When U.S. Aid didn’t Come to The Rescue: Nazareth, the Israeli state and water politics

By Leena Dallasheh
Submitted to Session P4636 (Water and Power Politics: Palestine and Lebanon, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
This paper traces how Palestinian residents of Nazareth appealed to aid from the American Point Four program during the early 1950s in order to attempted to overcome the city’s water crisis as well as Israeli state policies that led to its persistence. Point Four sought to share U.S. aid and expertise with the underdeveloped world. In it, Nazarenes saw a potential solution to the chronic water shortages they suffered through for decades, as well as a potential leverage against their exclusion by the Israeli state. From the 1930s, residents of the city and their leadership repeatedly attempted to overcome water problems, but their efforts were frustrated by the municipality’s lack of resources (almost a quarter of the buildings in Nazareth belonged to tax-exempt Christian religious institutions) and the British colonial authority’s full control over the project. In the transition to the Israeli state in 1948, political considerations compounded these obstacles. Seeking to advance the interests of the new ruling Jewish majority by controlling water, Israeli authorities attempted to impose an alternative water project on Nazareth, under the direction of the national water company (Mekorot). When Nazarenes rejected the Israeli design, insisting on their right as a national minority to control their water, Israeli authorities stalled any attempts to resolve the crisis. Nazareth’s local leaders realized the limitations of their power, and understanding the city’s cachet as a holy Christian city, turned to American aid representatives in Israel, requesting their help in seeking control of the city’s waterworks. This paper investigates these interactions of local and international politics in negotiating American aid. Focusing on this recently, yet not fully, decolonized setting, and on non-state actors in a contested national conflict, this paper seeks to complicate the role of US aid and Cold War policies in the Middle East.