Reprinted from Palestine Chronicle
Palestinian workers pray after crossing Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel.
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Entire communities in the West Bank either have no access to water or have had their water supply reduced almost by half.
This alarming development has been taking place for weeks, since Israel's national water company, "Mekorot," decided to cut off -- or significantly reduce -- its water supply to Jenin, Salfit and many villages around Nablus, among other regions.
Israel has been "waging a water war" against Palestinians, according to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah. The irony is that the water provided by "Mekorot" is actually Palestinian water, usurped from West Bank aquifers. While Israelis, including illegal West Bank settlements, use the vast majority of it, Palestinians are sold their own water back at high prices.
By shutting down the water supply at a time that Israeli officials are planning to export essentially Palestinian water, Israel is once more utilizing water as a form of collective punishment.
This is hardly new. I still remember the trepidation in my parents' voices whenever they feared that the water supply was reaching a dangerously low level. It was almost a daily discussion at home.
Whenever clashes erupted between stone-throwing children and Israeli occupation forces on the outskirts of the refugee camp, we always, instinctively, rushed to fill up the few water buckets and bottles we had scattered around the house.
This was the case during the First Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which erupted in 1987 throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Whenever clashes erupted, one of the initial actions carried out by the Israeli Civil Administration -- a less ominous title for the offices of the Israeli occupation army -- was to collectively punish the whole population of whichever refugee camp rose up in rebellion.
The steps the Israeli army took became redundant, although grew more vengeful with time: a strict military curfew (the shutting down of the entire area and the confinement of all residents to their homes under the threat of death); or cutting off electricity and shutting off the water supply.
Of course, these steps were taken only in the first stage of the collective punishment, which lasted for days or weeks, sometimes even months, pushing some refugee camps to the point of starvation.
Since there was little the refugees could do to challenge the authority of a well-equipped army, they invested whatever meager resources or time that they had to plot their survival.
Thus, the obsession over water, because once the water supply ran out, there was nothing to be done -- except, of course, that of Salat Al-Istisqa or the "Prayer for Rain" that devout Muslims invoke during times of drought. The elders in the camp insist that it actually works, and reference miraculous stories from the past where this special prayer even yielded results during summer time, when rain was least expected.
In fact, more Palestinians have been conducting their prayer for rain since 1967 than at any other time. In that year, almost exactly 49 years ago, Israel occupied the two remaining regions of historic Palestine: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. And throughout those years, Israel has resorted to a protracted policy of collective punishment: limiting all kinds of freedom, and using the denial of water as a weapon.
Indeed, water was used as a weapon to subdue rebelling Palestinians during many stages of their struggle. In fact, this history goes back to the war of 1948, when Zionist militias cut off the water supply to scores of Palestinian villages around Jerusalem to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of that region.
During the Nakba (or Catastrophe) of 1948, whenever a village or a town was conquered, the militias would immediately demolish its wells to prevent the inhabitants from returning. Illegal Jewish settlers still utilize this tactic to this day.
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