On December 13, 2011, the French National Assembly issued a 320-page report entitled, The Geopolitics of Water, which dedicated 20 pages to an alleged “water war” between Israelis and Palestinians. Employing the incendiary terms “apartheid” and “water occupation,” the report’s lead author, Jean Glavany, accused Israel of usurping Palestinian water sources and showing favoritism to 450,000 “colonial” settlers who purportedly “use more water than [the West Bank’s] 2.3 million Palestinians.”
The report won immediate praise from Palestinian Water Authority Director Shaddad Attili (who made similar allegations in a 2011 Jerusalem Post op-ed). Harper’s Magazine likewise reviewed it favorably, as did the ever-reliable Counterpunch, which proposed the delusional hypothesis that Israel’s security barrier “closely follows the line of the Western Aquifer” as part of a sinister plot to divert “Palestinian” water to Israel. (Just for the record: (i) the Western Aquifer discharges most of its water beneath Israeli territory, where it has been readily accessed since the 1920s; (ii) the “line” Israel’s security barrier most “closely follows” is that separating would-be Palestinian terrorists from their intended Jewish victims; and (iii) Jews living behind this barrier, but beyond the 1949 Green Line, get their water from Israeli — not Palestinian — sources.)
The mendacious French report is hardly the first word on this subject. In May 2008, National Geographic gave two thumbs down to Israel’s life-sustaining desalination plants, pointing out that fossil fuels are needed to run them (thereby threatening the planet), that they produce water that is “too pure” (thereby threatening the integrity of water pipes) and that they are vulnerable to terrorist attack (not to give anyone any bright ideas). Far worse was a 2009 Guardian “exposé” entitled, “Who will save Gaza’s children?” wherein Victoria Brittain claimed that Israeli water policy had exposed Gazan newborns to toxic levels of nitrates, thereby causing an “exceptionally high” incidence of “blue baby syndrome.” In fact, the number of cases of “blue baby syndrome” — the lethal form of the medical condition “methemoglobinemia” — stands at zero. (Although mild, non-lethal cases of methemoglobinemia have occurred in Gaza, the high nitrate levels that cause them are attributable to flawed Palestinian fertilizing methods, not to Israeli water policy.)
Collectively dubbed the “water libel,” by Jerusalem Post blogger, Petra Marquardt-Bigman, the above reports are unified by their devil-may-care attitude towards established facts. Relying on Palestinian Water Authority and Joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Commission documents, Visser and Shaked have wholly debunked Shaddad Attili’s accusations. For example, Attili claimed that Israelis consume four times more water per capita than Palestinians. The reader will reach the same conclusion — provided he uses Attili’s calculus, which (a) overestimates Israeli usage per capita by nearly 100% (280 cubic meters annually versus 150); (b) underestimates Palestinian usage by more than 50% (60 versus 140) and (c) grossly overestimates the Palestinian population by counting 400,000 Palestinians living in Israel (where they use Israel’s water supply), as well as another 400,000 living abroad.
As for the French National Assembly report, it turns out that Monsieur Glavany systematically evaded essential facts with an aplomb not seen in his country since the second Dreyfus trial. Moreover, he interpolated a number of venomous inaccuracies into the report at the 11th hour without notifying his co-authors, all of whom disavowed his claims on reviewing the final text.
So what precisely are the facts? A useful starting point would be to mention that under Jordanian rule prior to 1967, only 1 in 10 West Bank households were connected to running water, and that today, owing to Israeli water policy, the figure stands at 96% (and will soon rise to 98.5%.). Secondly, Palestinians steal Israeli water (not the other way around as alleged by Attili and Glavany), while Israel exports volumes to the West Bank greatly in excess of what is mandated by the Oslo Accords. (Israel does so primarily to compensate for the Palestinian Water Authority’s repetitive failure to implement approved water projects and its substandard maintenance and security procedures, which result in the loss of an estimated 33% of the Palestinian water allotment annually.)