Water-Rights Rancor Swirls Through West Bank Settlements

A new report reveals how Israeli settlers' activity in the West Bank obstructs the Palestinians' access to springs. Settlers have allegedly seized springs in the vicinity of settlements, thus limiting the Palestinians' access. The struggle over these small springs is the story of the struggle in the West Bank.

al-monitor A female Israeli soldier stands next to a man-made pool containing water from a spring located near the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and the Jewish settlement of Halamish, near Ramallah March 19, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Baz Ratner.

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west, palestinians, israel

Mar 28, 2012

The politics of water is one of the most intriguing issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Who really owns the water sources shared by both Israel and the Palestinians, and how should they be divided? Peace Now activist Dror Etkes, known for his activity as the organization's chief tracker of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, has prepared a special report commissioned by the UN which shows how the settlers' activity in the West Bank seriously obstructs the Palestinians' access to springs and their ability to use them.

Upon presentation of the report, UN officials and journalists were invited for a tour of the Ramallah area last week, guided by Etkes. One of the springs running through the area covered in his report is Ein Ariq, as it is called by the local Arab residents, or "the Fountain of Valor" as named by the Jewish settlers. The Arab village of Qariout is located on one bank of the spring and the village of Lubban ash-Sharqiyah is situated on the other bank. The settlements of Shiloh, Eli and Ma'ale Levona have been established between the Arab villages. On our visit to the spring we met — probably not by chance — both sides.

The Ein Ariq spring has served generations of Palestinians.

The report gives the Ein Ariq spring as a case in point, illustrative of dozens of other instances where settlers have allegedly seized control of areas adjacent to springs in the vicinity of settlements, thus limiting the Palestinians' access.

According to Eli's security coordinator Amiad Cohen and his assistant, a student in the local yeshiva (rabbinical college), the spring, which was for long years neglected and muddy and barely in use by the local Arab inhabitants, has been restored by the settlers and transformed into a blossoming garden. Israel Nature and Parks Authority renovated the path leading to the spring, cleaned up the place, fixed up the pool and put in benches and picnic tables.

According to Lubban ash-Sharqiyah Council Head Jamal Daraghma and his friend Abu Mahmoud, who came to meet us beside the spring, the spring is located on private Palestinian land owned by their fathers and forefathers. "We have ownership documents, and the place is registered in our name at the Nablus land-registry bureau," the two claimed. Like hundreds of similar springs in the Judea and Samaria mountains, the Ein Ariq spring served generations of Palestinians for watering their livestock and irrigating nearby agricultural tracts.

The settlers and the Palestinians have each their own version of the story.

In the argument that followed in the presence of the journalists, Daraghma charged that the settlers had illegally taken over the area. "We are not allowed to enter the spring area. The army gives us entry permits for only a couple of days a year, to harvest our olives." Cohen denied the claims, stating that "they can come here whenever they want. It is only during the olive-picking season that the area is closed by the army to both Arabs and Jews, to prevent conflicts, and entry permits are then required in order to enter the site. It is not in my hands. I am not the chief of staff."

The story of the struggle over the small spring at the heart of Samaria is the story of the struggle over all other sources of life in the West Bank. There are hundreds of other cases attesting to the ongoing efforts made by the settlers — with the direct and indirect support of the Israeli government and its various agencies — to establish full control over Area C (one of the three 1993 Oslo Accord administrative divisions under Israeli control and administration), which constitutes over 60 percent of the West Bank area.

Both sides, the settlers and the Palestinians alike, are aware of the same truth: In the absence of control over the land and water, there can be no Palestinian economy and no Palestinian state — the state the Palestinians aspire to achieve and which the settlers seek to forestall.

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