The physical construction of the Wall is new, but the philosophy or purpose behind the Wall is not. The path of the Wall in its first phase, in the northern West Bank, is by no means coincidental, neither in its route nor in its being the first target area for the construction of the Wall. This is due to the fact that the first phase of the Wall takes place in the area of the Western Aquifer, the largest source of water in historic Palestine after the Jordan River. Past and present Israeli policy, public rhetoric by politicians and water experts, as well as practical implementation on various levels, all point to the planned total Israeli control of the Western Aquifer, now made possible by the construction of the Wall.
One cannot understand Israeli water policy and practice without looking at the ideology and building-blocks that preceded the establishment of the Israeli state. All the way back to the 1930s, when the larger waves of Zionists settlers began to come to Palestine, slogans such as âmaking the desert bloom,â calling upon Jewish work of the land and Jewish labor to make the âpromised landâ fertile (although it was already fertile!), made land and water of primary importance to the colonial project. Of course, the theory never remained as such, but was constantly implemented in various ways. For instance, prior to 1948, control over land and freshwater resources were major criteria for the selection of Jewish settlement areas for the fulfillment of the Zionist dream.
With the establishment of Israel came the most significant application of theory into practice. Immediate plans and initiatives took place to establish and develop large-scale, national water projects, such as the Israeli National Water Carrier (Mekorot), the projects in the Al Houla area, and the diversion of the springs in Tiberias. As the Jewish population as well as living standards increased, most notably due to continued Israeli ideological programs to actively bring Jews from around the world to the area, the water demand increased and attention towards the groundwater as a major source of water became a priority. Interest immediately turned to the major potential area for groundwater resources, the Western Aquifer, or as it is called by Israel, the Mountain Aquifer.
The Western Aquifer since the Occupation of 1967
The Western Aquifer is the largest water resource in historic Palestine after the Jordan River. It is, in fact, the largest source of groundwater. Israel has therefore developed various ideas around the aquifer with the aim of controlling it. Following the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, direct control of the aquifer became possible and the intentions for the resource became instantly clear. Israel immediately began drilling groundwater wells in the aquifer behind the Green Line/inside Israel, while drilling and pumping from the same aquifer was prohibited to Palestinians, who were located inside the West Bank, often times just a few kilometers away from the Israeli well. To clarify, the West Bank villages are located on the upstream of the aquifer and Israel on the downstream, and for this reason any prohibition on the drilling of the upstream is to the benefit of the downstream.
As I state, Israelâs water and land confiscation policy is not scattered but strategically built-up, and is therefore not reactionary to the political developments. One important reflection of this is the complementary and overwhelmingly unified approach and position of Israeli politicians and water experts, who make up the core of Israeli negotiations teams, commissions, policy and research. For example, during the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations in Camp David I in the late 1970s, the Israeli position openly stated its desired control of the Western Aquifer. At later periods, but along the same lines, Israeli ministers of agriculture, infrastructure and defense openly spoke of and strategized around the control of the Western Aquifer.
In the early 90s, the merging of policy with active propaganda came to a public level, when the then Israeli Minister of Agriculture, Rafael Eitan, placed a public, paid advertisement in an Israeli newspaper on behalf of the ministry. The ad called on Israelis not to âgive-upâ the part of the Western Aquifer located in the West Bank, stating that it is a part of Israelâs water security. Itzhak Mordechai, Minister of Defense between 1996-1998 presented a draft map, during the Oslo period of meetings and negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in which he demanded that the eastern border of Israel be synonymous with the groundwater of the West Bank, therefore including the entire Western Aquifer and as a result a major part of the Occupied Territories inside Israelâs border. There are many more examples.
Therefore, since Oslo the trend of water control is no less evident and in no way subsided. In fact, since 1993, Palestinians have only received one permit from Israel to drill a well in the Western Aquifer. This emphasizes both the continued occupation and control by Israel of Palestinian resources and self-determination and its interest in the Western Aquifer. In the case of the Eastern Aquifer and in Gaza, Israel has been more lax about its own regulations permitting Palestinians to drill in these areas. In addition, if you look at the case of Jericho, Palestinians have built wells in âviolationâ to the conditions placed upon them in the Oslo agreement; but Israel has not responded on the ground by, for example, destroying them. On the contrary, when Palestinians drilled a number of wells in the Jenin and Tulkarm areas, Israel arrived within days and demolished all of the wells. But, why the double-standard? The contrast in policy and action between the Western Aquifer and other less plentiful water resources only highlights Israelâs objective around the Western Aquifer.
Control of water resources is also very much connected to Israeli/Jewish presence in the Occupied Territories through the illegal settlements. In addition to massive land confiscation, expansion of the military control of Palestinian areas, and the presence of ultra-rightwing/armed groups, Israeli settlements are also an important part of water control by and for Israel. In the area of the Western Aquifer settlements such as Burkan and Yakir as well as industrial settlements near the settlement of Ariel, have all been integrated into the Israeli water infrastructure inside the Green Line, through pipes and pumping stations. From a practical as well as policy perspective, this integrates Israeli infrastructure on both sides of the Green Line, further establishing the area of the Western Aquifer as de facto controlled by Israel. Of course, complete technical control ensures overall management of an aquifer.
As an engineer, I look at the size of the infrastructure that is built to tell me the policy story and future developments. One example is a pipe that has been placed to connect the settlement of Burkan and the surrounding cluster of settlements to Israel. The pipe, 24 inches in diameter, demands an enormous quantity of water just to make the water flow through the pipe. If you look at the volume of water that can run through the pipe, the current consumption in the settlements does not even near a fraction of this water quantity. Though for now it may seem excessive, from the Israeli expansionist perspective, this is an important and well engineered long-term investment which takes into consideration the demand and future exploitation of water from the Western Aquifer for the coming 30-40 years! Israel is setting-up the infrastructure as if the aquifer will, undoubtedly, be under its control.
The Wall: Finalizing Control of the Western Aquifer
From a hydrological perspective, the appearance of the Wall was in no way a surprise, but an extreme physical application of the theoretical and the various efforts of Israel of the last decades to control the vital Western Aquifer. If one looks at the engineering line/path of the Wall, it is virtually the same border of the groundwater. At the least, the Wall will make the upstream of the aquifer inaccessible to Palestinians ensuring that Israel will control both the quantity and the quality of the water.
In order to ensure full control of the aquifer, the Wall looks to create facts on the ground for future negotiations, such as the so-called final status negotiations. The aquifer is under the most fertile lands in the West Bank, thus water usage in the area is closely tied to agriculture. Inaccessibility to the lands because of the Wall will deem these lands dried and useless in just a few seasons; the agricultural sector will first diminish and then wholly disappear. This major creation of facts on the ground will make the lands, by force, unused and the then request by Palestinians in any negotiations for water for the area will be argued by Israel as baseless. It is expected, and is consistent with repeated Israeli measures and laws, that Israel will use such a reality to convince the international community that Palestinian demands are groundless and that water for agriculture in the area of northern West Bank is not founded on a present reality.
The Wall itself also goes hand-in-hand with Israelâs continued attempts to control Palestiniansâ lands and to turn Palestinians into a cheap labor force. Agricultural communities and their way of life are being totally threatened. Since most of the people in the area around the first phase are dependant upon their lands they will, and already are, being forced to move further inside the West Bank to find work that replaces agriculture. On the one hand, this ensures that the Palestinian population will decrease in the area and make way for further Israeli control. Meanwhile, there is no infrastructure or replacement work for people and their options will be starvation or to work for Israel.
âSecurityâ is a pretext. Israeli rhetorical claims to the contrary make it important to reiterate that the Wall is not a security measure. If the Wall is in fact for security, then how do Israeli demands that security and separation are synonymous coincide with the Wallâs annexation and inclusion into the west of the Wall 16 communities in the first phase alone? Why is the first phase of the Wall in the north and not in the southern or central West Bank? Again, the path of the Wall is parallel or compatible not with a geographical reality but with a hydrological one. This provides further evidence that the Wall, in its first and most significant phase, is a part of Israelâs water and land confiscation policy.
There is no need to look in-depth or in hard-to-find places to learn that Israeli hydrological data of various kinds deal unequivocally with the Western Aquifer as part of Israelâs hydrological cycle and that the aquifer is an official part of the Israeli national water budget. In all colonial projects, research and data have a symbiotic relationship with policy, financial allocation and the implementation of practical projects. There is little evidence that negates Israelâs plan to control the Western Aquifer and now with the construction of the Wall, this developing reality will be finalized.
This article was written in May 2003 for for The Wall in Palestine: Facts, Testimonies, Analysis, and Call to Action PENGON 2003.