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When Israel uses water as a tool of coercion, churches must act decisively

The 5th reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water is by Dr Ranjan Solomon works for the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF), on behalf of the World Council of Churches and is based in Goa, India.
When Israel uses water as a tool of coercion, churches must act decisively

Water tankers provided by donor agencies filling water from Gaza’s only desalination plant. © WCC/Asa Elfström

Reflection for the Seven Weeks for Water 2016

Week 5

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

By Ranjan Solomon*

Click here for Arabic translation (pdf)

In Gaza, 30 to 40 percent of all disease-related deaths are caused by bad water[1]. The multiple cases of kidney and liver diseases Gaza have to do with salts and minerals in the water. 95% of the water that Palestinians in Gaza have been consuming for decades has been proven unfit for human consumption[2].

Israel’s ten-year old blockade of Gaza is dominantly a war waged on water. Israel knows that when it obstructs supplies to refurbish, preserve, or develop water infrastructure, it protracts the damage done during times of attack. Restricting Palestinian access to water has turned what was once a community-managed resource into a commodity now unaffordable to most people. Israel has made water a legitimate tool of coercion and control to achieve the Occupation’s goals. In all military operations, Israel has perpetuated the humanitarian crises by targeting and relentlessly adopting a policy of destroying Palestinian water resources. One often finds Arab villages and Jewish locations barely a mile or two apart living with scandalous differences in water allocations. While Israelis enjoy lush gardens, swimming pools and gardens, the Palestinians must make good with water whose quality is downgraded.  It tastes bad or has foreign particles floating in it. But, they will accept it because there is no alternative. Bad water is better than no water at all.

Israel is not only perpetuating a regime of perverse water ceilings for Palestinians. Through the restrictions, it is both weakening Palestinian morale and pocketbooks. The policy of denying Palestinian communities access to water must actually be viewed as a tool of warfare that is undermining Palestinian resistance. Materials being allowed to enter Gaza, like generators, limited fuel, and water trucks, only compensate temporarily are mere eyewash. These barely alleviate the consequences of Israel's water warfare.

As a result, in Gaza, commodification of water is changing traditional patterns of community water management and could forever change the shape of Palestinian society. And the social stresses which follow are going to have long term impacts on communal life.

Why must churches act?

Water is a basic human need and basic needs are God-given to all of humanity to share equitably. No single community has the right to appropriate and monopolize water and control the lives of another people using water as a weapon.

All human beings must reject the notion that  natural resources can be exploited for narrowly defined goals centered around profit and power.  Human personhood must be respected with a reverence that is religious. God created people in the image of God and that, in turn, demands, especially in the case of water justice, that God’s gifts are not viewed as mere resources. They are sanctified and consecrated.

The Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches affirms that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. In the Palestinian context, the value of human life is being undermined by the intentional targeting of civilians through deprivation of water. The global church must assert the life and dignity of the Palestinians by asserting that water is a non-negotiable human right. It must affirm the universal view and truth that water belongs to the ‘commons’. It is God’s gift for all to share equitably. No one can deprive others access to a fair share of water, nor can they pollute or abuse the sanctity of this basic human need.

Water offers life to the human and God’s earth. Its deprivation and abuse threatens suffering and death. Water, like the presence of God, is a divine gift and must be regarded as something sacrosanct because it  is an essential element for life.

The story of creation is not a mere narrative of the order in which God created the world. It is an instruction about how God expects people to be responsible and just stewards of creation.

Israel’s rulers may not succumb easily to the pressures of the international community to ‘act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God’ when it comes to water equity (Micah 6:8). But, the international ecumenical family is obliged to demand that to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is a Biblical mandate. (Mathew 22: 39) God’s gifts must, therefore, be equitably shared.  When that happens, we are also obliged to remind Israel through every instrument under our command- political, social, and others, that we as Christians believe  that we work for water equity because the gospel tells us that we must ‘love one another as he has loved us’ (John 15:12).

How can churches act?

In general, churches must become active subjects for ‘water rights’ in Palestine:

  • Holding Israel accountable for its water violations. Churches must document water violations and create materials for the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights which demand Israel act in line with the UN's International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. (Israel is a signatory)
  • Churches must advocate for a rights-based approach which brings water relief to the people of Gaza with urgency. This means mobilizing international support and advocacy and campaigns that expose Israel's systemic water war crimes.

"Ninety-five percent of the water that Palestinians in Gaza have been consuming for decades has been proven unfit for human consumption. Electricity shortages that have lasted for almost a decade have limited water treatment capacity and thus the availability of water to households, as well as increased the discharge of untreated wastewater into the sea.

Muna Dajani in a policy brief titled 'Drying Palestine: Israel's Systemic Water War' issued by Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network


*Dr Ranjan Solomon has worked closely on the 'Question of Palestine' from his student days in 1967. Since 1987, after the First Intifada, this engagement grew deeper and remains at a high level of intensity until today. He now serves the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum focused on Communications and issues pertaining to Economic Measures (BDS), and the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel. He also supports tourism networks in Palestine who seek transformation through justice in tourism

[1] A War Over Water Dries Up Good Will Between Jews, Arabs (Huffington Post)

[2] As flooding in Gaza worsens, the most basic of human rights are under threat (The Ecologist)