Thursday, October 29, 2009

Far from watertight


Israel is under fire yet again for supposed human rights contraventions. Hot on the heels of the Goldstone Report, which at the behest of the UN Human Rights Council charged Israel with war crimes against Gazan civilians in Operation Cast Lead, Amnesty International this week accuses Israel of depriving the Palestinians of the most basic and vital of all commodities - water. Both reports assail Israel for supposedly robbing Palestinians of fundamental liberties and provisions. This simplistic premise underlies the approaches of the UNHRC, Amnesty and a whole host of similar organizations whose verdicts, as National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau noted, "are a foregone conclusion before any fact-finding effort is ever under way."

So-called human rights organizations have become the prime weapon of choice with which to whack Israel. In the name of ostensible liberality, Israel is repeatedly placed in the dock of world opinion, where it is tarnished as the villain among nations. There's almost no sphere where Israel can remotely expect a fair shake.

Amnesty's latest report is a case in point. It set out to examine the assumed victimization of the Palestinians. Thereafter, everything proceeded true to pattern. The inevitable bottom line is that the Palestinians are aggrieved. No blame is apportioned to them. The causes of the situation aren't considered.

Thus Israel's Water Authority was prevented from making any sort of presentation to Amnesty's researchers or responding to the report's charges before publication.

The report, moreover, focuses on the Mountain Aquifer, neglecting to so much as suggest that Israel might possess legal rights by virtue of the fact that it was first to discover, develop and pump from it. Other arrangements, it can credibly be posited, hinge on the outcome of final status negotiations, which Israel cannot conduct unilaterally.

In fact, Israel draws less water from the Mountain Aquifer today than it did 40 years ago, while Palestinian consumption of fresh water has tripled since then.

Additionally, the Israel Water Authority notes that, when all water uses are combined, it emerges that 149 cubic meters are available per capita per annum for Israelis, and 105 cu.m. for Palestinians. The difference, though not negligible, is far from Amnesty's claim of a super-acute shortage, well below the World Health Organization recommended minimum allotment. Water availability to Israelis has fallen sharply in recent decades. In 1967 it stood at 500 cu.m. - so today's figure represents a 70% drop. Until the Six Day War, Palestinians could count on a mere 86 cu.m. yearly. Their situation has improved by 22%.

Had it been given the opportunity, the Water Authority would also have highlighted that Israel supplies water to the PA well in excess of its 1995 Oslo Accords undertakings. Systematically overlooked by Amnesty, meanwhile, are Palestinian breaches of these accords - including pirate drilling, water theft and routine damage to pipelines, failures to purify waste water (despite massive contributions by donor nations), irrigating crops with fresh rather than reclaimed water, dumping untreated sewage into streams, severely contaminating Israel's Coastal Aquifer and forcing Israel to deal with PA sewage.

It is very hard to resist the conclusion that Amnesty's report was commissioned to serve a specific agenda.

NGO MONITOR charges that Amnesty deliberately timed its report to coincide with scheduled events on American campuses entitled "Israel's Control of Water as a Tool of Apartheid and Means of Ethnic Cleansing." These are sponsored by the Palestinian Cultural Academic Boycott of Israel movement.

Whether or not that was the case, there is considerable resonance to the accusation by NGO Monitor's president, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, that Amnesty is "manipulating the water issue while ignoring the complexities of history and law in order to again falsely portray Israel as a brutal regime. Rather than recognize that water supply is a complex regional issue, Amnesty focuses only on Palestinian shortages... The report adopts a painfully simplistic narrative which places blame solely on Israel, to the extent that the Palestinian leadership is absolved of responsibility for the agreements signed under the Oslo framework."

While ostensibly pursuing a well-intentioned attempt to improve Palestinian welfare, Amnesty seems more intent on coming up with pretexts to justify its assertion that Israel "denies hundreds of thousands of Palestinians the right to live a normal life, to have adequate food, housing or health, and to economic development." A readiness to first hear, and then take into account, the Israeli side of the vexed water dispute would have enabled a more credible report - and one more likely to have practical impact.
This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1256740787743&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull

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