Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Water as a weapon: Jordan Valley farming villages under existential threat


By Naomi Kundera - July 30, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Water] [agriculture]

In the middle of summer, the heat of the Jordan Valley is fierce. The drive from the north-east town Tubas to the small village of Bardala is a physical manifestation of this unapologetic weather.

The rolling fields are a yellowed wasteland. The cows and goats of the sprinkled bedouin outposts are slow and gaunt.
 
The high temperatures would be bearable if only the Palestinian residents of the northern Jordan Valley had access to a livable amount of water.
 
“When I put my head on my pillow I don’t think of anything at all other than if tomorrow they [Israeli occupation] will decrease the water and then what will I do.”
 
Ibrahim Sawafta, 34, is a farmer and resident of Bardala. He has fields of corn and mulukhiyah along with some lemon, olive, and guava trees.
 
Ibrahim’s crops need to be watered twice a day, but since the Israeli military and the national water company Mekorot limit the amount of water he can have, 28 dunams of his land has dried up. In one week, he lost nearly 35,000 ILS.
 
But Ibrahim admitted that he is one of the smallest farms in the village. “All the other farmers have much more land, what about them?,” he said, referring to the amount of water his neighbours would need.  
 
How Israel is stealing Palestinian water
 
Despite its excessive heat, the Jordan Valley is not short of water. This eastern stretch of land that borders the country Jordan makes up about 30 percent of the West Bank and the numerous natural springs had been a main source of water for historic Palestine.
 
Before the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Bardala’s natural spring produced over 200 cubic meters (52,834 gallons) of water per hour. The village built a 67-meter-deep well that allowed water production to increase to 300 cubic meters (79,251 gallons) per hour.
 
After the occupation began, Israel and its national water company Mekorot built two wells of their own adjacent to the existing Bardala one. The Mekorot wells ran about 250 meters deeper than Bardala’s. This has essentially drained Bardala’s well, leaving them reliant on the Israel-controlled ones.
 
Israeli well heavily protected.
 
In 1971, the village of Bardala, Mekorot, and the Israeli civil administration made a deal that allotted the people of Bardala 240 cubic meters of water per hour - roughly the same amount of water that the well was already producing for the village.
 
But from the mid-1980s until about 1998, Israel began decreasing the amount of water promised to the Bardala people. The decreases were marginal during this time period. From 1998 until now, however, the flow of water from the Israeli company to the village has dramatically dropped.
 
The population of Bardala has increased from 400 in 1967 to about 3,000 today. Yet, the amount of water the village receives has plummeted to roughly 100 cubic meters per hour.
 
The fight back
 
To combat the theft of their own water, Bardala citizens build pipes and faucets that let the water from Israeli wells flow to their land. They often use garbage and plastic in an attempt to hide the main water valves of the hastily constructed pipes.
 
Eighty-seven percent of the Jordan Valley lies in Area C, meaning it is under full Israeli military control. Construction is near prohibited in these areas and demolitions of Palestinian homes and businesses by the military is commonplace.
 
Pipes constructed by Bardala villagers immediately after the Israeli military came to destroy them. Garbage is used to protect the valve points.
 
Under this pretext, the Israeli military constantly invades Bardala’s land and destroys their pipes.
 
Earlier this month the military destroyed 400 meters of pipes claiming them as illegal. In the process, they razed the land of Samar Sawafta, 40, in search for more “water holes.”
 
Samar claimed that it was actually closer to 700 meters of pipes that were destroyed along with his entire guava and mlukhiya crops. He lost over 20 dunams of land and 100,000 ILS since the first raid nearly three weeks ago. The military has come at least once a week this month to continue the destruction.
 
Before the carnage of his land occurred, Samar said that the military came and closed his farm. “They told me just don’t steal any water. But when they left I took water from the Mekorot company because its not stealing when its my water. I have to. There is no solution. I have to take water from Mekorot.”
 
Okay you’re telling me that this isn’t legal,” said Maen Sawafta, 42, “so give me the legal pipes and water that you promised. Call it whatever you want - legal, illegal, stealing - but just give me my water.”
 
In April of last year, another large raid took place resulting in the destruction of Bardala pipes and land. That time, small clashes broke out as locals threw stones at the invading soldiers, who retaliated with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
 
Resource apartheid
 
The village of Bardala, along with its springs and wells, lies in between the 1967 and 1948 armistice lines. But with the occupation and its illegal settlements, the narrative of stealing water becomes reverse.  
 
“For me as a Palestinian, I saw my neighbor – the settlers – plant dunams of land and water it all and for me I don’t even have enough water to drink.” Mean Sawafta, another Bardala farmer and member of the Tubas Chamber of Commerce, said passionately.
 
Ibrahim Sawafta told Palestine Monitor that the Israeli wells can pump 2,500 cubic meters of water per hour while only giving the village 100. That means 2,400 cubic meters are going directly to the surrounding settlements, whose population is barely 400.
 
Israel claims that the water is decreasing for everyone in the area because the wells are drying up or because of high levels of sodium, which is why they can’t meet the agreed upon amount for the village.
 
“If the Israelis say their well is dry, then why are the dunams of the settlers are becoming larger or more prosperous? Did the drought only come for us?,” Ibrahim asked incredulously.
 
Al Jazeera reported last year that, “according to EWASH, a coalition of 30 NGOs, settlers in the Jordan Valley consume 81 times more water per capita than Palestinians in the West Bank.”
 
After a long and somber car ride through the dry hills toward Bardala, Maen Sawafta sighed. “You can’t make peace while people are starving.”
 
Lead photo: Ibrahim Sawafta's crop - 15 dunams of dried up corn.

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