Israel demolishes infrastructure, leaving Palestinian farmers without water for domestic and agricultural needs

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In January and February 2017, Israeli authorities demolished water supply infrastructure in two areas in the West Bank. In the southern West Bank, authorities demolished seven water cisterns used by farmers and shepherds near the Palestinian village of Tuqu’, Bethlehem District, and another cistern in the South Hebron Hills community of Khashm a-Daraj. In the Jordan Valley, authorities demolished a pipe that provided water to Palestinian farming and shepherding communities in the northern Jordan Valley. On 20 February 2017, the Civil Administration once again demolished a section of the pipe, after local residents had restored its hook-up. Israel, which has controlled most water sources in the West Bank since it occupied it nearly fifty years ago, disregards the severe water shortage suffered by Palestinians and promotes projects that can alleviate it only when they involve improvements to settlement infrastructure. At the same time, Israel demolishes every water supply system that Palestinians try to erect themselves in Area C, subjecting them to intolerable living conditions in order to force them out of the area.

Demolitions in Tuqu’

On 4 January 2017, military and Civil Administration personnel arrived at an agricultural area near the village of Tuqu’, Bethlehem District, where Palestinian farmers live and raise livestock and various crops. Some of the farmers live on the land throughout the year, and others only in certain seasons. These communities are not connected to the water supply network of Tuqu’, as the land lies in Area C where Israel does not allow the development of water supply infrastructure for the benefit of Palestinians. In recent years, farmers dug several cisterns to collect rainwater, with the financial aid of an international humanitarian organization. The troops demolished seven cisterns and several farming-related sheds.

In testimonies given to B’Tselem field researchers Nasser Nawaj’ah and Musa Abu Hashhash on 24 January 2017, residents described the demolition and how it affected their lives. 

Ousamah Abu Mfareh, 39, a married father of two related:

About four years ago, I was given financial aid to dig a cistern. I added about 2,000 shekels [approx. USD 540) of my own and paid a contractor to dig the hole. I need it to water my fifty heads of livestock and my crops in summer. After the cistern was dug and I had enough water, I was optimistic and planted more than one hundred olive tree saplings. Until then, we had no water at all and in summer, the earth was like a graveyard. For a while I lived here regularly in tents and in light shelter. About two years ago, I went back to living in the village most of the year and I sleep here only in farming seasons. I was just about to come back to live here for three months. This land is my only source of income.

On 4 January 2017, neighboring farmers told me that Israeli bulldozers had started razing cisterns and farming facilities in our area. By the time I got to the spot, they’d completed the demolition. My cistern was utterly ruined. It had been full of rainwater from December. I was overcome with despair. I’m now worried about the saplings I planted. In the first few years, they need a lot of water. I also need water for my family. Now it’s all gone and I’ll have to buy water from vendors. A container costs about 200 shekels [approx. USD 54], and I’ll need at least one a month.

‘Aziz al-‘Abed, 27, married father of one recounted: 

I live in Tuqu’ with my wife, son, and parents. I make a living raising livestock and selling the milk. My family also owns about seven hectares of land on which we grow wheat, barley and legumes. About two and a half years ago, we dug cistern with funding from donors. Before that, we used water from an ancient well, near which the settlement of Tekoa was built. We decided to dig the cistern because we were routinely subjected to threats and assaults by the settlers whenever we went to get water. They even attacked our children, and their security officers would set their dogs on us. We desperately needed the cistern which has now been demolished, in order to continue living here. It was our main source of water, for us and for the sheep. Now the choice I have left is either to risk going back to the old well or to buy water containers for about 1,000 shekels [approx. USD 260] a month.

Demolition in Khashm a-Daraj- Khashm al-Karem

On Thursday 23 February 2017, the Civil Administration brought a bulldozer to an area by the community of Khashm a-Daraj-Khashm al-Karem in the South Hebron Hills, about two kilometers north of the Separation Barrier. The community, located in Area C, consists of several clusters of tents which are home to some 450 people. In 2009 Israeli authorities approved a master plan for the existing dwellings. The community’s clusters are hooked up to the water grid, but the water pressure is low, and in the summer water supply is erratic. In addition, Israel does not allow the expanses of pastureland surrounding the community to be hooked up to the water grid. The Civil Administration demolished a cistern dug about five years ago and served local shepherds.

In testimony given to B'Tselem field researcher Nasser Nawaja'a on 28 February 2017, Mustafa al-Fakir, a 46-year-old married father of ten, talked about the demolition and its effect on the life of his family:

My wife and I live with our ten children in one of the tent clusters. I’m a farmer and shepherd and I have a flock of more than 50 sheep that graze in the uncultivated areas around the encampment. About five years ago my brothers and I dug cistern on our pastureland to collect rainwater. The cistern was about three kilometers from where we live. It was a large cistern that could hold more than 200 cubic meters of water and served me and my six brothers for watering our flocks. Together we have more than 280 sheep. Our neighbors also used this cistern to water their sheep.

For daily use at home we have water from the [Israeli national water company] Mekorot grid. The water pressure is low and in summer there’s often no water at all. When that’s been the case, we’ve had to use the cistern water for household needs. Because this area is arid and there’s not much rain, the water in the cistern was not enough for the whole summer and we had to buy water in mobile water tanks. Usually we bought ten water tanks a year, at about 500 shekels [approx. USD 135] a tank.

On the morning of 23 February 2017, the Israeli authorities arrived and began destroying the cistern. The soldiers and policemen there didn’t let us get near and we could only watch from afar. The cistern had been completely full. The bulldozer completely demolished it, and from where I stood I could see the water gushing out. I felt sad, angry and frustrated. I was helpless. I couldn’t even express my anger and protest what was happening. A few days before the demolition I found a pre-demolition warning notice near the cistern. The notice gave us three days to appeal the decision to demolish the cistern, but I found the notice on the last day on which the appeal could be filed.

As of now, we are giving water to the sheep from what’s left of the rainwater in a nearby stream, but soon it will run dry and we’ll have to buy water tanks to water the sheep. Without the cistern it will be a great expense for us. In recent years the cistern saved us a great deal of money and effort. Shepherding is our only source of income, we are simple people. On top of the water resource we lost, we also lost all the work we invested in digging the cistern, and all the money we spent on buying concrete and iron bars for its construction.

Demolition in the Jordan Valley

On 10 January 2017, Civil Administration personnel demolished a pipe that supplied water from the Palestinian village of ‘Atuf, which is in Area A, to three small shepherding and farming communities that lie in Area C and are not connected to the water supply network: Khirbet Ras al-Ahmar, Khirbet Hadidiyah, and Khirbet Humsah. The pipe was laid with the help and financial aid of an international humanitarian organization, and some of the work was carried out in the past year by local farmers. After the pipe was demolished, residents laid a new pipe, again with funding by humanitarian aid organizations. On 20 February 2017, Civil Administration personnel returned with bulldozers and once again demolished the section of the pipe that supplied water to al-Hadidiyah and Khirbet Humsah. These communities face severe water shortages, subsisting only on water supplied in containers harnessed to tractors. Water transported this way costs at least three times as much as water supplied to Israelis – both in Israel proper and in settlements – who are hooked up to Mekorot, Israel’s national water company. The Civil Administration also often confiscates the tractors used to transport water in these areas, claiming that they are trespassing in a firing zone. These confiscations have lately become much more frequent.

In a testimony he gave to B’Tselem field researcher ‘Aref Daraghmeh on 10 January 2017, Ahmad Bani ‘Odeh, 67, who lives with his wife and two daughters in the community of a-Ras al-Ahmar, described the demolition of the water pipe:

About a year ago, we learned that an aid organization was planning to lay a water pipe that would pass through our community. It was meant to provide water for many families that have no other access to water. In addition to us, the pipe was also supposed to serve the communities of al-Hadidiyah and Humsah. In recent months, work on the pipe progressed and a section about ten kilometers long had been completed, so the pipe reached us. When the water started flowing, it was a real red-letter day. The pipe could have saved us and the other families a lot of money and effort. Until then, we had to transport water in large containers towed by tractors, and it cost us about 25 shekels [approx. USD 7] per cubic meter. Recently we haven’t even been able to get water that way, because no one is brave enough to come here – they’re all afraid that the Civil Administration will confiscate their tractors if they come. The water pipe was a real lifesaver for us. It meant we could have running water at any time of day, for our families and the livestock. We were overjoyed, although from the beginning we were afraid of the military and the Civil Administration, which regularly patrol the area.

On 10 January 2017, at about nine o’clock in the morning, I saw three bulldozers approaching with military and Civil Administration personnel. They started digging up the pipe and completely destroyed it. They broke the pipe to pieces. The bulldozers demolished the water pipe, and our dreams along with it. They took it all apart, all the way to al-Hadidiyah and Khirbet Humsah. I don’t know how we’ll manage now. There are hardly any tractors left, since all most all of them have been confiscated. The owners of the large containers don’t want to carry water here, it’s too risky and they are justly worried about their vehicles.