Following correspondence from HonestReporting, Haaretz has finally, on November 15, updated its version of the story.
UPDATE 4 – SUCCESS!
- Removing the erroneous statement that the Israeli water company Mekorot is responsible for supplying water to Palestinians in the West Bank. The story now correctly notes that the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee is responsible i.e. Palestinians also share the responsibility.
- Adding statements from both COGAT and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to the effect that Palestinians have refused to take part in water discussions.
- Adding details of a letter sent by COGAT to the international community calling for the renewal of cooperation and promotion of water projects.
While dubious Palestinian claims still remain in the story, the addition of Israeli counterpoints is a significant change for the better.
In addition, HonestReporting has contacted Haaretz requesting that it also update its version of the story on its own website.
UPDATE 3 – CLARIFICATION
We have been asked to clarify that the Thomson Reuters Foundation is responsible for publishing the Palestinian water story and is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covering the world’s under-reported stories on humanitarian crises, women’s rights, trafficking and slavery and the human impact of climate change. Thomson Reuters Foundation is, according to its editors, totally separate from Reuters’ news organization.
Edits have been made in the main body of the article below to reflect this separation between the two entities.
Nonetheless, it appears that other media outlets (such as Haaretz) have not drawn such a distinction, taking the story directly from Reuters, which is still responsible for republishing from Thomson Reuters Foundation.
We are in direct contact with senior editorial staff at Thomson Reuters Foundation. Watch this space.
Despite the story being debunked and failing to include any Israeli response, Haaretz has republished it on its website. Out of all the media outlets to run the story, Haaretz had the ability to follow up with Israeli sources to verify the credibility of the story. It chose not to, preferring to run with an anti-Israel piece. Disgusting but, sadly, not surprising.
In related news, The Algemeiner has picked up HonestReporting’s critique.
Shortly after the publication of this critique, HonestReporting received a statement from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) containing information even more damning to Thomson Reuters Foundation than we had initially written. This statement has been added towards the end of the article below.
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The issue of water rights and claims that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are going thirsty, are repeatedly used as a stick with which to beat Israel. But these claims are also more often than not false. The latest is a story from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, republished by Reuters headlined: “As water dries up, West Bank village thirsts for a less precarious supply.”
A mountainous Palestinian community in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Al Jab’a differs in many ways from surrounding Israeli settlements but it shares one worry with its neighbors – a shortage of water. …
Residents of Al Jab’a, who once had to walk for hours daily to fetch water, do have limited access to Israeli water supplies in their concrete homes due to a reservoir, pipeline and a pump built in 2013 by an Italian non-governmental organization.
But the water provided is not enough, according to families in Al Jab’a, a village of about 150 houses 12 km (7 miles) southwest of Bethlehem. They also fear their system could be demolished as it was not officially approved.
The story continues with alleged restrictions on the village’s water supply:
But numerous rural and Bedouin communities in the West Bank are not connected to a network run by Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, which is responsible for supplying water to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territory.
Except that Mekorot is not responsible for supplying Palestinians with water. This is the responsibility of the Palestinian Water Authority. As NGO Monitor points out, water issues are dictated by the mutually agreed 1995 Oslo II Interim Agreement:
Contrary to NGO claims, this agreement does not “prevent the Palestinians from developing their own water and sanitation sector.” Article 40 of the agreement states that approval of water projects in the West Bank is made by the Joint Water Committee (JWC) through mutual agreement. The Palestinians are free to build any and all components of the water and sanitation sector, subject to the approval of the JWC. Once approved, Israel has no further authority over projects in Areas A and B (Palestinian military and/or civil control). Palestinian water projects in Area C (Israeli civil and military control) require permits from the Israeli Ministry of Defense Civil Administration (CA). However, in most cases, implementation of the projects is the responsibility of the PWA.
The Water Agreement allows the Palestinians to dig and maintain their own wells, and the majority of wells in the West Bank are owned and operated by the Palestinians. Mekorot drills in the West Bank, as agreed upon by the Palestinians in the JWC, in order to provide water to both Palestinians and Israelis regardless of nationality.
Why have water projects not been approved by the JWC? As a 2013 study pointed out, Palestinian representatives have refused to meet with Israeli authorities to coordinate water management activities. Given that the Palestinians aren’t prepared to cooperate with Israel, it has led to a situation where unauthorized infrastructure such as the reservoir in Al Jab’a have been constructed without permission. (Al Jab’a is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under the full administrative and security control under the Oslo Agreements.)
So Palestinians refuse to meet with Israelis who are offering to help improve their water supplies.
The Tower asks:
What about unused water sources? The majority of this is located in the eastern aquifer, which flows beneath the Jordan Valley. It contains approximately 70 million cubic meters of water a year that is left unused. The rights to this water were granted to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have yet to exercise these rights to any significant degree, and the failure do so is entirely their own. For example, over 40 potential drilling sites in the Hebron area were identified and approved by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee; but in the two decades since then, drilling has taken place in only three places, and this is in spite of substantial funding provided to the PA by donor nations. This is both tragic and ironic, because undertaking these drilling projects could entirely solve the area’s current water issues; instead, the Palestinians have chosen to both blame Israel for their water problems and drill into the Western aquifer, which provides water to Israel.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation story continues:
In Al Jab’a, only 10 percent of homes were part of the Mekorot distribution system until the pipes and reservoir completed in 2013 extended the network to the remaining households. Water piped by Mekorot is pumped up the hill to be stored in the reservoir.
But this has not completely resolved the community’s water problems. Residents say the Mekorot system supplies water only intermittently and at low pressure. When supplies flow, families must hurry to store as much as they can.
Thomson Reuters Foundation doesn’t explain why water supplies are unreliable. Perhaps it is because, as NGO Monitor states:
The PWA loses 33% of water in its system per annum (compared to 9% in the Israeli system) due to theft within the Palestinian Water Authority’s water network and poor maintenance. Israel does not prevent the Palestinians from repairing their own pipe system. Water theft by Palestinians, from both the Israeli and Palestinian networks, is a major source of water loss. Over 250 illegal drillings are known to exist in the northern West Bank alone. The Israeli water authority disconnects 1,000 of these connections every year. Israeli requests to reinstate the Joint [Israeli-Palestinian] Supervision and Enforcement Teams (JSETs) in order to combat water theft have been denied by the Palestinians. Minutes of JWC meetings show that in many instances the PWA had committed to shut down illegal drillings but did not follow through. When the CA [Civil Administration] eventually demolished them, the PWA protested.
But Thomson Reuters Foundation doesn’t mention any of this. Instead the article refers to statistics from a variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including:
After the 1967 war in which Israel acquired the West Bank, Israel imposed restrictions on well drilling and constructing distribution networks, which has left a quarter of Palestinians without piped water, according to a report by the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.
In fact, before 1967, the Palestinian water infrastructure was extremely primitive. As The Tower points out:
Within five years of the Israeli takeover in 1967, the water supply grew by 50 percent; and the IDF Civilian Administration, which rules over the territory, established a pumping system that brought water directly to city centers, where residents could fill water containers for personal use.
This was followed by the creation of a modern infrastructure to supply water to the population of the West Bank. It is true that, initially, this was because of the Israeli settlement movement. In order to supply water to these new communities, a pumping infrastructure was built throughout the territory and connected to the National Water Carrier in Israel proper. But this new infrastructure did not only supply Israeli settlements. It also serviced surrounding Palestinian areas, bringing a noticeable improvement in their standard of living.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation story ends by interviewing a UNICEF official who suggests reactivating ancient underground water cisterns from Roman times to help with the Palestinian water supply. All well and good except the story fails to mention that among those water projects scuppered by the Palestinians includes sewage treatment works. Thus, untreated Palestinian sewage is left to contaminate underground water supplies as well as polluting both Palestinian and Israeli water sources.
So the journalist went to the effort of interviewing Palestinians and NGO representatives. So why then could the she not ask for comment from an Israeli source such as the Civil Administration or the Mekorot water authority?
That there was a failure to do so is a prime example of imbalanced reporting.
We did, however, ask COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) for comment:
In the previous years, the State of Israel has raised the water flow to the Palestinian Authority. Just last summer, 11,000 cubic meters of water were added to the water line leading to Bethlehem and Hebron, which is connected to a water pipe leading to the village of Jaba. It should be noted that starting from the connecting pipes, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for regulating the water.
Civil Administration officials are continuously in contact with the residents of Jaba which has raised no complaints regarding the water supply. Also, there have been no demolition orders issued against water facilities within the village.
Due to the regular failure of convening the Joint Water Committee, COGAT unilaterally confirmed over ten projects, such as water and sewer connections in past two years, which are designed to improve the water infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. One of the projects is a comprehensive upgrade of the water system in the area between Jaba and Tarqumyia, including the replacement of water pipelines, pumping stations and the construction of water reservoirs. This upgrade, is an initiative of USAID and is expected to significantly improve the water regulatory system. The Coordinator has approved the project, and the inattentive to put in required input devices into Judea and Samaria and has urged the Palestinian Authority to promote the initiative, which affects mostly Area B.
Currently Israel supplies to the Palestinian Authority some 67 million cubic meters of water a year, which is a large amount of 30 million cubic meters about that determined in the Oslo Accords.
Ultimately, the issue of water is a complex one. Unfortunately, the Palestinians, their supporters in NGOs, and media outlets such as Thomson Reuters Foundation, and those such as Reuters that republished the story, have simplified the issue so that it boils down to blaming only Israel.
But then why should the Palestinian Authority care about the water supply when it can use the issue to flood the media with anti-Israel agitprop?
You can see more on the water issue on HonestReporting’s Conflict Over Water Resources page.