Israeli Pillage of Palestinian Water Resources


A Brief Study on Israeli theft of Palestinian Water















November 1999







In the middle of the night, Abdel-Nasser Murrar, apalestinian citizen from the village of Beit-Duqqo, northwest of Jerusalem, rode his tractor and headed towards a spring far from the village, to fill his container with drink water, because of the lack of water network in the village. His family waited him all night, but he did not come back, because his tractor fell in the valley and he was killed. Many Palestinian have faced the same fate on that road, the reason was the roughness of the road, and the lack of electrecty.even Palestinians who live in the cities with water networks are not so luckier, simply because Israeli are not supplying it with water.  

This happen to Palestinians, while the Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian territories enjoy abundance of water, enough to water their lawns and wash their cars daily. Not only this, but they have extra water enough to sell to Palestinians.




Water Resources in Gaza and the West Bank


1- Rainfall: Rainwater is the major source of water for Gaza and the West Bank. 96% of un-irrigated agriculture in the Palestinian territories depend on rainwater. Approximately, the annual average of rainfall in the West Bank is 700 million cubic meters of which 500 are absorbed by the soil. While in Gaza, the annual average is 400 million cubic meters most of it is absorbed and the rest evaporates.


2-Surface Water: The Jordan river is the only source of surface water that runs through the West Bank, in addition to seasonal valleys, and is extensively exploited by Israel1.

3-Aquifers: There are three major aquifers underneath the West Bank, Eastern, NorthEastern and Western aquifers. All three are estimated to contain 820-900 million cubic meters of fresh water. The Eastern aquifer is considered the richest. There are also 314 springs in the West Bank which provide 100 million cubic meters.


Aquifers are the major source for the Gaza Strip. It provides 80 million cubic meters of fresh water. Israeli settlers in Gaza utilize 20 million cubic meters where they use 75-80% in agriculture. The remainder is used for domestic purposes. Table (1)2 shows that rainwater is the major source that feeds the Gaza aquifers. But, because of Israeli policies, which usurp Palestinian water, wells in the Gaza Strip are drying up quickly. Table (2)3 shows water distribution and sources in the West Bank. Before 1967, there were over 720 wells. Currently, only 314 are still active producing 38 million cubic meters annually. Israeli settlers in the West Bank have dug 27 wells drawing about 40% of West Bank water.

In the Gaza Strip there was 2039 wells of which 82 have dried up. Settlers have dug over 50 wells, which draws about 30% of the Gaza aquifers. Annually, Israel sells 5 million cubic meters to Palestinians in Gaza.


Not Enough Water for the Palestinians


There are 314 wells in the West Bank that produce 38 million cubic meters for Palestinian consumption. On the other hand, there are 27 wells in Israeli settlements, which produce 14 million cubic meters for Israeli settlers. This means that 5% of the wells draw over 30% of water for Israeli settlers.


The amount of water in the West Bank aquifers and the Jordan Valley basin is estimated at 1 billion cubic meters. Palestinians get approximately 110-120 million cubic meters. Israel draws the remaining water through networks across the Green Line for Israeli consumption. Palestinians get about 20 million cubic meters annually from the 380 million cubic meters produced by the Western aquifer, and 30 million cubic meters from NorthEastern aquifer, which produces 140 million. Their share is 30 million from the Eastern aquifer, which produces 172 million cubic meters. These amounts are subject to Israeli whims. In Gaza, Palestinian share of water is 115 million cubic meters from all sources.


Israeli methods to steal Palestinian water


To ensure unrestricted dominance over water resources Israel entrusted its military administration in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the overseeing of water affairs. The military administration concealed its policies and practices with total secrecy. Despite the lack of accurate data on water resources in the Palestinian Territories several reports have confirmed the legitimate Palestinian claims about Israeli pillage of their water resources. Israeli Water Commission and the military administration of the territories dug 500 wells along the Green Line separating the West Bank from Israel and along the Gaza-Israel northern borders. The wells are operated 18 hours daily drawing enormous amount of water from the Western and North-Eastern aquifers. Water then is transferred to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to Israel proper.


Additionally, Israel connected the two aquifers, through its principal network, with Lake Teberias and transferred water from the Jordan valley to the Negev desert. Through connecting the Palestinian water network with that of Israels main network, Israeli authorities have total control of water supplied to the Palestinians. Furthermore, Israeli authorities have wrecked existing Palestinian networks in the cities of Bethlehem and Hebron and diverted most of the water allocated to these cities to Israeli settlements in the area. Accordingly, Israel is in control of 81% of all water resources. Therefore, Israel has usurped over 26.4 billion cubic meters of Palestinian waters since it occupied the West Bank in 1967. The estimated value of the stolen water is 621 million US dollars.


Since the occupation of Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel drew about 18.56 billion cubic meters of Palestinian water with an estimated value of 409 million US dollars. In total, Israel pilfers about 1460 million cubic meters of water annually, with an estimated value of 1.04 billion US dollars.4


Amira Hess, an Israeli journalist wrote: Since the June War of 1967, Israel has total control over Palestinian water resources. Israeli governments have prohibited the digging of wells and restricted irrigation to its pre-1967 levels, thus, keeping Palestinian crops dependent on rainwater. The fact is we can not accuse the settlers, for all Israeli governments from that of Levi Ashqol in 1967 to that of Yitzhaq Rabin in 1992, have adopted policies of devastation designed to dry-up Palestinian cities and villages.5


Furthermore, Israel has begun to divert water from the Jordan River basin to a man-made lake about 1.5 kilometers from the Jordan Valley near Jiftlik, north of Jericho. This man-made lake has a capacity to hold 4 million cubic meters of water. In 1995 Israel constructed a dam on 307 dunums of land near the lake. Water to feed the lake will be drawn from the Eastern aquifer and will be provided to Israeli settlers. Therefore, Israel can easily steal water from the Western and North-Eastern aquifers through linking them to its national water-main, while water, drawn from the Eastern aquifer, is collected in man-made lakes in the Jordan Valley.



Israeli violations of the Water Agreement


Israel did not honor its obligations under the Water Agreement it signed in Taba, between Palestinian side and Israeli side, on 28 September 1995. Article (4) of the Taba Agreement obligate Israel to transfer all authorities and special responsibilities related to water, 13 wells and stations that were under the administration of the military government, and sewage to the Palestinians. Till now Israel refuses to honor its obligations.


Additionally, Article (6) provided that Israel must increase water supplied to the Palestinians by 80 million cubic meters by the end of 1998. Both parties agreed that Israel is to immediately provide 28.6 million cubic meters of drinking water to the Palestinians because of the dry season at the time. Israel only pumped 2.5 million cubic meters and refused to pump the rest.6 At the same time Mekorot was digging new wells and building new networks to provide settlers with unrestrained amounts of water without prior consultations in the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Committee as specified in the Agreement. The Israeli side adamantly refuses to grant the Palestinian Water Commission any permits to dig new wells. Israel issued only four permits since the signing of the agreement after one year of unnecessary delays.


Furthermore, Article (11) of the Taba Agreement specifies that both parties will, jointly, determine the selling price of water. The Israeli side, who has total control over water resources, unilaterally sets the price without consulting the Palestinian counterpart. Also, the Taba Agreement obligates Israel to provide the Palestinian side with all data pertinent to the Palestinian aquifers and basins. Israel refuses to honor this obligation claiming that any information on water resources is an Israeli concern. The water issue was postponed to the final status negotiations because of Israeli claims of sovereignty.





Israeli Military Orders to Control Water Resources


Israeli strategies aimed to negate the very presence of the Palestinian people. Major Israeli designs intended to coerce the Palestinians to vacate the land. Practices, such as land confiscation, house demolition and even killings, enabled Israel tighter control over Palestinian land including water its most valuable resource.


Immediately after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, Israeli military authorities issued several Military Orders (MO) to ensure tight control over water resources. On 17 June 1967, Military Order 92 was issued. It covered the following:

a-All water resources in Gaza and the West Bank are considered government property;

b-All permits for artesian wells are cancelled;

c-All information or data regarding water resources is strictly classified7.

On 15 August 1967, another Military Order was issued placing all authority over water matters, exclusively, in the hands of a military officer. Military Order 1015 issued on 27 July 1982 and was amended by Military Order 1039 on 5 December 1982 determined the nature and quantity of crops Palestinians may plant, especially, in irrigated parts. It also demanded that Palestinian farmers reduce their crops to lessen water consumption8 . Similarly, in the Gaza Strip, two Military Orders were issued declaring water resources governmental and ordering Palestinians to seek permission from the military governor for any project involving water.


These Military Orders enabled Israeli occupation authorities absolute control over Palestinian water resources. These authorities have often refused to grant any permission to dig artesian wells or to build any water networks. Dr. Paul Korch wrote in Middle Right: Since the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel the military authorities did not grant a permit to a single village to dig any wells. Between 1967 and 1983 only seven wells were allowed and those were for domestic consumption. Additionally, Israeli authorities prohibit restoration of old wells. Owners of wells that existed prior to June 1967 were forced to place meters to determine exact amounts of water drawn from their wells.


The Palestinian Planing Center reported that Israeli Water Commission exercised direct and tight control over Palestinian water resources since 1967. Two Israeli companies, Tahal was responsible for regulating water policies while Mekorot, was entrusted with digging artesian wells and sales of water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.



Comparison between Israeli and Palestinian Water shares


Most studies on water shares have shown that a Palestinian individual consumes on average, for all purposes, 30 liters of water per day. While an Israeli settler uses, for domestic purposes only, 350 liters/day, i.e. ten times the amount used by a Palestinian individual. This number does not include water consumption for industrial or irrigation purposes.


In a comparative study prepared by Fahmi Shahin, a researcher with LAWE, the Palestinian Society for Human Right and the Environment, have shown that an Israeli settler in the settlements of Qiryat Arba’a or Kharsina, uses ten times as much as any Palestinian living in the nearby city of Hebron. Table (3)9shows the big difference in consumption in the two adjacent urban areas. The reason for such difference is that the amount of water destined for the city of Hebron is pre-determined by the Israeli authorities. Daily needs for water in the city of Hebron exceeds the amount reaches every household. Table (3) also shows the reduction in water supplied to the Palestinians between 1997 and 1998. Additionally, Israeli settlers often vandalize the water networks in the Hebron District, which causes frequent disruption in water supplies. Often, Israeli settler’s cut-off water supply to the city of Hebron for prolonged periods; they physically wreck the water mains in the area; they divert large amounts of water, destined to Hebron, for irrigation of settlers’ farms in the area.


In violation of its agreement with the city of Hebron, Mekorot, the Israeli company responsible for providing Hebron with water often reduces the amount of water it pumps to the city without notice. According to the agreement, Mekorot is supposed to pump 25,000 cubic meters daily to the city. Instead, it only pumps 5500 cubic meters daily. This amount is often reduced especially in the summer.


The District of Bethlehem, only 35% of its population of 150,000 Palestinians, received water through the local network in the first half of 1999. Water supplies, earmarked for the District, were reduced by 30% in 1999. The District of Bethlehem receives 300 cubic meters/hour while the actual need surpasses 1500 cubic meters/hour. A recent study by Palestinian NGOs have determined that in 1989 the 100,000 Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have consumed 60 million cubic meters while a million and a half Palestinians consumed only 137 million cubic meters of water in the period.10


Repercussions of Israeli Polices on Palestinians


The on-going massive reduction in water supplied to the occupied territories and the escalating prices of water, Palestinian crops could no longer compete with Israeli agricultural goods. Irrigated areas in the occupied territories dropped from 37% to 3.7%. The occupation authorities imposed harsh conditions on Palestinian agriculture. They even determined what type of crops to be planted and the amount of water to be used for irrigation. Many Palestinian farmers abandoned their farms, which were later confiscated by the Israeli authorities using Military Orders especially made-up for this purpose. Many of those farmers went to work, as cheap laborers, in Israeli factories. Others, looking for a decent living, immigrated elsewhere. Yet many farmers and landowners, which could not cope with heavy losses, joined the long lines of the unemployed, adding to the already devastating social and psychological problems in the Palestinian society.


Furthermore, Palestinian factories in the occupied territories, suffer great losses because of reductions in water supplies. Many factories, in the food, stone-cutting or construction industries were forced to close down. Many of its workers became unemployed. Hospitals, because of water shortages, suffered unending problems with hygiene and several units for kidney dialysis were shut down.


Water shortages in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have added more to the sufferings inflicted on the Palestinians that it affected all aspects of life. In most areas, a Palestinian could not get the chance to bathe even once a week. Dirty dishes are often stacked for days waiting for water. Over 300 Palestinian communities lack water networks. Other communities are prohibited by the Israeli authorities to effect any repairs in their decaying old networks.


The fast expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have added more to the existing water shortages, especially, in surface water which feed the aquifers. Sewage and wastewater from Israeli settlements is absorbed, untreated, by the soil, which affects the quality of fresh water reserves in the aquifers.


Israeli excessive consumption of enormous amounts of water from aquifers underneath the Palestinian Territories in addition to its blocking of surface-water running north-south, have caused immense damage to the aquifers. Seawater has begun to seep underneath the Gazan soil and have raised salinity in the Gaza aquifers to unacceptable levels. Dozens of people have reported liver and kidney ailments because of high salinity levels. A Dutch study reported that Gaza would have a serious problem with drinking water in the year 2000. Salinity levels reached 4500-5000 mg/liter in several artesian wells11. Internationally acceptable levels do not exceed 50 mg/liter.


Another study, prepared by Dr. Yusuf Abu Safiah, revealed that pollution levels in Gaza water have exceeded any internationally accepted levels especially with Fluoride. The World Health Organization recommends Fluoride levels not to exceed .07 part/million in drinking water. The Fluoride levels in drinking water in Gaza have exceeded 2 part/million. Fresh water in Gaza has become rich with Nitrates a cancer causing agent. Dozens of cases of water poisoning are reported in Gaza particularly among school children. Because of high salinity, Gaza water has become unsuitable for irrigation, which led to the drying-up of large agricultural areas.


The Israeli feverish settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in addition to the increasing number of settlers along with newcomers to Israel have increased the demand for Palestinian water. Israeli pillage of Palestinian fresh water at the expense of the Palestinian people aims only to coerce the Palestinian to vacate the land to make room for more Israeli settlers. Depriving the Palestinians of their water will negatively impact the peace process. How could the Palestinians trust Israelis and believe that they truly want peace when their faucets are dry while Israeli settlers bathe in their swimming pools filled with Palestinian fresh water? Only peace based on justice will prevail. The right to water is equally important as the right to land. Both rights were usurped by the Israeli occupation.








Thomas Stouffer, an American writer, wrote: Israeli covetousness for Arab waters is an integral part of its strategy regarding resources including oil, minerals and commercial competition to acquire cheap labor and other economical resources in addition to water. Israeli pillage of water from the territories it occupied in 1967 does not only cover its ever-increasing needs but it saves Israel the trouble to seek alternative water resources which may cost her as much as 2 billion US dollars Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967 means relinquishing war spoils.12


Israeli designs for regional water resources are clear for any observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In Palestine, Israel controls 81% of the water resources by military power and has systematically tried to force the Palestinians off their land to make room for its settlers. For the past twenty years Israel controlled the rivers Hasbani, Litani and Wazzani in South Lebanon. It also controlled the origins of Jordan and Yarmook rivers in the occupied Golan Heights and the springs on Mount Hermon. Through the growing Israeli-Turkish cooperation, Israel supports Turkish aggressive policies towards Iraq and Syria, two Arab neighbors who share with Turkey, the basins of Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Even in the negotiations for peace with its Arab neighbors Israel insists to keep a firm control over regional water resources and demands a guaranteed large allotment in any future treaties.


Israeli policies and measures to steal Palestinian water have had perpetual damage to the Palestinian economy, especially, the agricultural sector. The situation in many Palestinian communities is deteriorating as municipalities can not find enough water to cope with natural growth. Palestinian communities currently get about 30% of water produced in their territories while they actually need  at least 70% of the water produced in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. International pressure is overdue to impel Israel to honor its obligations under the agreements it had signed. Israel must transfer all authority regarding water resources to the Palestinians including the right to dig new artesian wells to satisfy Palestinian needs. Israeli authorities must put an end to its illegal settlement policies as the increasing number of Israeli settler’s means more pilfering of Palestinian water.


Israel persistence with its undeterred policies to pilfer Arab waters will lead the region to the brink of war. A 1992 CIA report confirmed that the Middle East may witness an outbreak of hostilities over water rights with Israel and Jordan on top of the list of concerned countries.13











Water Resources in Gaza. Table (1)



Quantity (million cubic meters)

Surface Water


Surface Water From Eastern Hills


Rain Water






Water Resources in the West Bank. Table (2)



Quantity (million cubic meters)



Spring Water


Eastern Valleys


Western Valleys


Jordan and Yarmook Rivers









Comparison in shares Between Palestinians in Hebron and Israeli Settlers in the Settlements of Kharsina and Qiryat Arba’a*. Table (3)



Hebron, a Palestinian City with a population of 140,000

Kharsina and Qiryat Arba’a, with a population of 5500 Israelis

December 1997



February 1997



February 1998



July 1997



July 1998



18 Aug-19Sep. 1998



Consumption per person, July 1997

58 liters

345 liters

Consumption per person, July 1998

30-40 liters

350 liters


* Kharsina and Qiryat Arba’a are two Israeli settlements near the city of Hebron. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are a violation of international humanitarian law.


** Quantities are in cubic meters.







1.                     Zionist Pilfering for Arab Water in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Mohammed Abdel-Khaleq, Palestine Magazine, Vol.6, spring 1999.

2.                     Water in the West Bank and Gaza strip and Israeli policies. Yussef Kussef Kamal Hassouneh, Al-Quds daily 2 October 1999.

3.                     Ibid.

4.                     Dr.Yussuf Abu Mayyala, Al-Quds daily.issue 9291.on 11July 1995.

5.                     Drying –up of Palestinian Cities and villages: An Israeli policy since 1967. By Amira Hess. Al-Quds daily, issue9333 on 22 August 1995.

6.                     Israeli Violations of the agreement on Water. A Report by the Palestine Water Commission.

7.                     Water in the Middle East-Justifications for War and Peace.Ahmad Jaber.Alternative Vision, vol.29, August1999.

8.                     Zionist P Pilfering for Arab Water in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Mohammed Abdel-Khaleq, Palestine Magazine, Vol.6, spring 1999.

9.                     Fahmi Shahin.Peoples Rights Magazine, vol.13, January1999.

10.                   Water: A Symbol for Peace and A Cause for Conflict.Newsletter of Palestinian NGOs, Al-Quds daily, issue 9346 on 4 September 1995.

11.                   The Water Crisis: Will it drowned the Negotiations? By Muhsen Al-Ifranjy, Al-Quds daily, issue 9322,on 11 August 1995.

12.                   Zionist P Pilfering for Arab Water in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Mohammed Abdel-Khaleq, Palestine Magazine, Vol.6, spring 1999.

13.                    Israeli greed for Arab Waters.Nabil Salem. Al-Hayat Al-Jadida 22 August 1999.