The Politics of Access Under Occupation: International Law and Violations of the Human Right to Water in the West Bank and Gaza

By Carly Krakow
Submitted to Session Individual Submission, 2016 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
Gaza; Israel; Palestine; The Levant; West Bank;
Arab-Israeli Conflict; Colonialism; Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Environment; Human Rights; Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper examines impacts of water inaccessibility and contamination on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. By focusing on 1992 (one year prior to the start of the Oslo process) to the present, I evaluate why the Joint Water Committee (JWC)—the water management body created under Article 40 of the Oslo Accords II in 1995 designed to temporarily function for five years but still operating 15 years past its expiration date—has facilitated Israel’s perpetuation of the water crisis by omitting consideration of Gaza’s water resources from its mandate, and failing to provide equitable water access for the West Bank. The main foci of this paper are violations of international law regarding water access and quality, specifically water law and humanitarian law including the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the Geneva Convention, Protocol I. The occupation facilitates “hydrological apartheid”—the Israeli state exploits its position as the Occupying Power to dominate Palestinian water resources (Zeitoun 2011). Only 25% of Gazans have daily access to running water, resulting in a health crisis including exorbitant rates of childhood kidney disease, ulcers, and hair loss. Gaza’s sole aquifer will be irreparably damage by 2020, cyclical military invasions have decimated the Strip’s water infrastructure, and climate change is increasing drought and aquifer saltwater intrusion. Diversion of West Bank water to settlements leaves 50,000 people with the minimum water levels recommended by the World Health Organization for “short-term survival in an emergency situation.” This paper fills critical gaps in the study of the Occupation by providing up-to-date analyses through the lens of water access. I address: what are the ongoing connections between the West Bank and Gaza water crises? Transnational comparative analysis addresses why the UN has readily defined cases such as government water shut-offs in the U.S. city of Detroit as human rights violations, though Palestine is denied this classification. Building on work by scholars including Weizman, Gordon, Roy, and Selby, this paper analyzes proposed methods to mitigate looming water catastrophe in Gaza, including recent developments in desalination technology, as well as proposals to integrate Gaza into the Israeli water network, while examining which interim solutions are complementary to ending the Occupation—ultimately the sustainable resolution to the water crisis. The paper draws on my ethnographic interviews with civilians in the Occupied Territories, and with JWC, UNRWA, PWA, IWC, and NGO representatives in 2015.