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Water: from a spiritual feature to a factor of discrimination in the Holy Land

The fourth reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water is by Fr Dr Michel Jalakh, general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches. He is a Maronite Catholic from Beirut, Lebanon. In this reflection he highlights that water has a strong spiritual significance attached to the “promised land”. However, he argues that due to the occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Palestinians are deprived of this precious water. He also draws our attention to Palestine being one of the most water stressed countries in the world.
Water: from a spiritual feature to a factor of discrimination in the Holy Land

Mamilla Pool, Jerusalem. © Ze'ev Barkan, 2013

Reflection for the Seven Weeks for Water 2016

Week 4

Please note: Opinions expressed in Biblical reflections or background resources do not necessarily reflect EWN and WCC policy.

By Fr Michel Jalakh

Click here for Arabic translation (pdf)

The gap between demand and supply of water in the Middle East--and the urgent need to reduce the gap needs to be discussed seriously. We need to address the challenges and the available opportunities to ensure sustainability of water in the region. Today, on the eve of Lent, and upon the attention of the international organizations and non-governmental and humanitarian organizations upon the subject of water, due to its importance for the continuity of life and by coincidence with the World Water Day, several questions are asked in terms of the Middle East as a whole or the Holy Land in particular. Water is a basic necessity of daily life, and cannot be dispensed with because of its importance for humans, animals and plants. Towns and villages were established only where there was a resource of water. In this context, Apostle Peter says, "By God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water." (2 Peter 3:5).

Since ancient times, life in the Holy Land was dependent on rain and spring water in mountainous areas, and river water elsewhere. Since that time, the Canaanites invented--then the Israelites afterwards--ways to protect water resources from enemy attack. They dug tunnels to reach groundwater wells or ponds, and a number of these have been discovered in a few Palestinian cities.

Before going into the current and vital reality of water, there is a spiritual and biblical feature that highlights its importance in the life of the community. The Bible came to mention "water" several times, as it prescribed the necessities of life to man (Genesis 21: 14-19), and this is illustrated strongly from what happened to David when he endangered the mighty warriors themselves and they brought him water from the well of Bethlehem (1 Chronicles 11: 17- 19).

Water is used metaphorically to express numerous ideas, as water symbolizes God's salvation, as Isaiah says, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation," (Isaiah 12: 3; 41: 17). Likewise, water is used in baptism as a symbol of death with Christ, burial and resurrection. Jesus surprised Nicodemus with the birth of water when he said to him: "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3: 5). Jesus also spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar about the "living water," that whoever drinks from it will not be thirsty forever (John 4:14). In fact, Jesus concluded his life on earth saying "I am thirsty." (John 19:28).

From the spiritual dimension to the daily reality, and with the beginning of the year 2016, several studies indicate that about 33 countries are expected to face a severe water crisis by 2040, especially the countries which are located in the Middle East region, where water bodies are scarce and demand for water intensifies.[1]

Studies also predict that 13 countries in the Middle East--with the Palestinian territories at their forefront--will face a severe water crisis within 25 years. Palestine has been ranked along with eight countries among the global top ten countries for these crises.

Palestine, like the other countries in the region, suffers from a major water crisis, and the people concerned identify the primary reason for this crisis is regrettably the Israeli occupation and its control over the water, including its deprivation of millions of the Palestinian population of its sufficient and dignified use. The problem has been entrenched in the agreements that were unfair to the Palestinians, and deprived them of their water, and did not give them their natural right in this matter. Israel, which was controlling the water as it saw fit before the Oslo Accords, continued in doing so after Oslo, but under the title of partnership. The international community turns out to accept such practices, or at least stay silent about them, under the pretext that it wants the peace process to succeed.

Going back to the beginning of this problem — that is to say after the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 — Israel occupied the Banias River, which supplies water to Jordan River, and the water-rich Golan Heights. The water situation in Palestine has not changed since then. Today the Palestinians face several challenges for getting access to water, most notably: Prevention of drilling new wells, or discharging springs, or extending pipelines, or even maintaining the wells. In contrast, the Israeli authorities continue to destroy water facilities in the pretext of lacking clearance.

These violations are not all, as Israel had begun its aggressions since 1964, when it began exploiting the Jordan River basin water, without taking into account the rights of the states that share the river. According to international law, "Johnston Plan 1955" or the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan the Palestinians have the right to around 200 million m3 of water of the Jordan River, and in fact, what they get is very little. The reason being the proposed West Ghor Canal was never built due to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967. [2]Israel has also drained the Hula Lake and transferred the river water to the Negev desert, under the pretext of greening the desert; knowing that 97% of the Negev desert remained uncultivated, and this constitutes the biggest waste of water.

Therefore in conclusion, it can be said that the Israeli occupation is the main factor for the water crisis in the Holy Land, for reasons that are certainly political and possibly religious, for the Bible mentions the water many times, especially in the Promised Land. From here we raise our prayers in fasting and pray to God to protect His people, and be gracious to them and to the wealth of their land, as it is a gift from God and a blessing that has become a “curse” for the people of Jerusalem and the occupied territories, with the lack of water.

 


*The Fr Dr Michel Jalakh is the general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches and a Maronite Catholic from Beirut, Lebanon.

[1] Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040

[2] Water and Economic Justice, March 2014 - Friends of the Earth International (pdf)