Palestinians in rural West Bank without water as Israel supplies settlements

Fresh water piped into settlements as thousands of villagers nearby are still not connected to network

Assam Abu Murad beside his home in Susiya, a village in the southern West Bank. Rosie Scammell / The National
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With no access to running water, Assam Abu Murad says he and his neighbours may soon face death or displacement from their West Bank village.

“We want to have water all the time. Not – one day it’s finished [so] we drink mud. Tomorrow we drink I don’t know what,” the 60-year-old Palestinian told The National ahead of World Water Day on Tuesday March 22. The day is to raise awareness of the planet's two billion people who live without access to safe water.

Mr Abu Murad is one of fewer than 300 residents in Susiya, a village in the southern West Bank, who rely on water brought by lorries down dirt tracks.

About 14,000 Palestinians in areas of the West Bank fully controlled by Israel have no access to the water network, according to a UN report from September.

While pipes carry water into Israeli settlements, in Susiya the villagers face frequent shortages.

“Sometimes we wait for a couple of days. This year, I took drinking water from Abu Mohammed’s house,” Mr Abu Murad said of his neighbour.

The community of herders say they hold documents proving land ownership in the area which date to the Ottoman era, decades before Israel took control of the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

From the hillside where they now live, villagers can see the ancient site of Susiya, from where they were forcibly evicted by the military in the 1980s.

The view across the southern West Bank from Shib Al Butum, a Palestinian village. Rosie Scammell / The National

Nearby is the Israeli settlement of the same name, which has a swimming pool. Most of the international community considers West Bank settlements illegal, although Israel disputes this.

The Har Hevron Regional Council, which administers Susiya settlement and others, did not respond to an interview request.

Israel’s military wing dealing with civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, Cogat, did not comment on why rural Palestinian communities were not provided with water.

In Susiya village, Palestinians are cut off from more than 20 wells situated in a declared military zone.

They collect rainwater during the winter months, which is unpredictable, and their reliance on water lorries is costly. Residents say they pay around 25 shekels ($7.6) per cubic metre, compared with the Israeli Water Authority rate of between 7.4 and 13.5 shekels.

Livestock in the Palestinian village of Susiya is under threat because of a lack of water. Rosie Scammell / The National

Gidon Ariel, a resident of Maale Hever settlement north-west of Susiya, said he and his neighbours do not encounter such problems.

“We get the bill from our community, from the regional council, and they get the water from the Israeli water [authority],” he said.

Mr Ariel, 58, said the community rarely encountered water shortages, although he mentioned instances of Palestinians allegedly tapping into pipes and diverting water.

Despite the arid climate, the Maale Hever resident suggested water should not be scarce owing to Israel’s impressive network of desalination plants.

“There’s plenty of water in the Mediterranean Sea for everybody,” Mr Ariel said.

In the meantime, he suggested those without water relocate to an urban area.

“If you want to live in a place that has organised water, that you turn on the faucet and you get the water all the time, then live in Bani Naim,” he said, referring to a town where services are managed by the Palestinian Authority.

In one Palestinian village a few kilometres away, however, running water has finally reached the residents.

“Now, thank God, we’re in a good period,” said Lina Najar, 38, in Shib Al Butum.

It has been about a year since the village was connected to mains water, with the support of children’s agency Unicef and the Action Against Hunger charity.

An outside sink at a home in Shib Al Butum, where villagers no longer need to worry about going without drinking water. Rosie Scammell / The National

Despite it being in an area under full Israeli control, the water is funnelled from the Palestinian town of Al Karmel.

In Shib Al Butum, Ms Najar remembered having to wait up to 10 days for water in the past.

“We would get thirsty while waiting for the car to bring us water,” she said.

Ms Najar recalled feeling lethargic after drinking water before, when the villagers relied on tanks and wells.

Quote
Without water ... we’ll all be dead sooner or later
Palestinian Assam Abu Murad

“The little kids would get diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach aches. They had allergies too, now it’s stopped,” she said.

The cost has also plummeted, with the community paying about six shekels per cubic metre for the piped water.

Without having to worry about water any more, residents say they have a fresh outlook on life and are able to lavish the rainwater on trees and plants.

Meanwhile, in nearby Susiya, Mr Abu Murad fears the community could be uprooted if they do not have greater access to water.

“Without water, there’s no life,” he said, for the villagers or their flocks.

“If the situation continues, without having a water network permanently, we’ll all be dead sooner or later.”

World Water Day around the world - in pictures

Updated: March 22, 2022, 11:16 AM
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