Analysis: Serious Water Shortages in the Palestinian Communities of the West Bank

All Things Considered: August 31, 2002

West Bank Water


The ongoing conflict in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is exacerbating an already serious shortage of a precious commodity: water. From Beit Farik on the West Bank, NPR's Anne Garrels has this report.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

The 12,000 residents of Beit Farik are thirsty. Like almost half the 500 Palestinian communities in the West Bank, they have no tap water. Traditionally, people here lived off rain water collected during the winter, but as the population has grown and the livestock increased, that's no longer enough. They now depend on tankers to bring in water.

But Israel's efforts to stop attacks and round up militants have paralyzed traffic in the West Bank. After negotiations, Israel agreed it would allow 10 tanker trucks a day to cross over into nearby Nablus where there's treated water available. But this is way below the World Health Organization's accepted water intake for the community. And more often than not, the tankers are blocked.

Mr. YUSEF HANANI(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Thirty-nine-year-old Yusef Hanani drives a tanker. He's waited for hours to get through the checkpoint. Today, there will be no water for Beit Farik.

Mr. MUNJED SADEQ(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Munjed Sadeq, the deputy mayor of Beit Farik, speaks through an interpreter.

Unidentified Interpreter: `Agreement is one and what the soldiers allow is another. Every 10 days, they've been allowing one tank, two tanks to bring water.'

GARRELS: The only alternative is to drive 25 miles to another source if the roads are open. And there, the water is twice as expensive and it's polluted. The US government reports this area is suffering from a high incidence of water-related gastrointestinal problems.

Thirty-year-old Muhammad(ph) goes house to house to see if anyone has any spare water.


GARRELS: Nineteen-year-old Iat Isam(ph) gives him three bottles of water. She says her family's among the fortunate ones because it has a large cistern. Iat wants to become a lawyer to fight what she believes is Israeli injustice.

Others here in Beit Farik have taken up weapons. In the past few months, militants have attacked the nearby Jewish settlement of Itimar, killing seven. The last incident involved an elderly Palestinian armed with a knife. He slightly injured two settlers before he was shot. Villagers say his only motivation was desperation.


GARRELS: Nahav Atit Hatabe(ph) is one of the few chicken farmers still in business here, but he, too, is desperately short of water and feed. And even if his chickens survive, he's no way to get his produce to market because of the checkpoints. He says he's damned every way he turns.

And when villagers here turn toward the hills overlooking the village, they see the Israeli settlement of Itimar with its green lawns, flower gardens and swimming pools. This just inflames hatred of Jewish settlers even more and re-enforces the perception Israel is trying to starve them out. Ihab Barghouti, a senior official with the Palestinian Water Authority was reached by phone.

Mr. IHAB BARGHOUTI (Palestinian Water Authority): (Through Translator) Each settler has a daily share of 350 liters, whereas the Palestinians, they have less than 30 liters per day.

GARRELS: From '67 to '94, when Israel was in charge of the Civil Administration for the West Bank, all the Jewish settlements were supplied with running water, but only half the Palestinian communities had tap water. In '94, when the Palestinian Authority began to assume control under the Oslo Accords, they tried to improve the water situation. But under Oslo, the Israelis would only allow the Palestinians to develop wells in the eastern portion of the West Bank, far from villages like Beit Farik. And even, Barghouti says, there were problems. He says Israel has shown it is not keen on having Palestinians advance like the Israeli settlements.

Mr. BARGHOUTI: (Through Translator) Therefore, the permitting process was a very tedious process and a very frustrating process.

GARRELS: The US is now helping to develop an existing well in the area of Beit Farik, but the supply will be small and the village will continue to have to depend on tankers and checkpoints. Anne Garrels, NPR News, Beit Farik.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: THE FOLLOWING AIRED ON 9/28/02 WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: HOWARD BERKES, host: Tonight, we have a correction. In a story that aired on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on August 31st, we reported on water shortages in Palestinian communities on the West Bank, including the fact that half of those communities had no tap water. We reported the Palestinian view on the issue, but we should have also included an Israeli response. We regret the omission.]

Copyright 2002 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information, please contact NPR's Permissions Coordinator at (202) 513-2000.

This transcript was created by a contractor for NPR, and NPR has not verified its accuracy. For all NPR programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version.