Does Israel forbid Palestinians in the West Bank from collecting rain water?

By November 30, 2023 International Politics

We came across the following video clip on multiple social media platforms – TikTok, Instagram, Threads and X/Twitter. It had also been further shared on Telegram broadcast channels and on Reddit:

This post of the clip, posted on X on 24 November, had gained over 1.5 million views at the time of writing. In the clip, a man speaking in the camera claims that ‘Israel forbids Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from harvesting rain water’.

He goes on to add that this was because, ‘according to a UN report, the Israeli military states that rain is the property of the Israel authorities’. He further explains that this is a result of events in 1967, when Israel took control of the Palestinian territories and monopolised water resources and infrastructure.

Furthermore, he adds that Palestinians are barred from constructing new water facilities without obtaining permits from Israel, and that Israel had intentionally destroyed Palestinian water-harvesting cisterns and other water collecting infrastructure.

The video was watermarked with the logo of TRT World, a Turkish public broadcaster based in Istanbul. When we looked up the website of TRT World, we were able to find the video under the title ‘How Israel has occupied Palestinian water for decades’.

Not a UN Report

We looked up the UN report cited in the video and found that it referred to a report titled ‘Israel’s violations of human rights regarding water and sanitation in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories)’.

The report was written by the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH), a coalition of almost 30 organizations working in the water and sanitation sector in the occupied Palestinian territory, and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization in the West Bank.

While the report was submitted to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in September 2011, It is considered a non-UN document, a status clearly labelled on the UN website where the document is available.

Ownership of Rain Water?

The quote cited in the document, ‘rain is the property of the Israeli authorities’, is accurately relayed from the document. In the document however, it is expressed differently. The section of the report that uses this language discusses a specific Israeli military order that was issued in 2009 to order the stop of work and/or demolition of rain water collection cisterns in the village of Tuwani.

The report states as follows: ‘If constructed, these cisterns would have significantly eased the water crisis for the people of Tuwani. However, according to Israeli military orders in effect in the area, rain is the property of the Israeli authorities and thus Palestinians are forbidden from gathering rain water for domestic or agricultural needs.

… The result of these actions and omission by Israel is that many Palestinians are increasingly left with no access to water, rendering life untenable and forcing their displacement.’

The statement that ‘rain is the property of the Israeli authorities’ appears to be an assessment by EWASH and Al-Haq of the effect of the Israeli policy of limiting the construction of water collection infrastructure.

Other accounts of the event reported by Amnesty International, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the UK’s Independent newspaper all had no suggestion that the stop work orders were linked to a claim that the rain water was the property of Israel. The specific military order was also not cited in the reports, and we were unable to verify the language used in it.

When viewed as a whole, the focus of the report is the control Israel exerts over the Palestinian territories and people through water, rather than on the ownership of water.

Unresolved Water Crisis

The video appears to be accurate in suggesting that Israel’s restriction on Palestinian water collection dates back to 1967, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territories as a part of its military campaign.

Following the occupation, Israel issued Military Order 92, which transferred authority over all water resources in the occupied territory to the Israeli military, and Military Order 158, which stated that Palestinians could not construct any new water installation without first obtaining a permit from the Israeli army.

The effects of these orders were addressed in the Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1993, which were to establish a framework for a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine and bilateral negotiations for a future Palestinian state.

The Oslo Accords granted Israel continued control over water sources in the West Bank pending a resolution to the conflict, and envisioned the issue of the ownership of water to be addressed in the permanent status negotiations, which were to have taken place five years after the implementation of the Oslo Accords (in 1999).

The permanent status negotiations never took place as a result of a series of political events in the region, and the relationship between the negotiating parties broke down.

This led to the outcome of the Oslo Accords remaining in effect as the policy determining water ownership in the West Bank. While Israel argues that it allows the Palestinians to extract the the exact amount of water as stipulated in the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian population has increased by 75% in the intervening period.

This has led to an acute water shortage for Palestinians in much of the West Bank, which the Palestinians have attempted to overcome by building new water installations, such as building new rain water collection cisterns and wells.

In Area C of the West Bank, the roughly 60% of the territory where Israel maintains full civil control under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians require consent for all new water infrastructure due to the maintenance of the rules established under Military Order 158. These permits are issued sparingly, leading to Palestinians in Area C building the installations illegally, and Israeli authorities routinely demolishing these structures, including rain water cisterns.

Partly True, But…

It is therefore true that Israel forbids Palestinians from installing new water collection infrastructure in parts of the occupied West Bank, specifically in Area C, and this prevents Palestinians from harvesting rain water.

However, this does not apply to the entirety of the West Bank, and we could find no evidence to support the additional claim that ‘the Israeli military states that rain is the property of the Israeli authorities’.

The content that the video draws from to make this assertion is also a non-UN report, which appears to be describing the effects of Israeli military orders rather than its language.

As such, the claim that Israel forbids Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from collecting rain water is partially true.

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