Amnesty: Israel Withholds Water from Palestinians

By: Michael Barajas - AP Writer
By: Michael Barajas - AP Writer

Amnesty International is accusing Israel of pumping disproportionate amounts of drinking water from an aquifer it controls in the West Bank, depriving local Palestinians of their fair share.

The London-based human rights group also said in a report to be
released Tuesday, that Israel has blocked infrastructure projects
that would improve existing water supplies to Palestinians - both
in the West Bank and those living in the Gaza Strip.

"This scarcity has affected every walk of life for
Palestinians," Amnesty's researcher on Israel, Donatella Rovera,
told The Associated Press in an interview Monday, ahead of the
report's release. "A greater amount of water has to be granted to
them."

Israeli officials deny the accusations.

Water is a major point of contention between Israelis and
Palestinians and is considered an issue that must be resolved
before the two sides could make peace.

The issue is further compounded by the split in Palestinian
territories, with the moderate Fatah movement governing the West
Bank, while the militant Hamas rules the coastal Gaza Strip.

Israelis use more than four times the amount of water per person
on average than do Palestinians, whose consumption falls far below
the minimum amount recommended by the World Health Organization,
the report said.

The report especially focuses on the so-called Mountain Aquifer
in the West Bank. It says that Israel uses more than 80 percent of
water drawn from the aquifer and while the Jewish state has other
water sources, the aquifer is the West Bank's sole supply of water.

As a result, the 450,000 Israelis who live in the West Bank and
east Jerusalem use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinian
residents, Amnesty said. Israel captured both areas from Jordan in
the 1967 war. The Palestinians claim them as part of a future
state.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev called Amnesty's claims
"completely ludicrous," and said Israel holds the legal right to
the aquifer since it was the first to discover, develop and pump
from it.

Regev said Israel pumps less water from the Mountain Aquifer
today than it did in 1967, and Palestinian consumption of fresh
water has actually tripled in that time.

He blamed the Palestinians for not investing in development in
the West Bank and said they have failed even to drill wells that
have already been approved.

Amnesty charged that Israel routinely denies Palestinians
permits to launch desperately needed water sanitation and
infrastructure projects in the West Bank.

Shaul Arlosoroff, a leading Israeli authority on water
acquisition and use, said Israeli restrictions in the West Bank are
meant to protect an already taxed aquifer from overpumping.

In the report, Amnesty also cited serious problems with water
supply to the Gaza Strip.

Since Hamas seized control of the coastal territory in 2007,
Gaza's long-standing problems with sewage and water sanitation
facilities have deteriorated, Rovera said. During Israel's
offensive in Gaza last year, water and sewage pipes suffered severe
damage.

Rovera said the water situation in Gaza had reached a "crisis
point," with 90 percent to 95 percent of the water supply
contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

An Israeli blockade of Gaza has halted any repairs to the
strip's overburdened sewage and water networks, preventing
materials and equipment to repair the infrastructure from getting
in, Rovera said.


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