The West Bank Battle For Land ... And Water : Parallels In the 1990s, Israelis and Palestinians made temporary arrangements in the West Bank as they worked toward a peace deal. The talks are now in the deep freeze, but the arrangements are entrenched.
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The West Bank Battle For Land ... And Water

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The West Bank Battle For Land ... And Water

The West Bank Battle For Land ... And Water

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As Israel prepares for elections next week, NPR is bringing you stories about the land at the center of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israeli military has occupied the West Bank since 1967. Palestinians are in charge of local affairs in their cities in the West Bank, but most of the land around those cities - some 60 percent of the West Bank - is under exclusive Israeli control. That land is called Area C. It's a rugged landscape where mundane matters like water service take on broader meanings. NPR's Emily Harris has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATE)

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: A sturdy metal gate rolls open at the entrance to an Israeli farming settlement in the Jordan Valley. This is part of Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The Israeli soldier on duty points us to the greenhouses.

INON ROSENBLUM: My name is Inon Rosenblum. I live here in Moshav Na'ama.

HARRIS: Rosenblum takes us inside his herb packing room. He opens the walk-in fridge.

Freezing.

ROSENBLUM: Smell - squeeze one of the leaves and smell.

HARRIS: It's tarragon with a licorice smell. Rosenblum grows basil, mint and rosemary, too. Outside in the fields, it's warm.

Usually when I'm here, the hills that are in front of us right now are brown, yellow and dry.

ROSENBLUM: Yellow and dry, yellow and dry.

HARRIS: But right now.

ROSENBLUM: In a month from today they'll be dry, but now it's in a purple color like this. It's - wow.

HARRIS: A wet winter has colored the landscape purple and green, but this is a desert. We're below sea level and Rosenblum's herbs depend on irrigation. He won't say how much water he uses.

Where do you get the water?

ROSENBLUM: From wells in the mountains.

HARRIS: How much water do you need every year?

ROSENBLUM: We need enough. We need a lot. Yeah, I know, I know exactly how much. I show you another thing.

HARRIS: The United Nations humanitarian wing wrote a few years ago that Israeli settlers get several times more water per capita than Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel disputes this. In Area C, some Palestinians take matters into their own hands. Twenty minutes back toward Jerusalem, we turn off a highway onto what hardly seems like a road.

EED KHAMIS: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: We're with Eed Khamis. He is part of a Bedouin tribe, traditionally desert nomads. In this permanent Bedouin camp, he shows us a big black plastic water tank next to a school built of mud and tires.

So where does this water come from?

KHAMIS: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Three kilometers from here.

HARRIS: It's piped in from the Israeli water company. Khamis has a story about that.

KHAMIS: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: He says Israel diverted water to nearby Jewish settlements when they were built in the 1980s.

KHAMIS: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: So the Bedouin hammered holes in the pipes until - as Khamis tells it - the water company hooked them up.

You're laughing at that story. You think it's, for you, a victory. Would you call it a victory?

KHAMIS: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This was a strong victory for us.

HARRIS: Khamis invites us into a plywood shack that serves as his living room. Inside sits a solar panel salesman. Khaled Salahat says he is installing 100 solar units here, paid for by a European aid group.

KHALED SALAHAT: They start thinking how to make the life easy for those people in order to keep them in this area.

HARRIS: The Europeans are encouraging Bedouins to stay here because they support a Palestinian state as the way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arabs' physical presence on this land helps Palestinians keep their claim, just as Jewish settlements, including some right up the hill from here, help Israelis stake theirs. Israel says it needs Area C as a security buffer from potential Arab enemies and to protect hundreds of thousands of settlers. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdullah says the complete Israeli control of this part of the West Bank known as Area C limits Palestinian development.

PRIME MINISTER RAMI HAMDULLAH: It means we cannot invest, even we cannot extract out water. Imagine - if we're going to have, and I hope we will, independent Palestinian state, this area is very important.

HARRIS: Of course land is political here, but it's also economic power. The World Bank estimates if the Palestinian Authority could develop Area C, it could stop depending on international aid. Right now one of the best economic options for a Palestinian is to work for an Israeli. Back in the Jordan Valley, Palestinian employees on Inon Rosenblum's farm cut and pack fresh basil for supermarkets overseas. Emily Harris, NPR News, the Jordan Valley.

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