agriculture amounts to barely two percent of Israel's GDP.
A recent report by the UN Special Coordinator (UNSCO) blamed Israel's wall and its network of checkpoints and roadblocks across the occupied West Bank for a "de-development" of the Palestinian economy.
"Every day is taking us closer to a humanitarian crisis," warned Ging. (Reuters)
Israel is also being blamed for contaminating water resources by dumping toxic waste on Palestinian lands.
"I often get stomach ache. I throw up. It's the same for all the children here," said nine-year-old Fatima from the small town of Attil while looking feverishly at her mother Awa.
At least a third of the local drinking water is contaminated by sewage and pesticides, according to AFP.
Doctor Hossam Madi said diarrhea, gastroenteritis, fever, kidney failure, infection and dermatological problems blight most Palestinian children and persist into adulthood because of poor water supplies.
CARE's Sime agreed.
"The quality of water is getting worse and worse.
"A high proportion of new-born babies die of water-born infections. In the long run, Israelis will be affected by the pollution of water in the Palestinian territories."
In villages such as Jalbun, household, agricultural and industrial waste from Israeli settlements speed up the process of water pollution.
In another development, the United Nations warned Sunday that the Gaza Strip was dangerously facing a looming humanitarian crisis over continued Israeli closures.
"Every day is taking us closer to a humanitarian crisis," said John Ging, the Gaza director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
He said that the Israeli closure of Gaza's Karni commercial crossing caused his agency to run out of food supplies to distribute to the most impoverished families.
"Flour and wheat are not the only products in short supply. There is a shortage of sugar, oil and many of the other basic commodities.
"If the borders remain closed then everything will begin to become a crisis in itself."
Hundreds of Palestinians lined up outside bakeries in Gaza on Friday, March 17, to buy bread as shop owners complained they were running out of flour because of Israel's closure of the commercial crossing into the impoverished strip.
Israel has closed Karni for much of the year, citing security concerns. It was last closed on March 13 and Israel says it has no immediate plans to reopen it.
Ging said it was essential to reach an agreement as soon as possible.
"I am calling on everybody who can assist to solve the situation where the borders are closed and the result is that people here in Gaza do not have enough bread, the very basics that are needed to sustain our lives."
The US called a meeting on Sunday to hammer out a solution.
"We've taken the initiative to call a meeting between the parties to facilitate the passing of humanitarian goods into Gaza," said Stewart Tuttle, a spokesman for the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
A recent USAID report said Israel's closure of the Karni crossing has caused steep financial losses and risks an agricultural catastrophe in the Gaza Strip.